Stop stacking stones and painting rocks in natural places
December 4, 2018 7:39 PM   Subscribe

The balancing of stones is an elementary kind of creation, not unlike the building of sand castles. Stone stacks, or cairns, have prehistoric origins.... Contemporary stone stackers, then, are taking up the mantle of an ancient and artistic tradition. In the past decade or so, though, there has been an explosion of cairns around the world.... Park rangers, environmentalists, and hikers have all become alarmed, to varying degrees. The movement of so many stones can cause erosion, damage animal ecosystems, disrupt river flow, and confuse hikers, who depend on sanctioned cairns for navigation in places without clear trails. People Are Stacking Too Many Stones (Sophie Haigney for The New Yorker)
The posts found within the #RockStacks and #StoneStacking hashtags on Instagram range from amateurish (a couple of stones against the backdrop of the ocean) to seriously impressive (round stones balanced improbably, or a sharp rock standing on end atop a pebble). It is common for multiple stacks to appear in a single picture; they look like chimneys or gravestones or maybe the ruins of a lost civilization.
...
#StoneStacking is showing no signs of slowing down. In Acadia National Park, volunteers destroyed nearly thirty-five hundred rock stacks, on two mountains alone, in 2016 and 2017. “I would probably equate the rock-stacking phenomenon with the painted-rock phenomenon, in how it’s driven by social media,” Christie Anastasia, the public-affairs specialist at Acadia, said. Painted rocks are a kind of social-media treasure hunt; people leave brightly decorated rocks in parks, with their social-media handles noted on the undersides. The person who finds the rock can then send a message to the person who left it. Acadia park employees have collected hundreds of them during the past year. The painted rocks now sit in a purgatory of bins, while the park staff figures out what to do with them. “We’re still cogitating on it,” Anastasia said. “We thought about throwing them into the ocean, but there might be chemicals in the paint. We’ve thought about throwing them in the fire. We’re still deciding. But they really have no place in a national park.”
Rock-stacking denies people the experience of wildness (Blue Planet Society)
Rock stacking in national parks may seem harmless, or even fun to make, but we invite you to reconsider the problem they pose from a broader perspective. On the one hand, hiking in nature should provide an escape and a refuge from the everyday mundane life. That refuge, ideally, should be in an unadulterated natural setting (or minimally so). Rock graffiti, even if seemingly impermanent, disturbs the natural state of the environment for other visitors, and have a permanent ecological impact. Also, be aware that it is considered by the National Park Service as a form of vandalism and it is illegal. Please leave the Narrows beautifully natural.
Zion National Park Facebook post, August 18, 2016

How Leave No Trace Builds Rock Cairns (1:17 long YouTube video -- spoiler: they don't, or if they do, they disperse the rocks after building the cairn)
posted by filthy light thief (77 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
 
Ah, humanity. Is there nothing you can't ruin?

See also: Instagram is Loving Nature to Death.
posted by ZaphodB at 7:49 PM on December 4 [18 favorites]


One of my favorite things to do is to gleefully knock of (not trailmarking) cairns in wildness areas/parks/national forest land because I have a powerful urge to like knock over snowmen and kick jack-o-lanterns and ruin towers of blocks, but I don't because I try to be a good person, BUT KNOCKING OVER ROCK TOWERS IS A GOOD THING. I CACKLE WITH MALICIOUS (but ethically sound) GLEE!!!!
posted by Grandysaur at 7:50 PM on December 4 [37 favorites]


Only places I have seen this in parks are where the cairns delineate the trails, (mostly Arches, Canyonlands, etc.). Sad it has gone too far other places. Stupid humans...
posted by Windopaene at 7:55 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


So ZaphodB's link led me to a story about a bunch of morons who made their vlogging money trampling off limits in all sorts of parks including damaging Bonneville Salt Flats and the Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone... and then a google discovered that most of the group managed to fall over a waterfall and die a few months later. So I suppose sometimes karma happens.
posted by tavella at 7:56 PM on December 4 [32 favorites]


I once had to be rescued from Canyonlands because I lost the trail, which is marked with cairns only. Luckily I hadn’t wandered too far and was findable. I cannot imagine what’s going to happen when people get confused from unsanctioned cairns and start going in circles of wandering far off the trail.
posted by Lutoslawski at 8:01 PM on December 4 [18 favorites]


I know it's ironic to even suggest this on the medium of a community weblog but maybe we should start tagging posts like this TheInternetWasAMistake or something for all these post about the destructive, destabilizing and otherways negative influences of social media on our stupid monkeypants societies.
posted by glonous keming at 8:02 PM on December 4 [17 favorites]


Where do you find that the douchebros died? I've looked at those links, haven't found anything...

No one's death is a great thing, but... Yeah, Karma.
posted by Windopaene at 8:06 PM on December 4


"People are stacking too many stones" is a very succinct description of the entire problem. Computers are just very tiny stacked stones. Doing stuff with rocks is how we even got started with civilization in the first place.
posted by bleep at 8:07 PM on December 4 [34 favorites]


Stacking stones is in our nature and our nature is just out of control right now.
posted by bleep at 8:08 PM on December 4 [5 favorites]


Oh man, if they're annoyed about rocks being in the wrong place, just wait until they find out about quarries.
posted by Damienmce at 8:10 PM on December 4 [20 favorites]




I know it's ironic to even suggest this on the medium of a community weblog but maybe we should start tagging posts like this TheInternetWasAMistake

That's like comparing a flat white to freebase methylphenidate. The former can arguably be of benefit if consumed sparingly (and never before bed), but the latter can incentivise some seriously bad behaviour.
posted by Freelance Demiurge at 8:18 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


Windopaene, article about douchebro park tramplers and the waterfall.
posted by tavella at 8:22 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


The Internet is fine. It's social media that was a mistake.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 8:57 PM on December 4 [13 favorites]


we should start tagging posts like this TheInternetWasAMistake

The Internet is fine. It's social media that was a mistake.


That's why I prefer the tag ThisIsWhyWeCantHaveNiceThings.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:08 PM on December 4 [4 favorites]


A stack of rocks is a trace.

What part of "leave no trace" is unclear?
posted by happyinmotion at 9:09 PM on December 4 [20 favorites]


ONLY STACK ROCKS IN UNNATURAL PLACES!
posted by hippybear at 9:14 PM on December 4 [13 favorites]


Oh hai I see both sides of this. I live in East Tennessee, hard up on Great Smoky Mountains National Park (as in, I can walk into the Park from my house without crossing a road.) I also like to hike and backpack a lot (I work in the Camp/Climb department of our local REI) and I prefer to experience the backcountry with my Adventure Dog, so I mostly stay out of the Park where dogs are not welcome.

I do sometimes find myself in the Park, and cairns are *everywhere*. They're in the creeks, rivers, and randomly wherever an assortment of small stones can be found. Rangers knock them down, locals knock them down and they return the next day as if by ghosts. Like I said, I largely stay out of the Park.

I prefer to wander the Wilderness areas near us, because they are much wilder, I can take my dog there and I can sleep where I fall without having to register with a ranger and pay a fee. Wilderness areas near here are mostly used by locals (largely because the trail maintenance, and the trail maps, suck and are not suited to novices) and the only times I see cairns in the Wilderness are for to convey useful information about the trail or terrain.
posted by workerant at 9:22 PM on December 4 [19 favorites]


Instagram yoga-posing by proxy.
posted by klanawa at 9:29 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


There are (or were) cairn gardens that predate social media on White Rock Mt in Vermont on the Appalachian Trail and Long Trail that are kinda lovely. I think I read that last fall volunteers removed the cairns and spread the rocks as much as they could to discourage the cairns from growing again. It's definitely against the LNT ethos, don't do it.
posted by peeedro at 9:30 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


I cannot imagine what’s going to happen when people get confused from unsanctioned cairns and start going in circles of wandering far off the trail.

I can! Only 911 call I've ever made was when my partner went slightly off-course due to random cairns and fell off a goddamn mountain. Not that I knew precisely what had happened at the time.

(He was fine, the fall was more like a slide, and the real problem was finding his way back to the trail. I, however, was terrified, since from my perspective he'd just disappeared when I wasn't looking.)

So, yeah. Don't do this stuff. No extra trail markers, that's bad.
posted by asperity at 9:43 PM on December 4 [34 favorites]


So, yeah. Don't do this stuff. No extra trail markers, that's bad.

In my neck of the woods, taking rocks from the ground to pile up in cairns means taking many critters' homes. For endangered species in rare ecosystems it could be the difference between existence and extinction.
posted by Thella at 9:48 PM on December 4 [18 favorites]


just stop it. everybody.
posted by philip-random at 9:58 PM on December 4 [1 favorite]


Geocaching was (is?) the prototypical form of this, with the added bonus of actually telling people via the internet before they've even left home to leave the path and go and find the lunchbox with a notepad in it in a national park.

I used to write "STOP LITTERING" in them if I found them, but I bet those boxes are still there, their plastic crumbling from UV damage, the fad now mostly passed.
posted by deadwax at 10:01 PM on December 4 [5 favorites]


It's always two levels of difficulty when dealing with these things. Even if it's possible to spread the word and convince a majority of people that doing a thing is harmful (painting stones, going off-trail, collecting firewood, not properly disposing of waste, etc.), you're still left with the collective action problem of people thinking it's ok if they do it just this once, or it's ok if it's somewhere where it won't be noticed, or it's ok because they're special and they shouldn't have to deny themselves the pleasure of doing this thing.
posted by theory at 10:03 PM on December 4 [9 favorites]


A small amount of leaving the trail and doing your own thing is often perhaps ok if it's distributed over a huge area and people follow good practices when they do it. It's much more problematic when you have something like stone cairns that kind of tell people "leave the path here and do this single minded destructive thing that heaps of other people are doing too" and even worse when insta gets involved and a place becomes the place to be to do the stupid thing so that you can post a photo online to prove you did the stupid thing in the same place as all the other stupid people.
posted by deadwax at 10:10 PM on December 4 [2 favorites]


Kinda screams out for an ML bot that searches social media for pictures of cairns and autoreplies telling people not to do that.

...why yes, I do live in Silicon Valley, why do you ask?
posted by aramaic at 10:27 PM on December 4 [16 favorites]


.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:35 PM on December 4


Doing stuff with rocks is how we even got started with civilization in the first place.

I want to rephrase my original point to "Showing off to our dumbass friends by doing too much with rocks is how we got started with civilization in the first place"
posted by bleep at 10:41 PM on December 4 [8 favorites]


Anyone recall the KSR novel where an ecoanarchist group celebrate their wilderness meetings by group-constructing a "goldsworthy" and then destroying it when they disperse?

I can understand why folk want to leave a trace while everything falls apart though and until people can see a future again I think these things will increase.
posted by unearthed at 11:43 PM on December 4 [3 favorites]


my 87 year old mom (who used to be a geologist, but now she mostly watches CNN and roots for Trump's downfall) is at best bemused by all of this. These rocks are millions maybe billions of years old. They can take care of themselves.
posted by philip-random at 12:09 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


"They can take care of themselves"
Sure, the rocks are fine, it's the ecosystems we're worried about.
posted by Floydd at 12:13 AM on December 5 [31 favorites]


Can I leave bread crumbs?
posted by breadbox at 1:17 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


On the one hand, even just in the context of wilderness I feel like this is a relatively minor disruption compared to things like carving on trees or having fires in stupid places. On the other hand, yeah, please don't. Painted rocks are litter, and rock stacks can be a safety issue as they can be mistaken for cairns.

My small neice did really get a kick out of the painted rock she found in Acadia though, I have to admit. They're still litter, but it would have been pretty heartless to stomp on her joy.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:04 AM on December 5


Also, I'll give you some points back if your rock stack is unusually skillful, or if it actually does serve as a cairn e.g. showing me where the trail picks up on the other side of a difficult water crossing.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 2:08 AM on December 5


Hard to believe this has a material impact on ecosystems. It does dispel the impression (illusion?) that these places are true wilderness - perhaps that's what makes it annoying, like someone who insists on whistling in a place that should be quiet.
posted by Segundus at 2:13 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


Yes, it does have a material impact on ecosystems because stones are shelter for small creatures and reduce soil erosion.
posted by ambrosen at 2:43 AM on December 5 [21 favorites]


Compared to everything else people do, this shit if minor. But if you go to natural places to get away from civilization (as much as possible in the circumstances), you don't want to find some dude's stack of rocks everywhere you turn.
posted by pracowity at 3:02 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


On the one this is a crappy trend with a negative impact that is mostly for show on the internet. On the other hand, I feel like our lack of ability to interact with nature, foraging, forest gardening, giving BACK to plants and animals in a give and take- is something I don't like about the way environmentalism often encourages us to see ourselves and nature as too different things and to almost prefer that we just destroy an entire wilderness area to plonk a bunch of houses, destroy al the trees and wildlife for the concrete jungle and then create a "wilderness area" somewhere else- instead of looking for more ways to integrate wilderness and activities into human habitats and creating healthy and ethical means of encouraging people to forage and harvest natural materials to create.

Don't get me wrong I'm not saying that THIS is a good way to interact with nature, it's not, but I feel like the ethics of leave no trace for all interaction with nature along with not removing anything from nature leaves seems like part of the problem of why humans don't view themselves as part of nature, giving and receiving. We are not some species that exists in isolation outside of nature, we are part of nature and we impact it whether we ever go in forest or not.
posted by xarnop at 4:39 AM on December 5 [19 favorites]


For an even more extreme position on this that I read just yesterday; this story at Backpacker - Opinion: Down With Cairns
posted by achrise at 4:55 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


I find them handy as one of nature’s warning signs—like Bettie Page bangs, bumpersticker-encrusted Foresters, and yoga classes, they serve to alert us that a migratory flock of the Greater North American Twee has descended upon a region to feed until the area’s reserves of mindfulness and authenticity have been exhausted.
posted by sonascope at 4:59 AM on December 5 [26 favorites]


Don't do it in a shared space. Do it at home, assholes.
posted by agregoli at 5:05 AM on December 5


social media that was a mistake.

Closed facebook doggo groups are the real internet.
posted by Damienmce at 5:51 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


Stone stacking at the otherwise beautiful Ross Creek Cedars in northwestern Montana. It’s like carving initials in trees or throwing beer cans in streams. Remember “take only pictures and leave only footprints”?
posted by cenoxo at 5:53 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


This reminds me most of the FPP about the burger joint that was ruined by being labeled the number one burger. The article talked about how it's not necessarily popularity that's the problem, but popularity among Instagrammers. Tourists are coming in and out of a location once so its long term beauty and survival is not their priority. Getting that one great picture is. They have no motivation to be good guests.
posted by tofu_crouton at 6:02 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


stones are shelter for small creatures and reduce soil erosion

Yeah, but how many stones are there in a landscape? I read about a Scottish farmer who had been removing stones from his field systematically every year. His father, his grandfather had done the same. It was still too stony to plough, and could only be used for rough pasture, but he persisted in the belief that one day, perhaps when his great-grandson took over, it must be possible to finally get rid of the stones.

Maybe Scotland is exceptionally stony; maybe people have swarmed across the land in these national parks methodically stripping everything. Though you know the stones are still there; even stacks contribute refuges, perches and other potentially useful features to the ecosystem. Maybe they improve biodiversity?

I’m not convinced there is any overall impact. Have the voles really ceased to chirp and dive where there are stacks, or is it actually more the unnatural appearance of the stacks that bothers us?
posted by Segundus at 6:34 AM on December 5 [5 favorites]


Perhaps there should be stacking parks in old quarries where people who enjoy this kind of thing can get on with it without spoiling the ‘natural’ view the rest of us prefer.
posted by Segundus at 6:36 AM on December 5 [9 favorites]


That sounds like something a professional should evaluate, like park rangers or environmentalists, and in fact I have good news! Or does the fact that they’ve studied the situation necessarily taint their judgment?
posted by thoroughburro at 6:37 AM on December 5 [25 favorites]


Are tourist cairns also a problem in Europe?

[Build one big enough and old enough, and you may get Cairn de Barnenez.]
posted by cenoxo at 6:43 AM on December 5


If you enjoy stacking stones, and live in England, Wales, or Northern Ireland, then you can volunteer with the National Trust (for example) to help maintain dry stone walls.
posted by cyanistes at 6:52 AM on December 5 [13 favorites]


This is pretty minor at the landscape scale relative to other impacts (for example, compare photos of rock stacks to an average copper mine). But the impacts are localized into ecologically sensitive areas, and create visual impacts as well as small-scale ecological impacts; the land managers and ecologists are correct to discourage this.

Rock painting is much more of an assholish thing. You can undo a rock stack by bumping it, or just letting weather and gravity degrade the stack, but the paint is (obviously) totally unnatural and can persist for many years.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:57 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


But that wouldn't let me express my individuality by making piles like the other hikers!
posted by timdiggerm at 6:58 AM on December 5 [10 favorites]


I did this in the burrens in Ireland before I knew that we weren't supposed to and my face still turns hot when I think about it. I guess it's not obvious that it can cause a problem but I feel like I should have known better. It's very satisfying, though, to get the stones to balance. Maybe we should just all balance our own dang stones.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 6:59 AM on December 5 [1 favorite]


the way environmentalism often encourages us to see ourselves and nature as too different things and to almost prefer that we just destroy an entire wilderness area to plonk a bunch of houses, destroy al the trees and wildlife for the concrete jungle and then create a "wilderness area" somewhere else-

I'm not sure I'd call that environmentalism. Anyway, this environmentalist would like to see people build up instead of out. Leave green spaces green. Most people can interact with nature on their home turf every day if, for example, they plant gardens or window boxes with stuff selected for the local insects and birds to enjoy, and if they stop using insecticides and herbicides. And when people go out to natural (or "natural") places where people want to try to forget about civilization for the moment, it would be cool if they wouldn't tag those places with Instagram-ready piles of stones.
posted by pracowity at 7:00 AM on December 5 [8 favorites]


you're still left with the collective action problem of people thinking it's ok if they do it just this once, or it's ok if it's somewhere where it won't be noticed, or it's ok because they're special and they shouldn't have to deny themselves the pleasure of doing this thing

My theory is that the free rider problem is actually not such a problem at all. Most people follow the rules, even when sanctions are minimal. And if a tiny group of people do the shitty thing, and there are only a tiny few painted rocks and they really are in out of the way places, then it is no biggie.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:03 AM on December 5


Maybe Scotland is exceptionally stony

Yeah, way more so than we are used to in the US. Scotland's last glaciation was only for a hundred years ago, maybe, and that's what pushed all the rocks there. That's why the dry stone walls are all over the place, you had to do something with the rocks you were moving for pasture. They're like human ant hills. We get a little of this in New England, which was glaciated, but not s' much in the Midwest, Southern, or Southwest US.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 7:11 AM on December 5 [3 favorites]


Horse cairns are biodegradable.
posted by peeedro at 7:12 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


I like to make little rock stacks at my local swimming hole, and have been doing so since well before Facebook was a thing. Every year when the river floods it reshapes the beach and redistributes literally millions of pebbles, so I'm completely unconvinced that my occasional little tower of up to twelve (personal best!) is causing any ecological damage whatsoever.

I like to base them on rocks that just stick out above the waterline in the middle of the river, so they last only until the arrival of the next rain anyway. I don't photograph them. I just enjoy the process of building them, and I like seeing how long they can stay up before something (wind, water, small children) knocks them down.

Totally not ashamed. Not in the slightest. You know who ought to be ashamed about the way they treat my local swimming hole? The filthy bastards who leave behind the broken beer bottles and cigarette butts and plastic bags and cans and (on several occasions) well-filled disposable nappies that I regularly remove from the river beach, not me.
posted by flabdablet at 7:12 AM on December 5 [6 favorites]


The rocks are a little annoying but not nearly as bad as other behaviour, like carving things into living trees in parks and hiking areas. Hawaii was particularly bad for this - it was appalling how many trees were just absolutely covered in people's names. Tree photos had to be aimed well above shoulder level to avoid the worst of the graffiti. It was so sad to see. I assume it's particularly common there because there are so very many tourists visiting from far away that you'll end up with clueless destructive assholes visiting unsupervised areas every single day. And each of them probably thinks (if they even think at all) that it's no big deal to slice up the tree a little more because the trees are already defaced.

If you ever do that, seriously, fuck you.
posted by randomnity at 7:23 AM on December 5 [8 favorites]


Living in a hilly place (to say the least - hello Rockies), I have rarely found a stone that begs to be disturbed; or taken home. The erosion factor is big significance; especially on 20 degree+ slopes that already have sparse vegetation.
I have at times removed fire rings of rock - after the party the trash never seems to leave. After dispersing the same ring two or three times; only to keep finding it reassembled and with subsequent after party trash; I upscaled it's location to my yard. Oddly enough; it's former residence has been trash free since it moved. Sorry to break up the party; and youre welcome Mother Nature.
On the rare occasion I do find a lost rock; middle of a field perhaps; it will sometimes come down the MTN with me. Totally lost rocks - as if they fell from the sky - no little trees nearby, flora, etc. Small meteor; who knows. Lost rocks.
So yeah; thanks for the ideas on recreational activities to do with the intermittent wtf stacks of rock; a lot of them never really looked 'right'; and now I know why.
posted by Afghan Stan at 7:34 AM on December 5 [5 favorites]


Totally lost rocks - as if they fell from the sky - no little trees nearby, flora, etc. Small meteor; who knows. Lost rocks.

Do these rocks behave erratically?
posted by edeezy at 7:41 AM on December 5 [4 favorites]


I have mixed feelings about this practice. Let me start by saying I understand that this can be dangerous and detrimental to ecosystems in some places and should clearly be discouraged if that is the case.

However, often it is principally a visual irritation that reminds us that our pristine wildernesses are neither pristine nor wilderness. Human beings are animals and we mark our territory as we travel.

I’m not a cairn or Inukshuk builder, but as a child I spent hours in the undeveloped area behind my suburban house and on family camping trips braiding grasses, climbing trees and making forts. As an adult if you put me down on a beach or show me rocks during a hike I’ll start sorting shells or rocks by colour or shape, building sandcastles, developing channels for the water to flow in different ways or building boats of sticks and leaves to see which way the wind will push them.

Despite the many problems with the Land Art of the 1960s I have always loved the Richard Long piece “A Line Made by Walking”. We are surrounded by Lines Made by Walking. The city planners can build a wavy walking path by the river, but joggers will cut through the grass. My workplace can lay down a fancy brick path, but it is not the shortest route so those arriving will shun the bricks and carve a direct path to the front door. The marble stairs in the building are worn down in the centre. The wood on the way to the bathroom door in my house is bleached and scratched. The springs in the best seat at the coffee shop clank and complain from all the bums that have arrived and left before me. We don’t get to touch the art in many places European dominated western world, but travel to other places or learn about non-western cultures and see sculptures worn smooth by generations of hands, totem poles that are built, rise, fall and rot, temples that change each day as people come and build and take away objects and items.

Our pristine wildernesses are neither pristine, nor wilderness. I’m clearly in the minority here, but walking along the seawall in Vancouver and seeing all the piles of carefully balanced rocks makes me happy. All of those people took the time out of their day to stop, pick up the rocks and work with them to create this thing that shows that they have passed. Their little sculptures will not last and neither will they. Humans working together, consciously or unconsciously, can make something beautiful or make something horrible. I don’t want us to thoughtlessly destroy the environment. I do want space for people to create and enjoy what they have made so I am in favour of rock garden construction spaces for the proletariat.
posted by Cuke at 7:51 AM on December 5 [11 favorites]


I don't know if it is the fault of social media, but we've noticed a massive increase in the number of names painted on the granite cliffs near our cottage. The perpetrators always date their names, which makes it really easy to notice the increase. They are also going to more extremes to get their names in inaccessible places on the cliffs.

Some of the oldest names are from the early 70's. Paint lasts way too long in the Canadian shield.

We pick up cans and bottles and other garbage, and kick over piles of rocks and inukshuks when we go hiking in the wilderness up there. Doing our part to keep nature natural.
posted by fimbulvetr at 7:53 AM on December 5


I read about a Scottish farmer who had been removing stones from his field systematically every year.

He just needs to declare his field to be a national park. If it gets one million visitors a year (Zion gets 4 million, so that seems feasible) and only 1% of them think it's a good idea to make a pile of rocks while they're there, that's practically as good as hiring 500 full-time workers to pile them up into easily-removed stacks.
posted by sfenders at 7:54 AM on December 5 [10 favorites]


Why so many responses saying this has minimal impact? It has a huge impact. Know how I know? PARK RANGERS say it does. The articles do too, the New Yorker going into great detail of how time consuming and awful it is, and how many rocks are ruined by paint and how many stacks emoloyees must knock down. It's a practice that you do NOT need to do in any kind of shared park, and if you don't believe in the environmental impact, then think of the labor involved in cleaning up after you. And I agree with the other point above - don't carve up a damn tree either.
posted by agregoli at 10:07 AM on December 5 [27 favorites]


Moving rocks in New England to see the bug trails and slimy stuff underneath them is neat - I was taught to do it as a kid, and taught other kids. Sometimes you can find salamanders this way.

I wonder how many of these people come from suburbs where insects and molds are extremely abundant and considered pests. Probably not very many. :c
posted by bagel at 11:25 AM on December 5 [2 favorites]


I used to write "STOP LITTERING" in them if I found them, but I bet those boxes are still there, their plastic crumbling from UV damage, the fad now mostly passed.

My weekly Geocaching NEW caches email suggests otherwise.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 6:15 PM on December 5


Can I leave bread crumbs?

Do you want ants? Because...

Oh wait, I guess we do there.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:30 PM on December 5 [3 favorites]


I was hiking on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path in Wales last summer and saw lots of little stone piles. My hiking pal and I thought wow people around here sure do like to stack rocks!

The loveliest thing we saw was laid out on a rock shelf big enough to seat a small family, flowers made of long red pebbles as petals with round grey pebbles as the center.

Forgive me, I had no idea it was a global problem. We totally thought it was a Welsh thing lol.

There were some really beautiful pebbles on the beaches there. I was so tempted to take some home but I do know better than that.
posted by maggiemaggie at 7:47 PM on December 5


I don't know if it is the fault of social media, but

[narrator voice] It is the fault of social media.

Why so many responses saying this has minimal impact?

Because there are many places to do this where it does have minimal impact, but social media being what it is, the effect of not drawing attention to some of those places will be to encourage the demonization of the practice in and of itself regardless of context.

The takeaway rule should not be "stacking rocks bad". The takeaway rule should be that when you're visiting spaces specifically designated as refuges from the omnipresent signs of humanity's domination of this planet, strive to remove such signs before you go instead of leaving more, don't take souvenirs, and don't use up stuff that people didn't put there.

Once we start down the path of enumerating all the different kinds of sign you're not supposed to leave behind, all we're doing is over-complicating the idea and opening it up to rules lawyers.

I have a fundamental objection to the old slogan of "take only photographs, leave only footprints". Personally I would be happier if visitors to national parks took away cigarette butts, plastic bags, cans, bottles and other factory output, tried to walk where their footprints didn't show, and failed to take or at least to publish beautiful pictures that entice the thundering herd to increase.
posted by flabdablet at 8:55 PM on December 5 [4 favorites]


Yeah, a few rocks set on top of each other on a rocky mountaintop or beach is pretty minimal. Park Rangers have a job to do and part of that job is telling people not to do stuff like that, but that doesn't mean that everything they would rather visitors not do is equally bad. That said, the fact that it disrupts other visitors' experience of wildness is in itself enough reason for me to feel that the practice should be discouraged. Not everyone who goes to a National Park is on that page though—"experience of wildness" is a pretty nebulous thing that most people these days just don't really think about or value, frankly. But Park Rangers gonna Park Ranger, and I support them in that. They're doing angels' work.

There are plenty of places where it's perfectly OK to do this stuff. My town's beach, for example—bring the family, bring buckets and spades, sort and stack and dig and build in the sand to your heart's content. You can even pick seaglass, shells, and interesting rocks to bring home. That's totally fine there. Other places should be left strictly alone to be as wild as they can be.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:31 AM on December 6


Yeah, a few rocks set on top of each other on a rocky mountaintop or beach is pretty minimal.

Rocky mountaintops are probably the worst place to do it because of safety concerns. Cairns are used for marking the trail above the treeline because there are no other options. If the weather turns foul, the silhouettes of the cairns are the only thing available for way-finding. A superfluous rock stack can be the difference between someone continuing along the trail to safety or getting lost in bad weather looking for the next cairn.
posted by peeedro at 8:31 AM on December 6 [6 favorites]


Yeah, fair point. I've been on talus in low-visibility conditions where the only navigational marker I could see was a single rather dilapidated cairn and could have easily gotten lost if it had turned out to be a bandit cairn rather than a real one. I was thinking more in terms of ecological effects, but as a safety hazard they can certainly be a real problem.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:39 AM on December 6 [1 favorite]


> I used to write "STOP LITTERING" in them if I found them, but I bet those boxes are still there, their plastic crumbling from UV damage, the fad now mostly passed

I'm making a puzzled face at your "fad" comment. I enjoy geocaching, but yeah, it's depressing when you can walk right up to the cache because of the geotrail. I leave comments pointing it out when that happens, or if you can't get to the cache from the trail, or if the cache is in a restricted area, but ugh, people, they're the worst.
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:25 PM on December 6


Most of the unmarked peaks in the White Mountains, the ones that have no official trail leading to the top, have summit caches. Usually something like a mason jar or a piece of capped PVC pipe, with a little log sheet in it where you can put your name and the date. They predate GPS.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:44 PM on December 6 [1 favorite]


When hiking with friends in the mountains of New Hampshire, we were on one mountain which was entirely smooth granite, no soil or plants, with the trail marked by hiking ducks (small cairns), when suddenly the stacks disappeared. We consulted our maps, guessed the path, and found where all the rocks had gone: some group of people had hauled up several logs to the top of the mountain, and had relocated all the trail marking rocks to make a fire ring. It must have been a pretty big fire, the ring was about 10' across, and some of the charcoal-encrusted log remnants were still over a foot thick and 3-4 feel long where they stuck out of the ash. It wasn't fresh, but wasn't too old, as the ash hadn't washed away yet.

We eventually figured out the way down the mountain, and let the rangers know what we found. They already knew about it, but were going to have to get budgeting to rebuild the trail markers.

I'll admit I've stacked a few rocks, in and around streams mostly, but always on private property. After one party with a lot of friends, the landlord of the property insisted we take the stacks down around the creek's swimming hole, claiming they were demonic, so I got to drive back (6 hours) knock down the rocks (20 minutes) and drive back home (6 hours) to keep our deposit intact.
posted by Blackanvil at 5:08 PM on December 6 [3 favorites]


I never even noticed the rock stacks until someone pointed them out to me like 15 years ago. That person liked to be a dick and put a small rock on the top so no one else could add to the stack. Now that makes him not a dick, just an environmentalist apparently?
posted by LizBoBiz at 5:16 AM on December 7 [1 favorite]


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