Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Rock Steady: The World’s 10 Most Amazing Balanced Stones

Rock Steady: The World’s 10 Most Amazing Balanced Stones: [ By Steve in 7 Wonders Series, Geography & Travel, History & Trivia. ]

Earth may be one of the most geologically active planets in the solar system, but don’t tell that to these 10 brazenly oblivious balanced stones. Poised between inertial stability and the relentless force of gravity, these rock-steady rocks maintain a precarious balance between soil and sky.

Balanced Rock, Colorado, USA

(images via: Suhafuha, World Is Round, Bagel! and Transformations and Whispers)

The huge balanced rock known as, er, Balanced Rock can be found in the Garden of the Gods, a Registered National Natural Landmark located near Pike’s Peak in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The rock looms over a paved access road that provides an excellent view – hopefully, not the last view an unlucky driver ever sees.

(image via: BamaWester)

The photo above highlights the layers of sandstone that make up Balanced Rock while accentuating the narrow base that has weathered away over the eons, partially freeing the boulder of harder red sandstone from its imprisoning matrix of softer stone.

Balancing Rock, Digby, Nova Scotia, Canada

(images via: Joanpopular, Nova Scotia Blogs and Welcome To Nova Scotia)

Balancing Rock in Digby, Nova Scotia, is a 30-odd foot high spire of columnar basalt that has gradually eroded out from the cliff face over countless years. The town of Digby has lately built an infrastructure of railings and walkways so that access to this striking phenomenon of nature is now much safer – both for tourists and for the rock itself.

(image via: Archer10)

According to Wally Hayes, a first-time visitor to Balancing Rock, “I was even more awestruck when I approached for a closer view and could look under the rock through a narrow horizontal crack and see the ocean beyond. The rock column didn’t appear to have much attachment to base rock on which it stood. Not only that, part of the base protruded out from the supporting rock. It looked like a pencil standing upright, half on and half off the edge of a table top. But this was not pencil, rather many tons of solid rock.”

Idol Rock, Brimham Moor, North Yorkshire, UK

(images via: Armchair Travelogue, Tj.Blackwell and The Pilgrim Club)

A number of oddly shaped and curiously balanced rocks dot a 50-acre expanse of Brimham Moor in North Yorkshire, England. One of the most outstanding – from a balanced rock point of view – is the so-called Idol Rock. Estimated to weight around 200 tons, Idol Rock balances its enormous weight atop a comparatively tiny, pyramidal stone upon which frighteningly high pressures are being expended.

(image via: Deputy Dog)

Idol Rock and its companion Brimham Rocks, which include The Sphinx, The Watchdog, The Camel, The Turtle, and The Dancing Bear, can be viewed at the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The UK’s National Trust oversees the area and admittance is free.

El Torcal de Antequera, Andalucia, Spain

(images via: Pixelhut, Spain Online and

El Torcal Nature Reserve, situated in the mountains south of Antequera, Spain, features a plethora of karst limestone rock formations that typically feature tall, tapering spires of rock combined with horizontal weathering patterns. The result of this combination is often expressed in huge “flapjack stacks” that are actually more stable than they appear.

(image via: Graphix 1)

The karst stone towers of El Torcal de Antequera have evolved terraces of limestone over which tourists can ascend like stairs in order to get up close & personal with the rocks. Climbing further is NOT recommended, however – Darwin has provided enough examples in the reserve without your becoming another one!

Kjeragbolten, Norway

(images via: Armchair Travelogue, and Diamir8000)

Kjeragbolten is a 5 square meter (roughly 15 sq ft) rock that his wedged itself in a crevasse between two gigantic rocks on Kjerag mountain, Norway. It’s not your typical, top-heavy balanced rock by any means but that’s not to say that Kjeragbolten is at perfect rest – just ask Aron Ralston, whose arm was trapped by a similarly wedged boulder in Utah’s Blue John Canyon, requiring him to take desperate measures to free himself.

(image via: Vacation Ideas)

Unlike Ralston’s nemesis in an underground canyon, Kjeragbolten is lodged high up on Kjerag. How high? Those who are brave enough to walk across the boulder (and yes, this is allowed) can easily view the valley floor about 1,000 meters (over 3,000 feet) below. For sheepish hikers especially, the admonition “don’t look down” was never so appropriate.

Peyro Clabado, Sidobre, France

(images via: Notes From A Broad, L’Ardoise Magique de Christineee and Hiramabi)

Peyro Clabado (Nailed Rock) is perhaps the most famous of the many enormous, eroded granite boulders and rock formations that make up the Sidobre in Languedoc, France. The rocks are all that remain of a 300 million year old mountain range that loomed over what was to become western Europe. Today, isolated outcrops loom over intrepid visitors who have hopefully updated their wills before visiting.

(image via: TechniPIERRE)

As hard and dense as granite may be, given enough time even the hardest specimens will be reduced to sand and sediment. Peyro Clabado is on its way to that fate, but for a brief moment in geological time we’re privileged to observe this 780-ton rock perform an exquisitely delicate balancing act.

Mushroom Rocks, Kansas, USA

(images via: All The Pages Are My Days, Space Weather and Sarah/RoadTrip2007)

Mushroom Rock State Park, located in the Smoky Hills region of Kansas, may only be 5 acres in size but it holds some of the oddest balancing rocks on Earth… and yes, a couple of them do indeed resemble mushrooms. Very, very large mushrooms – one might expect to see the hookah-smoking caterpillar from Alice In Wonderland relaxing on top of one.

(image via: Susan Ward Aber)

The Kansas Mushroom Rocks are a work in progress, and unfortunately the end of the job means the end of the rock formation. Although weathering by wind and water is a slow process, it’s remarkably effective over long stretches of time. In the Mushroom Rocks, one can easily see how the harder, darker Dakota Sandstone cap rock protects (to some degree) the softer, lighter colored stone that forms its pedestal. Even more remarkable is the fact that the narrow pedestal was once part of a distinct layer of rock, the vast majority of which has eroded away.

Chiremba Balancing Rocks, Epworth, Zimbabwe

(images via: Gerald Zinnecker and Deeping Blogorama)

The Chiremba Balancing Rocks are little known outside of Zimbabwe but the locals certainly appreciate their majesty: one impressive grouping is featured on the country’s banknotes. Like the balancing rocks of the Sidobre in France, these weathered boulders are made of ancient granite and it’s taken millions of years for them to settle into their outwardly precarious positions.

(image via: TravelJournals/TheGoose)

Epworth is located a few miles southeast of Zimbabwe’s capitol, Harare, and the Chiremba Balancing Rocks are just a short taxi ride away. They were declared a national monument in 1994 and admission to the park is approximately 3 dollars.

Mexican Hat Rock, Utah, USA

Mexican Hat Rock is located just outside Monument Valley in south-central San Juan County, Utah. The 60-foot (18 m) wide by 12-foot (3.7 m) thick red sandstone rock outcropping is the only one of its kind in the area and can be seen for miles around.

(image via: Bridgepix)

There are two designated climbing routes laid out for those who wish to make the strenuous hike to the base of Mexican Hat Rock’s sombrero-shaped cap. Though not a “balanced rock” in the pure sense of the term, the cap rock is attached to its base by a very narrow neck which will inevitably snap sooner or later… keep that in mind, hikers.

The Steady Hand Of Man

(images via: Rock On, Rock ON!, Squarewithin and Cheerful Monk)

The frozen tranquility of natural balanced rocks has inspired artists to try and replicate their beauty – not an easy proposition considering naturally balanced rocks have settled into their positions while creating such a tableau means working backwards, so to speak. Even so, the art of balancing rocks has gained a surprisingly large and talented following.

(image via: Rock On, Rock ON!)

Daliel Leite is one of these artists and his creations approach – and on occasion even match – the suspended splendor of nature’s best balanced rocks. The precisely oriented chunk of petrified wood above is one of Leite’s best known efforts. Is the rock still standing on its minuscule base, or did it tumble seconds after being photographed? Leite isn’t saying – and thanks to the marvel of photography, it really doesn’t matter.

(image via: Life Without Limits)

Those of a certain age will be very familiar with the concept of balanced rocks – and the consequences of their sudden unbalancing – shown time after time in the 48 classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons first broadcast in 1949. The 2D desert landscape in which Wile E. Coyote and Road Runner conducted their many epic encounters was a virtual minefield of balanced rocks which suddenly, catastrophically, became unbalanced when in close proximity to poor Wile E.’s noggin. Luckily, reality is kinder to both coyotes and balanced rocks – there are still plenty of both to go around!

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