Back to previous post: Open thread 123

Go to Making Light's front page.

Forward to next post: Snowed In

Subscribe (via RSS) to this post's comment thread. (What does this mean? Here's a quick introduction.)

May 3, 2009

It’s a big rock.
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:02 AM * 108 comments

I’m going to tell all of my friends. None of them have a rock this big.

Back in the 19th century folks who needed a thrill like no other would get in their carriages and locomotive trains and travel hundreds of miles to see wonders of the natural world. There’s one such wonder a mere 97 miles from my front door, so, yesterday, a beautiful blue-sky day, we jumped in the car and started driving.

What wonder, you ask, is 97 miles from my doorstep? Why, Madison Boulder, of course. Famed. You used to be able to get postcards to commemorate your visit. (Maybe you still can.) Eminent Victorians would travel from Boston and New York to see it.

The boulder is located in the town of Madison, New Hampshire. 1,900 souls. Named for President James Madison. A town so obscure that doesn’t even have a photo. Madison’s most famous native son, Charles A. Hunt, isn’t that well-known either.

How to find the boulder: Your best route to Rt. 16 in New Hampshire. Two miles south of Conway, you’ll come to the junction with Rt. 113. Turn left (if you’re coming from the north) or right (if you’re coming from the south, take the second junction with 113), onto Deer Hill Road (Rt. 113). Drive a ways past a sand-and-gravel company, and you’ll see a brown sign with white lettering on the right pointing to Madison Boulder. Turn right on Boulder Road. Drive past the Transfer Station, all the way to the end of the road, where the pavement ends, and keep on going down a dirt road (don’t try this if your vehicle has low ground clearance). Eventually you’ll come to a small parking area, and there it is: the Boulder. The biggest glacial erratic in New England. One of the largest in the world. Depending on who you believe, it moved somewhere between four and twenty-four miles to get here. It’s roughly rectangular, twenty-three feet high above the ground (and an estimated dozen feet below), eighty-three feet long, and fifty-five feet wide,

We make our own fun here in New Hampshire.

Promoted from the comment thread, #15 by kid bitzer:

they say that daniel webster hid a special speech under that rock, a speech so round and ringing, so cogent and compelling, so grand and good, that it would win a man a presidential election.

and countless young politicians, burning to rule the land, came and tried to lift that boulder, yearning to get at that speech.

and those burning, yearning young politicians came to the rock and they grunted and groaned and strained and sprained. and they went off deflated, frustrated, and herniated, because none of them could lift the rock to get the speech.

until one day a young man came to new hampshire, slim as a rail, and lean as a pry-bar, and he too wanted to be president. ‘you’ll have to lift that rock,’ they told him, ‘and you’re no weight-lifter, to look at you.’

but he went to that rock, and he gave it a speech. he never stooped, he never pried, he never dug nor grunted. he just stood tall and talked to it. and he talked about our nation, and he talked about our past, and he talked about our forests and our cities and our triumphs and our sins and the way we got to here and the way we’ll move ahead to there.

and the rock raised up, and the speech stepped forth, and daniel webster’s old moldy scroll said: “you don’t need me. you have the speech you need to give to the world.”

and they say that young man went on to become president, and from that day the fortunes of his country changed for the better.

Oh, yes. E. E. Cummings, the poet, lived in Madison, NH. He had a summer home there (“Joy Farm” on Silver Lake), where he lived from 1923 until his death (in Conway, NH, in 1962). It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. To find it just keep going on Rt. 113.
Comments on It's a big rock.:
#1 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 10:32 AM: doesn't have a picture of my home town either.

#2 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 10:33 AM:

Hey, if Australia can have a national pet rock, why not? And theirs is a lot more remote, although that applies to the continent in general . . .

#3 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 10:43 AM:

What a neat site! It has my town:

We don't have a rock, though.

#4 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 10:53 AM:

Rock on!

(What? Somebody had to say it.)

#5 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 10:57 AM: does have a photograph for Morehead, KY, where I lived for four years. Morehead proclaims itself "The Hardwood Capital of the World". I've never understood why.

#6 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 11:12 AM:

Well, it's no Uluru, but I'll allow as it's still a Pretty Big Rock.

#7 ::: Phiala ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 12:02 PM:

Okay, I knew I grew up out in the sticks, but... doesn't even LIST the two towns closest to where I grew up.

#8 ::: Elyse Grasso ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 12:34 PM:

Another glacial discard, Cochegan Rock in Montville, Connecticut was proclaimed the largest free-standing boulder in New England after it was measured by scientists from Harvard in the 1870s.

It was recently sold back to the Mohegans (for whom it has religious and historical significance) by the Boy Scouts, who had owned the property or many years.

It sounds like yours is bigger, but Cochegan Rock was moved farther (I don't think they know what mountain it came from.)

#9 ::: Chris J ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 01:07 PM:

All the cool rocks out my way are infested with boulderers. Any picture of such an impressive chunk of stone as yours on a sunny, weekend day would show it crawling with helmeted ant-humans snaking ropes all over it.

#10 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 01:36 PM:

That's a big ass rock.

I'd come to see it. I like rocks.

#11 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 01:48 PM:

We have some places we go to in LA. I am fond of Sturtevant Falls which are 1: Year round (a sort of glorified dew pond, actually), and 2: quite variable, while 3: having a very attractive approach.

The light is also very different, depending on the time of year.

#12 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 02:24 PM:

Re: #7 Really? Wow. It has Elnora NY, where I grew up, and it's only about a mile long. Maybe that's because it was a 19th century stagecoach stop.

#13 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 02:24 PM:

I grew up with a smaller version of the Rock in our front yard. Naturally, we call it "Big Rock". The town attempted to make it smaller when they wanted to widen the road there. After making hardly any dent in it with their drills, they gave up all hope of widening the road *there* and moved on.

Now Big Rock has been chipped and doesn't have the nice little ledge along the bottom that made it easier to climb the front, but it's still There.

(...and I am not blowing any raspberries at the town. Nope. That sound you hear is just the Rock, shifting.)

#14 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 03:30 PM:

Big rocks can be handy. I once got un-lost while driving in New Mexico when I came over a rise, looked down at a town situated between three big rock outcroppings, and said "That has got to be Tres Piedras."

#15 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 04:17 PM:

they say that daniel webster hid a special speech under that rock, a speech so round and ringing, so cogent and compelling, so grand and good, that it would win a man a presidential election.

and countless young politicians, burning to rule the land, came and tried to lift that boulder, yearning to get at that speech.

and those burning, yearning young politicians came to the rock and they grunted and groaned and strained and sprained. and they went off deflated, frustrated, and herniated, because none of them could lift the rock to get the speech.

until one day a young man came to new hampshire, slim as a rail, and lean as a pry-bar, and he too wanted to be president. 'you'll have to lift that rock,' they told him, 'and you're no weight-lifter, to look at you.'

but he went to that rock, and he gave it a speech. he never stooped, he never pried, he never dug nor grunted. he just stood tall and talked to it. and he talked about our nation, and he talked about our past, and he talked about our forests and our cities and our triumphs and our sins and the way we got to here and the way we'll move ahead to there.

and the rock raised up, and the speech stepped forth, and daniel webster's old moldy scroll said: "you don't need me. you have the speech you need to give to the world."

and they say that young man went on to become president, and from that day the fortunes of his country changed for the better.

[don't know why--i just liked the pictures of the rock, and it seemed like the sort of feature that should have legends attached to it. i give mine just as an example; if anyone else thinks a rock like that should have some good stories attached to it, i hope you'll write a better one.]

#16 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 04:53 PM:

kid blitzer: Not only is that a good story, it is a right story, and a true story.

Good, because it has the elements needed, right because it has the ring of folk, and the sense of people, and place (using Daniel Webster was a touch of genius), and true, because such a thing ought to be.

Well done. I shall have to try to remember it, and spread it forth.

#17 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:14 PM:

big rock

Just as long as no one tries to open it up to see what's inside it.

That never ends well.

#18 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:20 PM:

I'd go see it, but then I'm really fond of glacial erratics. Most of mine are metamorphosed siltstone (possibly the most boring rock on the planet) or the much more interesting BC Batholith granite.

#19 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:36 PM:

Can I wind a piece of string around it?

(But everybody wants a rock
To wind a piece of string around

Throw the crib door wide
Let the people crawl inside)

#20 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:37 PM:

Can I wind a piece of string around it?

(But everybody wants a rock
to wind a piece of string around)

#21 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 05:49 PM:

kid bitzer, #15: Very nice! You've got the cadence of a folk-tale down cold. Also, to me it brings up echoes of "One Tin Soldier," but inverted to be an inspirational rather than a cautionary tale. I'm with Terry -- well done.

#22 ::: 'As You Know' Bob ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:04 PM:

My favorite glacial erratic is "Balance Rock" in Pittsfield, Mass.

A mere 20' x 15' x 10', and a claimed 165 tons; but, on the other hand, it's mostly suspended off the ground.

#23 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:17 PM:

kid bitzer (15) You've got the rhythm of folk tales down so cold that it took me a while to be sure you weren't recounting a genuine one.

Higher praise there is none.

#24 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:30 PM:

Damn good stuff, kid bitzer. And the refrain of the young man's speech (in my mind) was "yes we can."

#25 ::: J Austin ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:45 PM:

Oh, hey, my home town has a picture on ePodunk. It was an oil boom town, and if I ever have a house I really love, I'm going to save some of the old, worn down bricks they paved the streets with for one of the floors. Everybody there avoids the last few that haven't been blacktopped--they're in disrepair, and rough on cars.

#26 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:50 PM:

kid bitzer --

And now we know why Presidential campaigns start in New Hampshire.

I'll join the chorus -- well done!

#28 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:55 PM:

wow! what an incredibly sweet and gratifying reaction! i'm very touched, and flattered.

but remember--the sincerest form of flattery is giving it a try yourself. so get writing! it's a big rock--i'm sure it can support a lot of legends.

#29 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 06:58 PM:

While we're doing The Local Rocks, here's mine. Not much, but this is a *cliff*. In *Kansas*.

It's very soft rock (limestone, IIRC) and it's hard to resist carving your name in it. At the back of one of the little caves in the cliffside is carved "Francisco Vázquez de Coronado 1541". Latest opinion is that it's genuine.

#30 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 07:00 PM:

Jim: I was going to ask "when are the auditions?", but I think "kid blitzer" already answered that question. ;-) (That was neat.)

#31 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 07:04 PM:

I'll join in the chorus, kid blitzer -- nice stuff.

Me, I just tell the odd tale or two of what's actually happened to me, and that seems to suffice.

#32 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 07:08 PM:

kid blitzer, that was fantastic!

#33 ::: Jenny Islander ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 09:34 PM:

If I had something like that in my town, I would suggest putting a sign next to it explaining how far overhead it probably was when it was moving. Phrased in the right way, that could give a bit of a chill.

We have an interesting local rock on a beach at the edge of town. It's actually an outcrop about the size of a sailboat and the shape of a two-master with all sails spread; it's made of layers of slate and shale poised nearly vertically and smoothed by the waves. Earth sciences classes study it every year because it's obviously solid, but also visibly eroding. The space between the two "sails" was barely big enough to put an arm through when I was a kid, but now you could almost lie down in it.

#34 ::: KeithS ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 09:56 PM:

kid bitzer @ 15:

Late to the party, but, wow, very nice.

#35 ::: Keith K ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 11:21 PM:

My wife has developed the reputation among our friends and family of hunting down impressive rocks to photograph while on trips. So far, we've seen every viking stone in southern Sweden and several impressive dolmens in Ireland, one of which we didn't find until well after sunset, but managed to get a picture of anyway using a long exposure.

I think I have a pic around here somewhere...

#36 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: May 03, 2009, 11:58 PM:

Never knew about, before now. My mother's home town, Parkin, AR, also has no photos. There's not much interesting about Parkin the town now (it's a small small farming town in the Mississipi Delta region, about 50 miles west of Memphis). But there is some archeological interest, which my family had a minor role in possibly destroying some part of.

My mother's family owned a farm in Parkin (actually, my mother and uncle still own it, but it's now leased out). When my grandfather was clearing some additional land for the farm, he wanted to clear an area which had an mound on it. There were Native American cultures who built mounds all over the various river valleys of the midwest and Mississippi regions, and quite a few in the general area in the eastern parts of the Arkansas along the Mississippi. So, my grandfather knew the mound might be of archeological interest, and he contacted some university (not sure which one, might have been U of Arkansas or possibly something in Tennessee) to ask if it should be excavated. They said no, they knew all about the mounds and there was nothing interesting there. So, it got dug up and turned into productive rice fields. This would have been in the late 1930s or early 1940s.

Of course, later on (circa 1965) anthropologists became more aware that there were things they did not know about these cultures, and another mound near Parkin which had gotten preserved because it was in an inconvenient location is now an archeological state park. (Three links, follow each word.) It's an active research location and gets quite a bit of local tourism. It's of particular interest because it is quite likely a site that was visited and described by Hernando de Soto in 1541.

#37 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 12:29 AM:

One measly little rock? ;-) We have a whole city made of rocks. In fact, that's what they call it, Rock City. Probably not all that great a name, but then the world was young in those days.

We also have an Aquarium.

#38 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 01:12 AM:

Yog can't get his rock off?

#29 Lightning
What, there wasn't any Bigfoot was here! graffitum?!

#39 ::: Errol ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 02:22 AM:

Back in the 19th century folks who needed a thrill like no other would get in their carriages and locomotive trains and travel hundreds of miles to see wonders of the natural world.

I was surprised to find out just how popular travelling to the Pink and White Terraces in NZ was in the early-mid 1880s (for the suitably well-off, of course).

#40 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 03:14 AM:

Some names for places are a surprise.

I was checking up on buildings in New York and Washington in 1939. There was, for instance, no Pentagon. but the history is alternative enough that I figured I could have William Stephenson set up early in the Rockefeller Center.

I see TV trailers for 30 Rock. So that's where it is.

#41 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 06:58 AM:

30 Rock is the first photo on Shorpy at the moment, and last week they had this great night shot.

Not having a picture on epodunk is no great distinction: Boring and Accident don't have pictures.

#42 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 08:59 AM:

There used to be a Very Big Rock on Monteagle Mountain that could be seen from I-24 as we travelled south to Chattanooga to visit my relatives. This Very Big Rock had a tree growing out of it, and was balanced on a Smaller Rock, and was located up above the interstate so you had to crane your neck up at a certain point to see it.

I did this every time we made the trip while growing up. It was a ritual I eagerly looked forward to. Then one day, after I had returned from college for a break, while going to visit the relatives, the rock was gone. The DOT had removed it as a possible hazard to the road, even though it had been there for more than 20 years without endangering anyone.

I still miss that Very Big Rock, and look hopefully, but futilely, every time I pass that way in my travels.

#43 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 09:23 AM:

oliciacw@#36: Well, at least your grandfather tried. Which is more than a lot of farmers would have bothered to do.

#44 ::: Jimcat Kasprzak ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 09:32 AM:

There's a Big Rock in Troy, NY. But it's not as impressive because it's partly buried in the ground instead of free-standing. Still, it's pretty impressive to see it standing there taking up the space of a couple of city blocks.

#45 ::: Wyman Cooke ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 10:44 AM:

John @ 42, Which side of I-24, going North or South? South was old Hwy 41. They later split off the Northbound lanes and ran them up another side of Monteagle.

#46 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 11:03 AM:

Speaking of Big Rocks above highways, there's the Glen Boulder along Rt. 16 in Pinkham Notch.

#47 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 12:46 PM:

Wyman @45,

The Nashville side of Monteagle on I-24. It was perhaps less than a mile up the grade from the bottom; there was a short vertical rock face cut into the mountain, then a slope up to natural ground where the boulder sat on its little pedestal.

I watched the Monteagle Mountain section of I-24 get improved throughout my life. I can remember my dad driving down the south side of I-24 when it was still US 41 and nothing separated the uphill and downhill traffic but a paint stripe between the lanes. Then TDOT added a third lane down the mountain (but nothing between the opposing lanes), and eventually built the uphill section around the other side of the mountain. The final downhill alignment on that side of Monteagle Mountain straightens many of the old, sharp curves, and flattens the grade somewhat, but puts the truck escape ramps on the opposite side of the road from the truck lane itself, which I consider a very dangerous design flaw.

The north side of I-24 on Monteagle hasn't had a lot of work done on it; a little widening to squeeze three lanes in each direction, and some median barrier work, but that's it. I think my Very Big Rock was removed during one of these upgrades; I was in college at the time so that would have put it somewhere back in the early 80's.

I miss that Very Big Rock; in my youth it was a symbol of permanence and reliability. Now it's gone no matter how hard I look for it when I drive past where it used to be.

#48 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 02:25 PM:

Hey, ePodunk has a "submit your photos" link. Get submittin'!

(Personally, I'm just psyched because my favorite place in the whole world to photograph is Luling, TX, which is listed on the site but photoless. I have one series that I've been doing every Thanksgiving for... I dunno, nearly 10 years? I think this year will be the 10th. Not that they'd want that particular set, but it reminds me that I can go back and play with organizing them, which will be fun.)

#49 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 02:26 PM:

The Elephant Rocks, in southeastern Missouri. It's worth noting that the St. François Mountains*, the name of the general area the Elephant Rocks are located in, are among the oldest remaining mountains on our planet.

Being granite, they're a little pink to make normal, non-hallucinatory elephants, but the size and shape are quite satisfactory.

*Pronounced St. Francis, because Missourians are like that.

#50 ::: Lars ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 02:53 PM:

We've got this. Uncharacteristically not hoaching with boulderers in these shots.

#51 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 03:11 PM:

thanks, lars.
from your link:

"One interesting feature of Big Rock is the large split down the middle. A Blackfoot story describes how this may have happened:

One hot summer day, Napi, the supernatural trickster of the Blackfoot peoples, rested on the rock because the day was warm and he was tired. He spread his robe on the rock, telling the rock to keep the robe in return for letting Napi rest there. Suddenly, the weather changed and Napi became cold as the wind whistled and the rain fell. Napi asked the rock to return his robe, but the rock refused. Napi got mad and just took the clothing. As he strolled away, he heard a loud noise and turning, he saw the rock was rolling after him. Napi ran for his life. The deer, the bison and the pronghorn were Napi's friends, and they tried to stop the rock by running in front of it. The rock rolled over them. Napi's last chance was to call on the bats for help. Fortunately, they did better than their hoofed neighbours, and by diving at the rock and colliding with it, one of them finally hit the rock just right and it broke into two pieces.

Not only does this story explain why the rock is in two pieces, but also why bats have squashed-looking faces. The tale provides helpful caution against taking back what you have given away."

it would have provided a more convincing caution if the rock had squished him, i think. given that the bats rescue him, maybe the lesson is to have friends in high places?

anyhow: more proof that big rocks need tall tales.

#52 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 03:55 PM:

Wyman, #45: I-24 doesn't have northbound/southbound, it runs east-west. (Well, southeast-northwest if you want to be technical, but it's numbered and labeled as an east-west route.)

#53 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 04:26 PM:

Lee @52,

Technically yes, even numbered interstates run east/west and odd numbered ones run north/south, but the diagonals like I-24 and I-26 are a bit hard to describe. Across Monteagle Mountain, though, I-24 tends to run more north/south than east/west.

Besides, I knew what he was talking about.

#54 ::: Mycroft W ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 05:43 PM:

Ah, Lars and I are from the same area. But he failed to mention that ours has a beer.

#55 ::: Lars ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 06:09 PM:

Mycroft is of course correct. Big Rock Breweries provides even more reason for Canadians to feel smug and fleering about their brewing chops. Unfortunately a couple of schooners of Trad quickly downed after mowing the lawn on a hot day (as such things go hereabouts) leave one reeling and stupid.

#56 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 06:33 PM:

The closest we got here is this rock, which is not nearly as big as your rock. It has a nice view of the river and passing ships, though. (That is, after it was brought were it's now. Originally it was found in the ground when they were digging the river deeper.)

#57 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 08:38 PM:

#38 ::: Paula Lieberman:

What, there wasn't any Bigfoot was here! graffitum?!

Bigfoot is, as near as we can tell, illeterate. As Tom Lehrer put it, "We'll have to make do with more primitive visual aids, as they say in the Ed Biz."

#58 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 10:28 PM:

We had this big rock formation up by the Wyoming border that we'd see when we took 85 up to Cheyenne. It was called the Natural Fort, because a group of Indians had stood off another group of Indians in a war they were having. Held out for a while, until the food was gone. The wind had carved out twisty, fluted shapes, and we may possibly have found an arrowhead once. I know I always looked and never found one.

Then they made plans to put I-25 through, along the same route. I'm told that the planners agonized over the natural attraction, worried that tourists going one way wouldn't be able to get out of their cars and see it. Some genius decided the thing to do was to put the road right through the middle of it, and people could get out and clamber over what was left -- maybe half of the original thing, maybe less.

I would have had the two sides of the road get farther away from each other there, and let the entire place be between them. I guess that's why I never amounted to anything.

#59 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 10:49 PM:

There is a photo of the boulder on Flickr, among other mentions of the place. It's tagged 'boulder', but not 'rock'.

Not sure if it hurts that they have USA, Canada, Ireland & UK, but not Australia.

#60 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 10:56 PM:

We don't have much in the way of single rocks, but there are places where the formations are worthy of attention (I supose El Cap, and Half Dome count, but they are really small mountains).

Vasquez Rocks are an amazing pile of wind carved upthrust sandstonnes. They have moved to the nearly vertical. Named for a bandito who hid out in them for years. Most known to most of us for the episode of ST, where Kirk fights the Garn.

Johsua Tree. A few hundred square miles of boulders piled on boulders. There are some amazing rocks in there (I am minded of one the size of a moderate hut, with a band of exposed pink quartzite. Rounded nodules, each about the size of my fist, running in an longitudinal ring, and evenly spaced.

Worth a days hiking to get to see it.

#61 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2009, 11:12 PM:

The last couple of times I got out to Colorado, I was able to go visit a sandstone rock up north of Fort Collins off the Laramie road, up past Ted's Place, or where it used to be before it burned down, and even past the trailer-sized nearly cubic Haystack Rock, which sharpers used to cover with hay and sell to suckers. They're talking about doing something to that road now, and I fear for Haystack Rock's future.

Signature Rock is a big old chunk that sticks up from the flatlands just before the mountains. It's on private property, on a ranch you get to by way of a tidy, well-maintained dirt road. My friend Randy has permission from the land owner to be there, and he parks his car and puts a note on the dash explaining who he is and what he's doing there, and we step out into the stubbly brush that feels like home to my feet and cross a fence or two as we head toward the rock.

The hike involves walking along a shaded creek where cattle have been drinking and little things splash into the water at our approach. Randy tells me that the rock is the tallest thing before the mountains, and could be seen by wagon trains from Nebraska or thereabouts, even before Steamboat Rock (which I walked up when I was about five, with a large group of some sort). The trail crosses the stream a few times, and I once picked up a roughly parallelepiped-shaped sandstone rock that turned out to have a broken geode embedded in the side I didn't see -- the best rock I ever found, and the only geode.

After a pleasant stroll, we are in the shade of the big sandstone, which has been eaten away by winds from Wyoming down by the ground, so that it vaguely resembles a half-formed mushroom cloud. The ground slopes up to it, becoming part by the time they meet. Here the travelers scribed their names into the soft stone back in the 19th century to let us know that they had been there and had rested a little before taking the Overland Trail or the Mormon Trail, or maybe even the Wheelbarrow Trail west on ruts that still cut a scar through the prairie.

We sat and took refreshment and sketched the hills and mountains that filled the western side of our field of view. One set of ruts gets deeper and deeper, opening out into a veritable gully. The others continue on in their directions over pastures where we can see cattle grazing; first the outlying guards, giving us a wary eye, then the rest of the herd, then outlying guards on the other side. We come out the other side instead of retracing, passing through a collection of tepee rings, still visible, and still a place where we can find rocks that seem to have been shaped for a purpose -- the one I find suggests a needle or an awl, with the tip broken off. I seem to recall tiny shards of pottery as well.

We're almost back at the car now. One time we saw a buck deer at the mouth of a box canyon, moving this way and that to keep a doe trapped inside. She'd go to one side, and he'd match her. She'd try the other side, he'd counter the move. I tried to move in for a picture, which disrupted the game, and they both ran off.

One time as we drove in, we found ourselves following a real cattle drive. If I'd had a digital camera then, I'd have pictures of it, so it must have been before the 2005 trip. Men on horses kept the livestock moving between the two fences that paralleled the road until they got to the desired section, opened up a fence, and let us pass. We were in no hurry.

Hoping to make it up there again soon. About a month from now if I'm lucky.

#62 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 02:42 AM:

15 or 16 years ago I went through Chiricahua National Monument in SE Arizona. It's way out of the way from anywhere, so it's not really well known. If you're ever down there it's worth a visit.

#63 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 03:22 AM:

I can't believe it took me this long to spot the Buffy reference.

#64 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 03:22 AM:

The Chiracahuas are great (Ft. Huachuca is in the middle of them. Maia and her mother did a trail maintanence trip there a few years ago.

#65 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 06:30 AM:

(Just wanted to say I enjoyed #15 very much too.)

I like rocks too. A friend has a blog about Oakland geology, called, sensibly, "Oakland Geology". He likes rocks really a lot. As an East Bay resident who likes to look at the landscape I find it interesting.

My favourite rocks were probably the flint rings - which I can't find a single photo of online - embedded in the chalk beaches of the North Norfolk coast, hereish. The chalk beaches are bright white chalk filled with rockpools and scattered with loose flints and belemnite fossils. Embedded in the chalk are large circular flint nodules - that is, they are rings, with many odd projections. Most of them are enormous. It is possible - although of course it would have been Very Wrong and Nobody Should Do It - that when I was about 11 I may have hauled one of the smaller rings - probably only 50lbs - up the cliffs to our caravan, into the car, then to grace to our back garden in Norwich for many years. Now I'm wondering if my mother took it to Cornwall when she moved. My 11 year old self will be annoyed if she didn't. That thing was heav. ee.

#66 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 06:47 AM:

And coincidentally the place she moved is next to another beach filled with extraordinary rocks - perfectly-rounded egg-shaped granite boulders that are pink, white, and blue, like a collection of giant stone easter eggs. A few photos I found, but even they don't really do it justice: 1, 2, 3

Unfortunately people keep stealing them because they're so beautiful. Yes, yes, I realize the problem in me complaining about that given what I just confessed to, and I certainly cannot make a full defense, but it is true that the two beaches are of very different types. The chalk beach is continuously eroded and new flint nodules are uncovered all the time (plus, nobody but me would be stupid enough to drag one across the beach and one up the cliffs). The granite boulder beach formed over tens of thousands of years and the boulders are a finite and small collection - just a few thousand of them - and it would be sad if they were all taken away. The local council has been a culprit, taking many nice large boulders to emplace along an esplanade on a completely different beach. IOKIYAR applies everywhere, I guess.

#67 ::: Daniel Klein ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 08:25 AM:

kid bitzer at #15: Was that in our world or in Boss Smiley's world?

#68 ::: Nick ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 09:59 AM:

If you are ever in southwestern Norway, Gloppedal is worth a gander. It's a terminal moraine, and if one house sized boulder is impressive, a valley packed with them must be even better.

#69 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 11:33 AM:

Nick, re valleys: That's Joshua Tree all over. There are valleys,and random piles, and the like. Rock, from pebbles to large buildings (as in five stories worth of building).

I love the place.

#70 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 11:34 AM:

#67 daniel klein:

hmmm...i'd never heard of 'boss smiley' before, so i read around a bit. comic book character. unscrupulous pol behind a popular president. sort of a proto-karl-rove type.

if your point is that this story sounds more like the divine selection of a king than the democratic election of a servant of the people, then i agree.

it's the story of theseus, after all, mixed with a bit of arthur, told in the style of paul bunyan.

amusing folk tales, or simulacra thereof, frequently employ conceptions of political science that are reactionary, regressive, and unfit for a free people. the most responsible conceptions of self-government--like madison's in the federalist--make it nothing like a fairy tale. quite the opposite. we have a system of laws exactly *because* we should not expect semi-divine saviors.

so i agree that the underlying political philosophy behind my little story is not one that i think the nation should adopt.

but maybe i misunderstood your reference altogether?

#71 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 12:08 PM:

When I was a kid, I loved visiting Mount Diablo, the boulder-strewn mountain on the other side of the Oakland hills. Now I live not far from the Granite Dells, Prescott AZ's close cousin of Joshua Tree Monument. (For photos, Google "Granite Dells AZ" -- I tried to give a link to one site, but for some reason the directions didn't work this time.)

#72 ::: Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 02:44 PM:

#70 - I got the same vibe, but I've never read any of the original Prez stories. In one of the Sandman: Worlds' End episodes, Neil Gaiman has a mysterious pilgrim tell the story of Prez, and the narrative style has a mythic, folkloric, tall-tale-telling quality with which your @15 is comparable.

It's a good thing.

(And, yes, having just reread Tepper's Raising the Stones, which book I hate and love by turns, I couldn't help but think of the Theseus connection. But Gaiman's version of Prez jumped to mind first.)

#73 ::: Jon Baker ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 02:55 PM:

Ayup, that's one big rock.

#74 ::: lightning ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 04:05 PM:

#70 ::: kid bitzer -- so i agree that the underlying political philosophy behind my little story is not one that i think the nation should adopt.

That "magic" is really hard work and talent? That there are no magical shortcuts? That "magical" solutions that really work translate as "get off your butt and get to work"? What's wrong with that?

I thought the inspiration was pretty obviously "The Devil and Daniel Webster". Or maybe "Kung Fu Panda".

#75 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 04:14 PM:


listen, strange scrolls lyin' under rocks distributin' speeches is no basis for a system of government.
supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical metamorphic ceremony!

and, yes, it was benet's story that made me think webster would fit into this sort of tale.

#76 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2009, 04:28 PM:

lightning #74: I thought the inspiration was pretty obviously "The Devil and Daniel Webster". Or maybe "Kung Fu Panda".

I liked Kung Fu Panda. A lot.

#77 ::: cherish ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 01:38 AM:

kid bitzer @ 70 --

One need not adopt, to love.

#78 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 02:16 AM:

Kid Bitzer, when the glacier that carried it from its birth-mountain melted away, it left Madison Boulder tipped up on edge. Underneath it was a dark hollow the sun never reached, where ice lingered well into the summer. It was said that on the hottest day of the year, the pool at the back of that hollow held the coldest, purest water in all the North Country. Few travellers were of a mind to taste it, though. However many centuries the rock might have stood in its current position, the looming weight of it unnerved them.

In those days there was still a small roadside inn and tavern where Deer Hill Trace joined the pike. It was there that a party of travellers, overtaken by nightfall before they could reach Madison town, drank too hard and jested too wildly far into the night. When the innkeeper suggested that they'd had enough ale, the loudest and most profane of them declared that he would drink the house dry, boasting that his thirst was of such heroic proportions that it had seldom in all his life been satisfied.

The innkeeper, his patience wearing thin, replied that the proper cure for such a thirst would be to dip his head in Madison Boulder Pool. This angered the traveller so much that the innkeeper retreated, saying he'd meant only that water so cold and sweet, of such high reputation, must surely satisfy anyone's thirst.

On hearing this, the traveller -- he was very drunk -- decided that nothing would do but that he should have some of this famous water; and when the innkeeper, genuinely alarmed, protested that only men who were heedless of danger drank from the pool, the traveller pronounced the matter settled. He and his pot-valiant friends commandeered the tavern's three lanterns and set out for Madison Boulder.

It was a clear, still, moonlit evening. The travellers, borne up by drunken hilarity, reached the clearing before apprehension could set in. That changed when they came within sight of Madison Boulder. Its vast diamond-shaped mass reared up in the cold silver moonlight, but its base was sunk in shadow.

The leader of their expedition seized one of the lanterns and made his way over to the rock. At first it seemed palpably dark, as though no light could ever penetrate it; but when he reached the entrance and thrust his lantern inside, the gap under the boulder was lit from side to side like the glowing mouth of a monstrous stone skull, though the deeper hollow at its center remained dark.

The man crouched down to crawl into the hole, calling for the other two lantern-bearers to come add their light to his. They hastened to oblige him, but got no further than a step or two past the lip of the overhang before dread overcame them. There they stood as though rooted to the spot, and nothing that their friend could say sufficed to move them an inch closer to the hollow. Finally losing his temper, he cursed their uselessness and swore he'd find the pool by feel, if need be, and have a drink of its water in spite of God, the Devil, and Francis James Child.
It was nearing dawn by the time the two surviving members of the party found their way back to the inn they had quitted in such high spirits the night before. The innkeeper cared for them as best he could, but a chill had settled in their lungs. One of them died of pneumonia within the week, though not before narrating the particulars of the story as I have set it down for you here. The other recovered, but refused to speak of what had happened, then or in years to come. He ended his days as a lighthouse-keeper on the coast of Rhode Island. The innkeeper removed to Nashua, and the inn fell into ruin.

Over the years there've been unsubstantiated tales of moving lights near the base of Madison Boulder, which some have taken to be the ghosts of the travellers trying to find their way back again with the help of the innkeeper's lanterns. If you should find yourself near Madison Boulder after dark, and you see fitful glows starting to flicker around its base, you're already doing something stupid. Turn around and go home.

#79 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 07:50 AM:

thank you thank you thank you.

...for list'ners' praise is always sweet to sense,
but tale for tale is perfect recompense.

#80 ::: Barbara Gordon ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 11:04 AM:

Take not the name of Francis James Child in vain! Cecil Sharp's name, though, may be slung about in casual discourse as much as you like.
This one isn't original, rather pinched from Alan Garner's collection The Guizer, but it seems fitting.

The Big Stone

Old people say there was once a great stone to St Andrew's parish.
And on top, under the lichen, there were words, but nobody could read them for they were all that weathered away, till a boy came and felt them clear with his fingers. And the words told:

'Hoik me over and
You'll not waste your time.'

Well, of course, that meant treasure, and they were levering and lifting to turn the stone, and a great stone it was, high as a horse and longer.
Well they got it up at last, end over and down. And they found more lettering, plain as when it was cut:

'I was tired of lying
On that side.'

#81 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 04:06 PM:

Thank you.

I've read entirely too much bad 19th C. prose.

#82 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 04:38 PM:

no one has ever read too much bad 19th c. prose.

except possibly catherine morland.

#83 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:03 PM:

sigh. you said "19th", i heard "18th". joke explodes on launch pad.

#84 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:05 PM:

Do you know what you hear, though, to this day, when you press your ear against the rock? The sound of a man drinking as if the thirst were on him and all the ocean would not slake it.

#85 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 05:54 PM:

Jim has the gift.

#86 ::: MacAllister ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:00 PM:

Teresa, indeed -- Jim has the gift, and how. I've been obsessively googling the Donner party since late last night, and just now realized with amusement that my brain is working very quietly to put A Big Rock into what it remembers of the landscape around Truckee and Donner Lake.

#87 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:03 PM:

Kid Bitzer, I don't know why it should be true that no one can read too much bad 18th C. prose, but the proposition checks out as true when I run a first-approximation test on it in my head.

I can explain why everyone should read Samuel Johnson, but that one's hardly a mystery.

#88 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 06, 2009, 06:11 PM:

when the ancient jewel-singers of antwerp wanted to create a truly monumental song-stone, they knew no ordinary voice would do.

for cleaving glass or crystal, of course, your ordinary operatic soprano will suffice. we all know a piercing note can resonate within the mineral structure, packing its lattice with vibrational energy until the bonds are undone. it's an old parlor trick, if all you want is a handful of shattered glass. it's when you want to cut the finer gems that richer voices are required.

say it's a sapphire square-cut that you're striving for: a jewel-singer would begin with a few mid-range notes to split the rough rhomboid from its matrix of stone. then a series of higher trills to rough out the smaller facets. the truly miraculous stones reflect an entire recital's worth of a master jewel-singer's art: every angle, every face, hewn and drawn by tone's vibrato.

one of the antwerp innovations was to employ song-birds for the micro-facetting. not all of them lent themselves to jewelry, either; some hummingbirds were used to craft minute diamond styluses, never to be worn.

still, it was the employment of animals as jewel-singers that led, eventually, to the question of size. how big?

so they searched among the basso beasts: bears, walruses, elephants. what the jewel-singers had not thought through, of course, is that the lowest notes are also the least directional, the most diffuse. those long, long waves, needed to cleave the mammoth faces of a megalith, could not be so easily aimed at a pedestal in europe, without rippling across the ocean.

so it came about that a blue whale, working under contract in a north sea bay, wound up crafting a song-stone in new hampshire.
we can only now imagine the notes--stately, well-placed, stentorian and slow--that gave the madison boulder its massive facets.

#90 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 07, 2009, 12:30 PM:

thanks, teresa.

and johnson is one of my central heroes--in literature, in prose style, in life.
when a man is tired of johnson, sir, he is tired of self-reflexive quotation parodies.
actually, i tire of those much more quickly than i tire of the great cham. he is an unfailing source of comfort and inspiration.

#91 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 08:11 PM:

Teresa, I keep trying to find a copy of the DeCoverley papers, without ordering it online. I may have to give in. As a stopgap, I formatted one from PG to go onto my iPod, but it's a subset of selections. If I find myself wanting more, I'll keep trying. There's a copy on the bookshelves of the inn we stayed at when we first scoped out Pittsford, but I don't know if they want to start selling me those books. I think they were picked specifically to be uninteresting to people, but you know how that goes.

#92 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2009, 09:35 PM:

Another place to see Large Rocks is Pinnacles National Monument, south of San Juan Bautista. There the rocks are smaller (maybe as big as a small house), but in one place they've filled a gully in such a way that you can walk under them.

#93 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2009, 01:45 AM:

PJ Evans @92:

I love the Pinnacles. We used to go there for Sunday expeditions, and walk a trail loop that goes through some caves created by tumbled boulders. My brother and I would complain loudly at the mandatory walk*, but also rush ahead to go through the cave part on our own. I used to sit and let my vision adjust, then go through without a flashlight.

* that was the specific family term

#94 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2009, 01:53 PM:

Josie and I just went to Pinnacles N.M. last month, after a lapse of many years. It's even steeper and more beautiful than I had remembered. It's also a great place for amateur astronomy; the east side is a long way from any conurbation, and usually has clear skies.

#95 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: May 09, 2009, 02:06 PM:

Here are some of the pictures I took at Pinnacles. Great photography it ain't, but the rocks are cool.

#96 ::: j austin ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 01:51 AM:

A very different big rock.

#97 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 02:11 AM:

j austin @ #96, that's fascinating. In the Bible Belt, no less.

#98 ::: j austin ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 02:18 AM:

Linkmeister@97: Isn't it?

I'd never heard of it, but now I'm dying to go. Half of me hopes that old banker kicks off before he can burn all those papers, but the elusive Mr. Christian was right about an object of mystery having power to sustain itself. I wonder if anyone has written a short story to to do with it?

#99 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 03:02 AM:

"I wonder if anyone has written a short story to to do with it?"

Paging Mr. bitzer. Mr. bitzer to the courtesy telephone, please.

#100 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 04:15 AM:

Thanks to j austin, I've added the Georgia Guidestones to my list of "one of these days" destinations. That's along with Carhenge in Nebraska, and the tidied-up replica Stonehenge at the Maryhill Museum of Art in rural Washington. The Guidestones are by far the oddest of these three.

#101 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 07:55 AM:

I was at Carhenge last August. It does not (for me anyway) radiate weirdness so much as silliness; it has a distinct vibe of "hey guys, let's make a replica of Stonehenge out of car! Hey man, that would be really awesome!" Even just reading the article, the Guidestones sets off the same sort of reaction as the Throne.

#102 ::: kid bitzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 10, 2009, 02:43 PM:


you flatter me. but my original intent was to read others' stories, not to write my own. i was trying to provoke the really talented writers around here into giving it a crack.
teresa stepped up to the plate, bless her heart, and knocked one out of the park, but otherwise i failed to inspire.

i have seen in the past what can happen when the right spark sets off a making-light thread. it's more incendiary then an atomized cloud of flour.

but mass talent is at no one's beck and call, certainly not mine. threads have moods, and fluctuating spirits. the occasion was not propitious, and that is no one's fault.

#103 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: December 22, 2009, 07:52 PM:

Do y'all want to buy Madison Boulder? It might be for sale....

#104 ::: Jun ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2010, 05:51 PM:

My mom likes collecting rocks to put in our front yard. I bet she would like to try and get this one too, she's too cute.

[Link in name removed. JDM]

#105 ::: Lee sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2010, 07:57 PM:

Name link @104 goes to a commercial website.

#106 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2010, 09:28 PM:

On the off chance it's a real post with an unfortunately chosen name-link (maybe the person works there?) I've just removed the link.

Poster: Are you real?

#108 ::: Henry Troup sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: March 29, 2014, 09:55 PM:

Generic spam,at that.

Welcome to Making Light's comment section. The moderators are Avram Grumer, Teresa & Patrick Nielsen Hayden, and Abi Sutherland. Abi is the moderator most frequently onsite. She's also the kindest. Teresa is the theoretician. Are you feeling lucky?

Comments containing more than seven URLs will be held for approval. If you want to comment on a thread that's been closed, please post to the most recent "Open Thread" discussion.

You can subscribe (via RSS) to this particular comment thread. (If this option is baffling, here's a quick introduction.)

Post a comment.
(Real e-mail addresses and URLs only, please.)

HTML Tags:
<strong>Strong</strong> = Strong
<em>Emphasized</em> = Emphasized
<a href="">Linked text</a> = Linked text

Spelling reference:
Tolkien. Minuscule. Gandhi. Millennium. Delany. Embarrassment. Publishers Weekly. Occurrence. Asimov. Weird. Connoisseur. Accommodate. Hierarchy. Deity. Etiquette. Pharaoh. Teresa. Its. Macdonald. Nielsen Hayden. It's. Fluorosphere. Barack. More here.

(You must preview before posting.)

Dire legal notice
Making Light copyright 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 by Patrick & Teresa Nielsen Hayden. All rights reserved.