Rock stacking - is it OK?

I always called them Zen rocks, and the first time I saw pictures of them, it was in the context of the patience and care it takes to balance such rounded rocks – and some of them were literally balanced on their rounded ends, not flat faces at all. Maybe not quite as much as building a house of cards, but I’d bet more patience and care than most of the critics have.

It should also be pointed out that riverine gravel bars are inherently disturbed habitat – every major rain event rearranges them, even to the point that some bars completely disappear and new ones appear between your visits.

I read @typoclerk 's hidden posts, and as far as I could tell, they were hidden mainly because he didn’t toe the party line.

I was on a Passport In Time expedition in Modoc National Forest. The Forest Service archaeologist showed us rocks that ancient Modoc people had stacked, saying that all that is known of this is that it had something to do with youth initiation rites. What is the ecological difference between rocks stacked by a pre-Columbian Modoc youth, and rocks stacked by a twenty-first century youth, other than that there is now a rule against it?


Patience in destructing nature around shouldn’t be seen as a good thing imo. Sand on river banks has a lot of life in it, many invertebrates call those places home and use rocks.

Messages were hidden because user started blaming others and people flagged those comments (not me, even though for me it sounded personal).
We save archeological artefacts because we, humans, love history, ecologically they’re the same.


I don’t think the flagging was a “non-party line”thing. I would say some of the user’s language was rather uncouth, in addition to the confrontational and disdainful tone addressed to those who did not agree with his/her/their viewpoint.


The Modoc land stewards analyzed the number of youth, the amount rock stacking, available habitats being impacted, the status of organism living in those habitats and determined that the activity was sustainable without permanent negative impacts. The land stewards in the 21st have found conditions that make it unsustainable and have decided to regulate the practice.


I’m aware people use rock stacking as some sort of meditation and think nothing of it. I suspect in most cases this is simply a lack of awareness and could be addressed with better educating the public about the impacts of this activity. I even see some students who self-identify as “conservation biologists” do it. In most cases, they don’t even know how badly they fail at conservation biology when they engage in this activity. Here are a couple more sources to read for those who care about their impact on wildlife:

Using Trail Cameras to Assess Recreation in Hellbender Streams of North Carolina National Forests - quote from the abstract: “The majority of observations in our study showed visitors recreating with little to no visible impact to resources. However, we found many instances (n=224) of alteration of vital hellbender larval shelter (cobble habitat) and removal of rocks, and we documented evidence of repeated alteration of instream habitat in all stations including building of cairns and dams which can alter flow across all sites and years surveyed.”

Again, around here that activity is further endangering an already threatened and protected species, so that creates a special concern that may be location-specific. Other locations may vary in how much impact this has on the wildlife in the area. E.g. taking away vital shelter from the sun in desert habitats is another concern. This letter to the editor focuses on the negative impacts rock-stacking has on Madeira Island, Portugal: Stone-stacking as a looming threat to rock-dwelling biodiversity.


It is reasonable to understand that an activity that certainly was “fine” for most of human history can become problematic when there are now billions of us and very little remaining non-human habitat.

There are certainly habitats in which rock-stacking is likely to do little or no harm. It takes a solid background of ecological knowledge to understand which habitats those are and are not, though. It’s troubling that when folks are asked “please don’t do this,” so many react by aggressively dismissing the possibility that there could be valid concerns, rather than seeking in good faith to learn what those concerns might be.



In Canada the recreational creation of Inuksuit is both an ecological and cultural issue. Some parks have had to launch educational campaigns to stop people from building them - building one leads to others copying the effort until trails become littered with them. Inuit and Inuvialuit groups have decried the practice as an appropriation of culture that dilutes and trivializes a practice that connects their communities to a history that is already at risk of being overwhelmed by modernity.


I hope that all you folks who are condemning stacks of rocks as a dire threat to the environment only eat organic vegan food, ride your bikes to work, don’t let your cats outside, and recycle all your plastic. Because if not…

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Whataboutism at its finest.

It’s not about eliminating your ecological impact and footprint, it is about reducing it.

Reducing it can be aided by not doing things that serve no purpose at all. In particular things that clearly have detrimental impact on species relying on those rocks not being disturbed from their natural spots


Well, this…

We live in a time when use of nature needs to be thoughtful and its consequences carefully considered if we are not to lose it all. “Because people have always done this” justifies nothing in a world where natural areas are greatly reduced and shrinking fast. The point made by @typoclerk that every footstep has an impact is not wrong, although the contention that this somehow justifies more perturbation not less doesn’t add up.

No need to go into nature to do Zen Rocks :shushing_face:. Zen rock gardens, in which rock stacks can be components, are another matter altogether and are not casual alterations of nature. They are very formal aesthetic constructions.

He’s still on iNat but not with that username.


Hmm, is this a game where we have to come up with an ending? How about

"…Because if not, somebody should start a new topic that talks about these things instead of raising them as red herrings in a topic called “Rock stacking - is it OK?”


I completely agree. You can reduce your ecological footprint by 0.0001% by not creating a stack of rocks. And you can also reduce your ecological footprint by 15% by switching to a vegan diet (according to Oxford University). I fully support doing both! I just find it ironic which one people get the most upset about!

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I think conflating early humans and what they did with the behaviour of selfie oriented tourists or rave partyists who want to lay a trail to their campsite (happens in the Himalaya) is a bit much. Cairns built on glaciers have been useful tools for navigation but not if they are just random creations - in which case they would be dangerous.

Yes humans do affect nature around them with a lot of their actions - even this digital message being sent – but that does not mean we should avoid or plan to avoid doing things it is possible to change.

oh after typing all this I see that the “man” in question maybe reading this in some other guise.

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the new name is in the bit of my comment you edited out?

@ zygy

gives a nice perspective of how we get our priorities wrong.

I think engendering a consciousness is the first step - but it won’t be enough if we ignore the politics and the main threats.

because there are other threads for other topics. This one = rock stacking


There are no data in these posts that would permit a conclusion about which topic people get most upset about. None. A topic was posted asking a specific question. People responded.

The rule on iNat is Assume people mean well. People talk about a lot of things here, including the things you consider important. A selection of links is below:


Ah. I assumed that was some reference to the actual name on his profile that I wasn’t understanding not a username.

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i think if folks are going to build a lot of cairns or do similar kinds of things, i would rather them do it along a heavily trafficked trail than to do it in a lot of less trafficked areas. in areas that are already heavily disturbed by humans, i would think that the additional negative impact to nature could be outweighed by the positive experience in nature.

it’s hard for me to see these kinds of things in an absolute, binary OK / not OK way. humans are a part of nature, but if you’re going to separate the two, i think the way to look at things is that we need spaces that are primarily for humans, places that are primarily for nature, and places that are in between. so if you’re going to have a human city, it’s probably a good idea to make it as dense as possible so that you can keep humans in as little space as possible, leaving the rest for nature. for humans who want a taste of being out in nature, sure, have parks, but keep people on well-marked trails, and don’t be too upset if people do things that people do along these trails. if, say, 95% of the rest of the park is off trail, undisturbed, then i think that’s a reasonable trade-off.

Why wouldn’t we just teach them instead of letting it happen? Nobody would argue if we were discussing how people gather tons of flowers for no aim but having them dead, sometimes minutes after, but because someone decided rocks are ideal for philosophical stuff it’s now okay. We can’t keep people for trails anyway, it doesn’t happen, they go everywhere they can and nobody cares for rules, because they have no idea what damage they cause and why it’s important, so education should be priority. As said above you can do the same in places already too modificated, made specifically for those rocks.