Why We Rock

This week’s Lens-Artists Photo Challenge invites us to capture history…

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Think about the person in your life you would call your rock. And now, think about what you mean when you say that. That person is solid, constant, and an unending source of strength, right? My husband is my rock. Loyal, unconditional confidante, encouraging when I feel uncertain, and my constant companion in both travels and life. And as I saw him, standing among the hoodoos of Tent Rocks National Monument, I thought he looked every bit as monumental and amazing as the columns of stone we were there to see. Because we have a history. And when I look at him, just like when I look at the formations at Tent Rocks, it’s the years that went into making that rock and the processes that have formed character that fill me with awe.

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Have you ever considered our fascination with rock formations? Michael Glass at Backpacker Travel has complied a list of 101 Incredible Rock Formations Around the World. 101 amazing, inconceivable spectacles of stone from about as many countries. And it doesn’t come close to an exhaustive list. Tent Rocks isn’t on it, for one. I once bicycled across an entire island (uphill both ways) to see a rock arch. And it’s not on the list. And when you scroll down to the comments of Michael’s post, people point out local omissions or favorite sites like parents whose kids weren’t picked for the all-star team.

What I’m saying is that we have a passion for rocks. The weirder and bigger and ganglier and more seemingly impossible the better. These formations amaze us with gargantuan size, or gravity-defying stunts, or by simply taking on shapes normally reserved for man-made designs, like arches or bridges, or in the case of Tent Rocks, perfectly sculpted cones. And this is the main appeal of rock formations, wouldn’t you say? Wondering how in the heck Nature managed to accomplish the sort-of eye-popping feats of architecture and art that we sometimes think only a thinking creature like a human could achieve. And at the same time marveling at the sheer amount of time these things take to create and shaking our heads at the fortuitous confluence of space and movement and weather and erosion necessary to make that exact shape happen.

Plus they inspire quirky conversations:
Me: They look like a box of crayons. Those jumbo ones you use in kindergarten.
Dennis: They look like a classroom of dunces.
Silence
Dennis: Can you believe they actually made kids sit in the corner with dunce caps on? That was probably pretty great for the ol’ self-esteem.

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The formation of Tent Rocks, also known as Hoodoos, was (and still is) an amazing process. The basic make-up of the monument exploded onto the scene around 7 million years ago, when the eruptions of volcanos within the Jemez Mountains left layers of volcanic rock in the wake of lava flows. These softer layers of stone were then thinly covered with a harder stone shell. Two simultaneous forces of weathering take advantage of this soft/hard combination. Cycles of freezing and thawing crack and debride the harder outer shell, leaving the softer stone underneath exposed to the erosive forces of acidic rain, which then slowly dissolves the stone and washes away the debris. These two forces sculpt away for years on end, like Michelangelo chipping and dusting at a block of marble. Eventually, tent rocks form a cap where the harder stone remains that protects the softer stone underneath.

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Tent Rocks is less than an hour’s drive southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico. But like with most big towns here, there seems to be a magic portal you enter, when you cross the city limits line, that transports you to the vast, open roads that characterize this state and that lead you through miles of pastureland dotted with shrubs and sage and perpetually surrounded by mesas and mountains of exposed, crumbling rock. In this area of the country, it’s not uncommon to see magnificent rock formations every few miles. Giant boulders balanced precariously one atop the other, old stones weathered to look like the Great Sphinx, arches that offer framed views of distant white-capped mountains. But Tent Rocks is a whole different world. How I imagine Mars might seem. If it were white instead of red. The name for Tent Rocks in the Karesan language of the people native to the area is Kasha-Katuwe, meaning “white cliffs”.

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The rows of Port-O-Lets at the trailhead told me two things: (1) I was going to spend some time here. (2) This place is deemed too special to mar with human conveniences. And as I hit the head before taking to the trail, it did feel oddly similar to washing your hands or removing your shoes to prepare yourself to enter a sacred space. Along the trail, I stood toe-to-toe with hoodoos and felt perspective flood me as I was being dwarfed. I squeezed through the narrow passages, pressed my hands against the cold, ribboned walls, and tried to gain the wisdom of history through osmosis. I took shelter in the shade of a hollowed cave and heard the echoes of the past swirl around me and dance with my own. And I climbed to the top of the mesa, with ever-changing views of scale, and looked out over the surrounding mountains to see what the life of a tent rock looked like before it was truly conceived. And I realized this place is a shrine. A place devoted to the history of change.

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And then I thought about the strange juxtaposition of these two thoughts – feeling in awe of the constancy of rock while admiring the potency of change. These two thoughts washed over me like the simultaneous forces of erosion that made Tent Rocks in the first place. And I saw our lives reflected quite brilliantly again in the metaphors of Nature.

Because we are hoodoos. We stand as monuments to the erosive forces we have weathered. And these weathering events shape us and give us character. We rely on stronger stone – our rocks – to help us weather storms and help us stay constant during change. Our histories show in our most vulnerable layers. Our new stories chip away at our surfaces and leave their mark.

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As I write this, the Bureau of Land Management site for Tent Rocks has posted a notice declaring the Canyon Trail temporarily impassible due to heavy snowfall and “unsafe hiking conditions”. “Freeze and thaw in this area can lead to falling rocks and unstable hiking tread.” the site reads. As you read this, Tent Rocks is changing. And over time, their hard stone caps will become cracked and compromised and will fall away. The more vulnerable cone columns underneath will then succumb quickly to the elements and soon disappear.

Tent Rocks won’t last forever. Neither will we.

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How would you capture history? For information on how to participate, go here.

Thank you for reading! I appreciate your time.

© 2019 Lindsay Sears @ soanuthatch.com All Rights Reserved

31 thoughts on “Why We Rock

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  1. Brilliant. Way to capture the feeling and awe of this place. I hope people read this and are inspired to someday experience the wonderment you have created in your writing and images.

  2. I’ve been to Santa Fe several times and never heard of this place! The hoodoos are an amazing sight. Now it’s on my list. This part of the USA has such fascinating natural wonders. Have you been to Joshua Tree? It filled me with awe, as well as Sedona.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping by! We only knew about Tent Rocks because we passed a sign out in the middle of nowhere! We set out from Alabama last August. And we’ve been exploring New Mexico most of that time! So we’re excited to work our way West and hit Joshua Tree and everything in between!

      1. I must admit, I’ve been remiss in not reading your about page – but my goodness… I am in awe of the varying hats you’ve worn and of your persistence in wandering! And “Patti’s rebellious and restless spirit was fostered during her childhood on Long Island, where she endured parochial school and meals featuring Jello and Spam.” is a great line. Thank you for sharing your experiences! You’re an inspiration.

  3. You just know that somebody, somewhere has a pet theory that those were made by aliens, and the government knows all about it. He probably wears a Coors baseball cap and is called Bud. 😀 (Sorry – hideous stereotype but I can’t that image out of my head now).

    Wow what an amazing place and some stunning rock formations – as always thanks for sharing. Your photos and words always bring a place to life.

    It always amazes me how natures can create such strangeness. in someways it reminds me of the Giants Causeway in Ireland for it’s strangeness…

    https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1GCEA_enGB825GB825&q=giants+causeway+ireland&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiQhor_1IvhAhVB-qQKHQHQAdUQsAR6BAgAEAE&biw=1536&bih=754

    I liked the comments about your husband, and I know what you mean. My wife is definitely my rock and I doubtless would be lost without her.

    1. Giants Causeway is ridiculously cool. How did that happen??? Nature is one cool bird! Thank you for sharing that! Hilarious about the alien theory. It is relatively near Roswell, so….. Thank you for reading and for the kind words. It is pretty neat to respond to a place in words, isn’t it! And a very sweet comment about your rock. ❤️😃

  4. Another jaw-dropping post, Lindsay. I’d never heard of the Tent Rocks, and your account of them is both inspiring and massively thought provoking. It’s true that these places are shrines; their own shrines to their own history. We often don’t appreciate that the landscape itself guards a rich back story of change, so its not just us arrogant humans who pass through it in the blink of infinity’s eye that create the past worth passing on. Your writing, as ever, is exemplary and today it was my turn to get goose bumps as I read through your haunting account of these natural edifices and all they represent. You’ve inspired me to get out into the natural wilderness over here, whenever the Latin uni module allows(!), and see what I can find that can tell me it’s unique story. We do have some such places, but little as spectacular as the Tent Rocks. Enjoy them while they’re still with us. And thank you for sharing another glimpse into your wonderful, unspoiled world.

    1. I’m so excited and flattered to read your response. Our missions and perspectives are so similar – I really like the idea of celebrating the history of change in both those great Medieval relics you share as well as in natural relics like Tent Rocks. “Blink of infinty’s Eye” is quite nice and oh so true. And Latin? Talk about a relic. Lol. How cool to have a chance to study that. I’ve always found it funny that it’s referred to as a dead language when it’s absolutely everywhere! I, too, hope you get some nice breaks to get out and listen to all those great echos out there. Thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to read this!

      1. Thanks Lindsay. Yes, studying Latin is a privilege, and it’s a beautiful language and – as you rightly say – far from dead. Even in the natural world scientists invent new Latin names for freshly discovered species, so yes, it’s everywhere. Just because it’s not spoken doesn’t mean it’s dead. I love it dearly, but it’s infuriatingly difficult and frustrating in the extreme, but where would we be without it? It’s a wonderful living relic…
        I forgot to mention, by the way, that unsurprisingly, the way I’d capture history – and this is what I’m actually hoping to do – is to restore a castle ruin in Northumberland, do it up in authentic medieval style and live in it. Of course I’d put my own rock – Stuart – inside it! I hope it’ll have lots of space and nature surrounding it. Northumberland’s good for that. That’s the dream anyway.

        And it’s absolutely no bother taking time off the studies to read your posts, they come as a blessed relief! Please keep up the good work – for my sanity’s sake!

      2. Holy cow!! That sounds absolutely awesome! I can’t imagine a more perfect person/dream combo! Man… I can imagine how fulfilling and inspiring and spiritual that endeavor would be for you. I sure do hope you get to make that dream come true, Alli! And I hope you document every step of the way. That would fascinating! I wish you all the best!!!

      3. Thanks Lindsay, I hope so too. It’s been my dream for a while now, and if there’s a way to do it, I’ll find it. And what an excellent idea to document the process – that’d be a great story! I’ll remember that, so thanks for putting the idea into my head that 🙂

    1. Oh my goodness, Winnie… I just saw that your very lovely comment for some reason went to my spam folder?!?! I’m so sorry I missed it! I want you to know that I genuinely appreciate you taking the time to read and leave such kind comments!! Thank you!!!

  5. Beautifully and eloquently expressed through your photos and words. I especially love the paragraph you wrote, Because we are Hoodoos … Thank you for sharing with us.
    We visited the Tent Rocks a couple of years ago, hiked to the top. A great place to be visit.

    1. Thank you! Your words – and the fact that you spent your time here – mean so much to me! And so cool that you got a chance to see it! Small world… I appreciate you. Thank you.

  6. Oh my, they are gorgeous and your writing as well. I had a look at the list of 101 rocks too and must report that no. 69 is no more – the Azure window in Malta has fallen by now. Goes well with how you conclude this post.

    1. Oh no!!! That is both sad and relevant! Life is short… even for rocks, I guess. Good to see you again! Thank you for your time and for those very kind words!

  7. I felt safe in your words and your photos – beautifully written and photographed. I have only seen the hoodoos on TV, so swept in your words you made them come alive! Thank you for a magical visit!

    1. What a lovely thing to say! And hear! We did enjoy stepping into that magical place, so I’m glad to hear I could impart that feeling to you! Thank you so much for giving of you time!

  8. Excellent post! These rocks reminded me a bit of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. Loved your comparison to your husband being your rock. Mine too. Lucky us😊

    1. Haha! Lucky indeed! We can’t wait to see Bryce! In fact I was more familiar with those hoodoos. Tent Rocks was one of those awesome surprise finds. And also, I saw this morning that I had some comments sitting in my spam. I didn’t even know I had a spam. Lol. So I’m afraid I missed an earlier comment on the neighborhood challenge. My apologies. I certainly appreciate the time you take reading and love hearing your thoughts! Thank you!

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