Balancing Stones in the Chiricahua Mountains

The placing of stones to mark special places is a tradition in many cultures including ours.  We place stones at important sites like the Washington Monument at the seat of government and to mark burials .  Historically, standing stones and the megalithic sites are found around the world and the result of many cultural traditions dating back as far as 5000 BCE.  Whether a burial site, astronomical site, or other ceremonial use the common thread through all of these examples of rock placement is the recognition of a special place marked by a piece of the landscape in a manner that is recognizable to other members of the species.  In other words, someone at some time placed a rock(s) to mark, what they considered, a special spot and that location is easily recognizable to later visitors.

The Chiricahua Mountains were known as the "land of standing up rocks" by the Apache Indians who inhabited the area in reference to the unique naturally occurring pillar formations found in the Chiricahua National Monument.  But there are many other special places in the Chiricahua Mountains and the South Fork Zoological and Botanical Area of Cave Creek Canyon is just such place.  This richly diverse riparian area is flanked by high walls of volcanic tuff and is a favorite retreat for many visitors.  In acknowledgement of the uniqueness of South Fork a proof of concept balancing rock project was created.  At several points along the stream bed, where views of the canyon wall are visible, smooth rocks from the stream bed were balanced to recapitulate the view from that location.  At 4 locations balancing rocks were erected starting at the bench on east side of the parking area with one downstream and 2 upstream.  The balancing rock sculptures were comprised to 2 to 5 rocks, and only material within arms reach was utilized.  The works are unobtrusive and may easily be missed by the casual observer to the area.  In addition the works are all transitory, the next high wind or rise in the stream will obliterate all evidence of the balancing rocks and their locations.

These works illistrate several concepts:

First.  A marker of an special place.  A hiker coming around a corner of the trail frequently encounters unexpected views of the canyon in South Fork.  A balancing stone sculpture at these locations highlights these locations and acts as a marker for a special view.  Rather than signage or other methods of permanently marking locations frequently encountered, a sculpture invites the visitor to stop and figure out what is going on and enjoy the view.

Second:  The transitory nature of individuals.  The balanced rocks are not designed to be permanent additions to the landscape but rather something to be viewed, analyzed, and appreciated, then melt back into the landscape with time just like individuals.

Third:  Time. The use of eroded cobbles from the stream bed indicates that while even the mountains are not permanent fixtures of the landscape, in a geological sense, the time scale of change is beyond our capacity to observe.

Vertical panorama of Balancing Stones reproducing the 3 outcrops visible from this location.

Recapitulation of 2 outcrops with the taller on the right.

A single spire reproduced with Balancing Stones

A single balancing stone in the South Fork of  Cave Creek Canyon.


  1. These are wonderful, Bruce -- thank you. Not only did you get a soul-satisfying break from work, but so did we!

  2. Your pictures are wonderful, lots of work but so very nice!

  3. Thank you. I saw some photographs of DiAnn's who had recorded some of these balancing rocks on the beach in California. I sought to expand the idea by recreating the view with balancing rocks at interesting points along the canyon.