6 Unique Rock Formations

These amazing rock formations remind us that nature is still the best artist of the universe

Geology may sound boring on the surface but when you gaze your eyes on these incredible rock formations, you will find them anything but dull. Passionate rock lovers from around the world plan vacations to see some of the country’s strangest landscapes.

Many of the most spectacular formations are in the West where the mountains and canyons are younger and haven’t been softened by erosion and age. These craggy profiles and volcanic monoliths have intrigued humans for millennia.

Rock on with these six unusual rock formations below from Arches National Park to the Texas Hill Country.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah

Providing a dramatic craggy backdrop for many a cinematic Western movie, Monument Valley runs along the border of Utah and Arizona within the 26,000-square miles of the Navajo Tribal Park. U.S. Highway 163 scenic byway barrels through red rock buttes and spires.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The names of the formations offer lots of Wild West flavor: Grey Whiskers, the Totem Pole, the Sentinel, and the matching Left and Right Mitten Buttes which the Navajo believe represent the hands of the Creator. Director John Ford shot seven westerns here most starring John Wayne including The Searchers (1956) with the landscape playing a featured role. There’s even has a spot in the valley named after him: John Ford’s Point.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rocks of Sedona

You’ll find spectacular red rock buttes like those surrounding Sedona scattered throughout the Southwest but these particular rocks have something that sets them apart: mystical vortexes. Even if you’re not an adherent of the New Age movement, plan on visiting at least one of Sedona’s famous vortexes. They’re at some of the most gorgeous spots around town.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vortexes are thought to be swirling centers of energy that are conducive to spiritual healing, meditation, and self-exploration. Believers identify four primary vortexes: Boynton Canyon, Bell Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Airport Mesa.

El Morro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro in New Mexico

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, this massive sandstone bluff was a welcome landmark for weary travelers. A reliable year-round source of drinking water at its base made El Morro a popular campsite in this otherwise rather arid and desolate country.

El Morro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the base of the bluff—often called Inscription Rock—on sheltered smooth slabs of stone are seven centuries of inscriptions covering human interaction with this spot. This massive mesa point forms a striking landmark. In fact, El Morro means “the headland.”

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock in Texas

Round as a giant Easter egg, Enchanted Rock sits half-buried in the hills north of Fredericksburg. It’s a half-mile hike to the top but an unforgettable experience. The massive pink granite dome rises 425 feet above the base elevation of the park. Its high point is 1,825 feet above sea level and the entire dome covers 640 acres. Climbing the Rock is like climbing the stairs of a 30- to 40-story building.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One billion years ago, this granite was part of a large pool of magma or hot liquid rock, perhaps seven miles below the earth’s surface. It pushed up into the rock above in places, then cooled and hardened very slowly turning into granite. Over time, the surface rock and soil wore away. Those pushed-up areas are the domes you see in the park. The domes are a small and visible part of a huge underground area of granite, called a batholith. The Enchanted Rock Batholith stretches 62 square miles; most of it is underground.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon, Utah

These knobby, colorful columns of red rock are just as weird as their name: hoodoos. The word hoodoo means to bewitch which is what Bryce Canyon’s rock formations surely do.

Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The hoodoos we are talking about are tall skinny shafts of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins. Hoodoos are most commonly found in the High Plateaus region of the Colorado Plateau and in the Badlands regions of the Northern Great Plains. While hoodoos are scattered throughout these areas, nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park. At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of a human, to heights exceeding a 10-story building.

Landscape Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Landscape Arch of Arches National Park

The largest arch on the planet, Landscape is rightfully famous. It is amazingly thin, delicate-looking, and photogenic. Landscape is an awesome sight; the amazing width of the stone arch, held in place by such a delicate, slender center. Only a few years ago, a short spur trail passed directly underneath the arch. Because of recent rock falls from the underside of the arch, visitors are no longer allowed to travel underneath the fragile-looking rock span.

Landscape Arch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Landscape Arch is located near the end of the Devils Garden Trail. There is more to see within the Devils Garden then just the impressive Landscape Arch. Private Arch, Partition Arch, Navajo Arch, Wall Arch, Double O Arch, and the Dark Angel pinnacle are all within this rocky playground.

Worth Pondering…

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

—Neil Armstrong

The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is home to the largest collection of hoodoos on Earth

Like many of America’s national parks, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park has many cool pockets to explore. Nothing compares, though, to the feeling you get when standing before the hoodoos that make up the Bryce Amphitheater. It’s essentially a gigantic bowl-shaped valley filled with weird, orange rock spires. These hoodoos are formed by wind and the expanding ice that cracks and weathers the entire canyon resulting in this mysterious and distinctive rock formation.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For this article, I want to highlight a few different ideas that will deliver a diverse experience in Bryce—where to drive, hike, stay, and wander—with the caveat that at this one-of-a-kind national park there is nothing more spectacular than the red rock nation that sprawls across Utah’s high desert on the Colorado Plateau. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Drive

Hitting the scenic auto-trails in the national parks is often the best place to gain an understanding of the lay of the land. Many of the park roads were developed and built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early days of the park service in an effort to provide access to the most interesting and marketable features nearby. A scenic tour along the 38-mile (round trip) Bryce Canyon National Park Rim Road provides access to 13 viewpoints that peer over the amphitheaters. It is a perfect first outing to get acquainted with the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Hike

Standing inside the amphitheater—even to walk just a short distance into the hoodoos—allows you to become a part of the landscape. The Navajo Loop trail is the park’s most popular hiking trail because of its accessibility and its beauty. Descending first into the Wall Street section, you are thrust upon an iconic scene in the park, a 700-year-old Douglas fir tree that rises in the midst of a slot canyon to search for sunlight in the sky. Traveling farther, you will find a vast network of trails leading into the hoodoos where you can chart your own course. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Stay

There are three options located inside the park: the North Campground (open year-round), Sunset Campground (high season), and the recently renovated 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge which was built from local timber and stone in 1924-25. Any non-park related activity—sleeping, eating, shopping, fueling up, or learning about the local history—will almost surely bring you to Ruby’s legendary roadhouse. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lodge was built in 1919 by Reuben C. (Ruby) Syrett who was so spellbound by the scene at Bryce that he decided to start up a “tourist rest” where he and his family could host visitors to the area. As the park became more popular, so did Ruby’s—it is an absolute can’t miss in the area (you couldn’t miss it even if you tried!)

Everything you need to fuel a park adventure is available there. The operation is still family run—by Ruby’s son Carl and two generations that follow him.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to Wander

A 1-mile walk between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point offers panoramic views of the amphitheater and is suitable for the entire family. Each overlook is situated at a trailhead where you can descend into the hoodoos if you want to explore deeper.

Before you go, check Bryce Canyon’s official website for park alerts. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did you know?

  • The youngest geologic formations found on the Colorado Plateau dating back just 65 million years are found in Bryce Canyon
  • Hoodoos are jagged pillars of rock that have withstood centuries of erosion caused by water, ice, and gravity
  • Hoodoos can be found on every continent though Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of them of any place in the world 
Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At a glimpse

Total acres: 35,835

Date established: September 15, 1928 (dedicated a National Monument in 1923)

Main attraction: Largest concentration of hoodoo formations in the world

Designation: International Dark Sky Park

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevation: 8,000-9,000 feet

Highest peak: Yovimpa and Rainbow Point at 9,105 feet (at the end of the 18-mile scenic park drive)

Number of maintained hiking trails: 8

Cost: Entry $30 per vehicle

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s a hell of a place to lose a cow.

—Ebenezer Bryce, early homesteader at Bryce Canyon

Paradise on the Mountain: Cedar Break National Monument

Like standing on the crest of a breaking wave, Cedar Breaks National Monument rests at the end of the Markagunt Plateau, its amphitheater stretching below with multicolored cliffs, spires, and pinnacles

“The Mighty Five”—Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Canyonlands, and Arches—are the five spectacular national parks found in Utah. All are on the Colorado Plateau, a premier location to see, marvel, and enjoy the creations of earth’s geological history.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service oversees a total of 32 parks, national monuments, recreational areas, and historic sites that are located on the Colorado Plateau, many rivaling the geological beauty of Utah’s Mighty Five. Cedar Breaks National Monument is one such geological paradise of the Colorado Plateau and well worth a summertime visit.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks is a 6,155 acre preserve of high desert landscapes. The park ranges in elevation from 10,662 feet in the northern region to 8,100 feet near Ashdown Creek on the western boundary. Cedar Breaks is the crown jewel of the Markagunt Plateau and marks the top of the “Grand Staircase” of the Colorado Plateau.

Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway at Brian Head © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Even for this modern world, Cedar Breaks National Monument is located in a remote area. There are no park dining or lodging accommodations. The closest town is Brian Head, best known for its winter ski resorts and cool summer rentals.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to the high elevation, Cedar Breaks National Monuments and the roads that connect it to the outside world are usually closed from mid-November to late May. During the summer months the monument offers a 28-site campground with grills, restrooms, showers, and fresh water. An overnight stay at the monument allows visitors to experience the region’s world famous dark skies. Warm clothing and sunscreen are a must even during the days of summer.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The land encompassing Cedar Breaks was described in 1868 by early Mormon settlers as “a paradise on the mountain”. A colorful palette of weathered pinnacles and cliffs, Cedar Breaks National Monument is home to some of the most dramatic desert erosion features on this planet. The multi-colored geological amphitheater found at Cedar Breaks is 2,500 feet deep and 3 miles wide with the highest point of the amphitheater’s rim standing at 11,000 feet.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weathering and erosion sculptured the multicolored cliffs, spires, pinnacles, and other unique features at Cedar Breaks. Without such processes, Cedar Breaks would be just another of the many alpine plateaus so common in the American West. The landscape has been under construction for nearly 100 million years and those slow moving forces of nature continue to shape and reshape the landscape today.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Archeologists believe that the Southern Paiute people have lived in the Cedar Breaks region since at least 1100 BC. They called the giant amphitheater “u-map-wich” which when translated to English means “place where the rocks are sliding down.”

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Earliest American settlers called the area “the badlands” or “breaks” in reference to common cliff like edges that they came upon while traveling across the relatively flat plateaus. Utah juniper trees were the common vegetation of the area and early settlers incorrectly called these trees “cedars” thus soon giving rise to the name Cedar Breaks.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An incredible dark sky is one of the attractions for visitors to Cedar Breaks. In January 2018 the monument was designated a Dark Sky Park by the International Dark Sky Association. Cedar Breaks is the 16th of the 417 National Park Service units to be so designated. In fact, the State of Utah now has seven designated IDA Dark Sky Parks.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildflowers bloom in profusion during the summer months with the national monument holding an annual Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival each July. Utah juniper, Douglas fir, Engelmann spruce, and Limber pine make up a diverse and dense forested region. At the highest of elevations, the ancient Bristlecone pine is found. The oldest Bristlecone pine found in Cedar Breaks is believed to be about 1,700 years old.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first tourists to arrive by car to Cedar Breaks occurred in 1919. Between 1920 and 1923 a rustic road was carved from Zion National Park to Cedar Breaks allowing more tourists to discover the splendid landscape. A late 1930s road advertisement proclaimed that Cedar Breaks National Monument had “countless grotesque and magnificent geological forms, caused by water erosion, anointed with all colors of the rainbow.” That description still stands today.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near “The Mighty Five” national parks of Utah and just a few hundred miles north of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Cedar Breaks is all too often passed by. But for those wanting to view nature at its finest, geology’s creative beauty, and dark skies seldom seen today, a trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument is certainly a journey worth traveling.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Look! Nature is overflowing with the grandeur of God!

—John Muir

The Sixth Wonder of Alberta

A wide green valley, steep sandstone cliffs, strange rock formations called hoodoos, and rock art—all of these things make Writing-on-Stone a special place

You’re driving through the prairie and suddenly it drops away into a beautiful river valley. Alberta has many beautiful places to explore during the summer but there’s only one place that has rock paintings from the local indigenous population that can be dated back 2,000 years ago.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That very special place is the Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi Provincial Park and is located near the U.S. border in southeastern Alberta. It is a place of extreme cultural importance to the Blackfoot people and has the greatest concentration of Indigenous rock art anywhere on the plains. The rock art was likely created by the Blackfoot tribe whose territory traditionally includes the area. At least some of the art was likely being made by the Shoshone tribe which passed through the region.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In a dramatic landscape of steep-sided canyons and coulees, sandstone cliffs, and eroded sandstone formations called hoodoos, Indigenous peoples have created rock art for millennia. Thousands of petroglyphs and pictographs at more than 138 rock art sites graphically represent the powers of the spirit world that resonate in this sacred landscape and chronicle critical phases of human history in North America including when Indigenous peoples first came into contact with Europeans. In fact, the arrival of horses, trade items, and even the first automobile in the region are creatively recorded.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a combination of culturally significant landforms, rock art, archaeological heritage, and dramatic views, Áísínai’pi (“it is pictured/written”) is a sacred place for the Blackfoot people. In Blackfoot traditions, Sacred Beings dwell among the cliffs and hoodoos, and the voices of the ancestors can be heard among the canyons and cliffs. To this day the Blackfoot feel the energy of the Sacred Beings at Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi and their oral histories and ongoing ceremonial use attest to the living traditions of the Blackfoot people.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following more than a decade of advocacy by Indigenous groups and the provincial government, Writing-on Stone was recently (July 6) declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nomination was prepared by the provincial government in partnership with the Blackfoot Confederacy and with ongoing support from the Government of Canada.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park is home to more petroglyphs (rock carvings) and pictographs (rock paintings) than any other place on the Great Plains in North America.

“Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi is the site of many natural wonders and a testament to the remarkable ingenuity and creativity of the Blackfoot people,” Jason Nixon, Minister of Environment and Parks, said in a news release. “It’s easy to see why the site is seen by many as an expression of the confluence of the spirit and human worlds. I hope all Albertans will take the time to explore this extraordinary part of the province and all it has to offer.”

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The designation of Writing-on-Stone/Áísínai’pi as a UNESCO World Heritage Site provides the Blackfoot Confederacy a basis for its future generations as to the strength and truth of our continuing relationship to this land and to our traditions, ceremonies, and cultural practices,” Martin Heavy Head, an elder with the Mookaakin Cultural and Heritage Society, said in a news release.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone is about 4,400 acres and offers unique hiking and birding opportunities, plus a modestly-sized campground. The province estimates about 60,000 people visit the site each year.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 1.3-mile Hoodoo Trail winds through various landscapes—hoodoos, sandstone cliffs, and rock art, upland prairie grasslands, the Milk River valley, and coulees. Most rock art sites are only accessible by guided tour. Park interpreters lead tours into the Archeological Preserve daily from mid-May to early September. Tour schedules and ticket prices are available by contacting the park’s visitor center.

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Writing-on-Stone is Alberta’s sixth world heritage site. The other five are Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump (1981), Dinosaur Provincial Park (1979), Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park (1995), The Canadian Rocky Mountain Parks (1984, 1990), and the Wood Buffalo National Park (1983).

Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So if you’re a fan of exploration these are the six must see sites within Alberta.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Do You Hoodoo?

“A hell of a place to lose a cow”

These tall, irregular spires of rock created through erosion usually protrude upward from dry bottomland, and Bryce Canyon National Park offers the most abundant concentration of them in the U.S. Hoodoos range in stature from 6 feet to as tall as a 10-story building, but Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos are being slowly worn away by the same forces of erosion that formed them.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”. But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. Collectively called “hoodoos”, these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon’s warm days and cold nights result in more than 200 days a year in which accumulated rainwater completes a freeze-thaw cycle. During the day, water seeps into cracks in the rocks, and then at night, it freezes and expands. As this process repeats, it breaks apart weak rock, and over time, chisels the unusual formations.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. The only access to Bryce Canyon is via Scenic Byway 12 (an All-American Road), which is a winding road that climbs to high elevations in spots. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best place to begin a tour of the park is at the visitor center. Located just 1.5 miles inside the park, the visitor center provides maps and directions, plus information regarding weather, ranger activities, and the Junior Ranger program. There’s also a 20-minute orientation film and a museum with exhibits that display facets of the park’s geology, flora, fauna, and history.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce is a compact park—just 56 square miles—which makes it easier to explore than many national parks in the West.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking is the best way to experience the stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most of the park’s trails range from half a mile to 11 miles and take less than a day to complete. Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations. In just a few hours on the trail, you can experience Bryce Canyon’s spectacular scenery.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But a word of caution: Many trails that descend to the bottom are moderate to steep, making the return part of the hike—which is uphill—the most strenuous. Bryce’s high elevation requires extra exertion, so assess your ability and know your limits. Wear hiking boots with good tread and ankle support and carry plenty of drinking water to avoid dehydration.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A prime viewpoint, Bryce Amphitheater is one of the most spectacular viewing areas in the national park system. Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s largest amphitheater and can be viewed from several points—Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunset Point begins the trailhead for the popular 1.3-mile Navajo Loop which descends through Wall Street. There, hikers travel between the narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs, and along the way pass by a miracle of nature—two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs that have managed to grow from the narrow slot canyon floor to reach the sliver of sunlight at the top.

But if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the landscape from the overlooks on the main park road, which heads 18 miles along a winding corridor through forests and meadows to the park’s southern end.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey