Mather Musings: Rockpiles

September 15, 2012 Posted by: BW - Mather District Volunteer Interpretive Ranger

rockpiles before  rockpiles after

I had the opportunity to visit beautiful Tenaya Lake last week and wasted no time getting to the west beach to enjoy the view. As I approached, I was dismayed to see artificial rock piles arranged on the small island not far off the beach. Apparently, someone had thought they could improve upon the view by stacking piles of small granite rocks to look at. Places like Yosemite are preserved to protect the natural landscape, which means that our unnatural additions are not appropriate. When I come to visit a place like Yosemite, I try to leave no sign that I was there. In this way, the next person that arrives will get to wonder at the same natural glory that I did. This "Leave No Trace" ethic should guide our actions in Yosemite and all national parks.  

Most people don't think on the scale of just one rock. They don't realize that around that rock, a microhabitat has developed. When you move that rock, you change the specific conditions that exist in that location. This can change the sunlight that lichens on the rock are getting, the water that plants around the rock are getting, and the shelter that invertebrates under the rock are getting. You could be adversely affecting a whole community without even knowing it. Everything in Yosemite has its place. John Muir said it best when he wrote, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

I came back to Tenaya Lake the next day, prepared to take down the rock piles, and they were gone. The only thing better than leaving no trace is to leave the park better than you found it. If you see any rock piles while you are in Yosemite, please help take them down. 

mather musings

13 Comments Comments icon

  1. September 06, 2016 at 01:51

    @Gregory, there's no specific regulation that prohibits this in Yosemite.

  2. September 05, 2016 at 08:36

    I have been looking in vain for the actual law that prohibits this. Can anyone help? Thanks.

  3. December 28, 2012 at 08:25

    I knocked down a whole rock garden in Arches last summer and will gladly do the same if I find them in Yosemite.

  4. November 02, 2012 at 10:57

    A lovely blog and a gentle reminder of LNT principles and proactive visitors leaving an area nicer than when they arrived. As an experienced backpacker with no GPS/phone hiking gadgets, I must say that a well placed cairn (not a needless island rockpile) in an otherwise muddled or nonexistent trail area has put me back on course, and if I may suggest, even improve trail sustainability by reducing off trail foot traffic and the need for artificial markers. Hope to be in Yose this weekend. xoxo

  5. Don
    September 26, 2012 at 08:55

    I am not sure that Backpacker Magazine "heartily" approves of cairns. Probably more of a pros and cons discussion at best. Can you cite your reference? Also, Noreen is exactly right. If you need cairns to find your way in the wilderness you have no business being there.

  6. September 25, 2012 at 05:09

    What do you mean by "new trail"? Is it one that was created by a newly placed cairn? If you are not an experienced wilderness hiker you should stay on well traveled and marked trails. I constantly remove cairns that I find when I cross country hike. These un- official cairns create new social trails. New technology of satelite and cell phones make the inexperianced hiker take more chances and create precarious situations to their rescuers. Learn how to use a map and compass and leave your techno gadgets at home. You will then certainly experiance the wilderness in its true form........and once again I remind everyone "Leave no trace" in our beautiful wilderness.

  7. September 23, 2012 at 06:01

    I disagree with the cairns remarks. I feel that if you are on a new trail, and maybe a poorly marked one at that, cairns can be a lifesaver. I have been on roads that have cairns on them and I feel that if that makes the hiker feel secure, go for it. Maybe some of your lost hikers wouldn't have gotten lost if you hadn't knocked down their cairns. Yosemite has a lot of great trails that are marked well, but there are also some that aren't. Look how many people got lost on North Dome and Tenaya Creek. Backpacker Magazine heartily approves of them. I hike by myself and I need that extra security on a poorly marked trail or a bushwhack. It's just rocks....not spray paint.

  8. September 21, 2012 at 07:48

    Lets talk about dogs!! In Tuolumne dogs can only be on the black top. Visitors don't seem to understand this. I have seen dogs off leash in the Meadow, cavorting on the rocks at Olmsted Point and on leash on nearly all the trails. Should dogs not be allowed in Tuolumne?

  9. September 19, 2012 at 01:43

    The only place "rock piles" or cairns are appropriate(and even these I'm not so sure about), is to mark a trail route that is difficult to follow. However, this practice, too, has gotten out of hand. Too many people put up cairns or ducks where none are called for. I take them down regularly.

  10. September 19, 2012 at 11:14

    Don, we remove these rock piles whenever we find them.

  11. Don
    September 19, 2012 at 08:47

    I think that if NPS has not taken an official position on these eye sores they should.For my part I will take them down when I see them.

  12. September 18, 2012 at 10:01

    Thank you for interpreting what so many of us feel. This is becoming a major problem in Yosemite. 94% of this beautiful park is wilderness......."Leave no trace"!

  13. September 18, 2012 at 07:23

    I am so happy those stacked rocks went away. Thanks for reminding folks.

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Last updated: September 16, 2012

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