Rock Stacking and Balancing

I have in the past posted several episodes with photos of what I called “Rock Stacks.” It turns out that most of them were not stacks at all. What I have been doing all along is Rock Balancing.

I discovered this while checking the Search Engine hits that brought people to my blog. Occasionally “Rock Stacking” generates a hit. I decided the check some of the other matches, and came upon this page, which discusses the difference. The same search linked to an episode here at Muddled Ramblings called The Man is Keeping Me Down.

I’m not unhappy about being wrong. I have long tried to differentiate my delicate and transient works from the cairns and other piles that the kids are doing these days. I like their stacks, but the goals of the two crafts are different. Stacks are very much about the setting, and as you can see if you follow the above link, there are some pretty nice ones. From now on, therefore, I will adopt the correct nomenclature.

I do have one thing in common with the stackers, however. Most rock balancers create spires with three rocks, while I’m rarely content with that. Three rocks is relatively simple: base, left hand, and right hand – fiddle and nudge until everything is stable. It’s the rock you put on top of that mess (or if you use rocks too big to manipulate with only one hand) that really makes the thing. As a result many of my favorite efforts have come out something of a hybrid between stacking and balancing. Ultimately, however, it is the impossible-seeming, gravity-defying balance that I like the most.

An incomplete spire, but the tiny contact zones are lost in the background jumble.

An incomplete spire, but the tiny contact zones that make it interesting are lost in the background jumble.

While I’m on the subject of rock balancing, while on the cruise my partners in crime and I did some pretty sweet balancing of whatever items were handy. Naturally some of the items were glass, which makes the result more interesting and also makes the crew of the boat more nervous. Add in waves and you have yourself a party! I don’t have any pictures of the results (I was busy stacking balancing after all, and one of the stacks balances(?) included my camera), but others took pics. I’d love to link to those pictures here, if people will send URL’s.

Also on the boat was a guy who is way into 3D photography. He showed me how ridiculously simple it is to take 3D shots (the hard part is viewing them). One of the key things about 3D is that it really helps separate the subject from the background. Many of my old rock stack balance spire photos suffer from the rocks being exactly the same color and texture as the background. Boy, 3D would make those pictures better. If you poke around at Rock on, Rock ON! you will see some really good balancing (better than I have pulled off to date), including one 3D shot.

Next time…

Stackers know stackers

Tonight I was in the crossfire of a discussion between a new parent and expectant parents. The subject of appropriate toys came up (a subject I was not shy about participating in), and blocks were mentioned. You know what I did with blocks? I stacked them. The yellow pillars were good for altitude, but the red wedges were where the elegance happened. Until tonight, I had forgotten those stacks.

As I sat reminiscing, thousands of miles away another friend was writing me an email. You see, during my wanderings I have enjoyed the hospitality of a Piker family in Central California. More gracious hosts you will never find, but it is Lillian who makes the visit special. Within minutes of our first meeting (seconds, actually) she was attached to my leg, and I never really could figure out why.

Until now.

Now that’s an elegant stack. The kid’s a natural.

New Toys!

When Soup Boy moved out, he left a legacy behind. Nothing major — some dead flowers, some rocks, a few other odds and ends. I’ve long since taken care of most of those things, but after the disruption caused by the Great Flood of ’06, I was confronted once more with an odd assortment of pebbles and small stones. They ended up on the table where I put my laptop when I’m using it at home. So there I sat this morning, reflecting on the irony that it was the rocks that I was having difficulty getting rid of. I couldn’t put them in the yard, because the landlord would run over them with the lawn mower. Just putting them in the street seemed irresponsible, and putting them in the trash wouldn’t be nice to anyone.

City Life, I tell ya’.


Rock Stack SBL-1. Nothing mind-blowing, but likely the first of many.

This morning I was mulling this oddity of modern life, asking myself where I could put the rocks when I realized one particular rock clearly belonged on top of one of the others. I stared in disbelief, stunned that I had not noticed that simple fact before. After a few fairly aggressive stacks tumbled I relocated the operation so that I was not working my near the glass coffee table, and that was pretty much it for my morning.

Stacking small rocks is noticeably different than stacking large ones. The biggest difference is that the tiny adjustments you make to adjust the balance have a much more dramatic effect on a small rock, and even the smallest disturbance can have catastrophic effect. Getting all the pieces to work together can be tricky. On the other hand, it only takes a little bit of friction to keep a small stone at an improbable angle. The biggest advantage of the small stones is obvious when the stack falls over.

Eventually I got a stack that was fairly stable if not particularly breathtaking, and before I added the One More Thing I hauled out the big camera, tiptoed around the apartment while the batteries charged up, and then snapped a few picks. Maybe I can hone my rock stack photography skills as I practice my rock stacking.

Of course, then I tried to add the One More Thing and the stack collapsed, but that was all right. The rocks are still there, waiting for me.

Note to self

A crowded nightclub at 4am after a few hours of beers is neither the place nor the time to be stacking things.


A day on the road

The day was already warming up in Roswell when I woke up. It had never really cooled overnight. I took advantage of what might be my last Internet access for a while by checking up on emails and generally goofing around and then it was time to hit the road.

“Be Happy! You’re In Roswell!” proclaimed a billboard along highway seventy. I was happy, not for where I was but where I would be soon. The road. “Where’ve you been, old friend?” she asked as I rolled out of town. “It’s good to have you back.” The sun low at my back I headed out for Alamagordo and White Sands. There is no route between the two towns that is not scenic. I took the simple way, up the Hondo valley, through picturesque if decaying towns, cottonwoods lining Rio Hondo.

Ruidoso, nestled in the mountains, where gusty winds may exist, remains healthy based on income from Quarter Horse racing. I passed through for the first time in memory, waved hello, and on I went, into the Mescalero Apache Reservation. Past a little road called “A Little Road”, and down onto the desert floor. From there, south to White Sands to plunder the gift shop. There were no snow globes, but I found some other stuff to use instead. Then it was back north, to get a look at the inside of Wild Horse Mesa Bar. I was to join Rudolph and the bar owner there.

On the way back north, I stopped here and there along the way a series of pictures of landmarks that the pirates would pass on their trip, in case we needed something for a title sequence. I was late to the meeting, but it turns out the person the producer met with wasn’t the owner anyway. I did take some shots of the interior of the bar.

Once that was out of the way it was time to head north to Laguna Vista, nestled high in the mountains up toward Colorado.

It was a great drive, the air cooling as I climbed, and a small thunderstorm providing shade and color as the sun set – a good chance to return to the tradition of shooting pictures out the window while driving.

stackologist at work

It wouldn’t be a visit to Five O’clock Somewhere without a little rock stacking.

I give you Rock Stack 5.
Night fell, someone whacked a space ship into a comet, and all is well.