Some of the world’s most beautiful natural rock formations are also some of the most fragile, a quality that has much to do with their beauty. Though they may be thousands, even millions of years old, all of these unique formations will some day succumb to the forces of wind, weathering and gravity – sometimes before our very eyes. Alas, for these 10 fallen natural rock formations, there is no cosmic Clapper.
Ephemeral Arch, Nevada, USA
The most recent prominent natural rock formation to return to its roots, as it were, Ephemeral Arch lived up to its name on or around May 26th, 2010. The arch used to be a popular attraction for tourists visiting the Natural Arch Trail in Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park.
(image via: Zehrer-Online)
Though Ephemeral Arch itself was rather small (6 feet tall and 5 feet across), its location atop a 40 ft high rock formation provided onlookers with prime views silhouetted against clear desert skies. Ephemeral Arch was nicknamed “The Dragon”, as some noted a resemblance to a mother dragon feeding her offspring.
El Dedo de Dios (God’s Finger), Canary Islands, Spain
El Dedo de Dios, or “God’s Finger” translated from Spanish, can be found on the coast of Grand Canaria near the town of Agaete… at least, most of it can still be found there. The formation, which resembled a hand reaching heavenward, took on its unique appearance over a period of 200,000 to 300,000 years.
El Dedo de Dios and the surrounding rocks were formed from basaltic lava laid down approximately 14 million years ago. When Tropical Storm Delta hit the Canary Islands in November of 2005, gusting winds snapped off the upper portion of the formation, toppling it into the Atlantic Ocean. Spanish authorities briefly considered reconstructing the finger-shaped spire but decided reluctantly to let nature take its course.
Wall Arch, Utah, USA
Wall Arch, located in Utah’s Arches National Park, was formed over untold thousands of years by the action of, mainly, wind-blown desert sand. It seems somehow unfair that this magnificent arch was only documented in 1948: a mere 60 years later, on the night of October 4th, 2008, the central span of Wall Arch collapsed into rock shards and dust.
(image via: Lobsang Studio)
Arches National Park contains around 2,000 natural sandstone arches of all shapes and sizes, but Wall Arch was one of the grandest. The 71-ft wide opening beneath the arch and its 33.5-ft height ranked it 12th in size… so much for that, huh?
Old Man of the Mountain, New Hampshire, USA
Look at the reverse of New Hampshire’s 2000 State Quarter and you’ll see the Old Man of the Mountain, as much a part of New Hampshire’s iconography as the state motto, “Live Free or Die”.
First noted in 1805 by surveyors working in the Franconia Notch region, this somewhat spooky face was immortalized by Daniel Webster, who wrote: “Men hang out their signs indicative of their respective trades; shoe makers hang out a gigantic shoe; jewelers a monster watch, and the dentist hangs out a gold tooth; but up in the mountains of New Hampshire, God Almighty has hung out a sign to show that there He makes men.” Above is the Old Man in his prime; just below is a post-collapse closeup showing the steel cables and hooks that finally yielded to nature’s will.
(image via: Wikipedia)
This composite image shows the Old Man of the Mountain both before and after most of the distinctive granite ledge crashed to the valley floor below on May 3rd, 2003. The collapse is thought to be the inevitable result of innumerable freeze-thaw cycles occurring since the final retreat of Ice Age glaciers nearly 10,000 years ago. Man-made supports and annual maintenance done since cracks began to appear in the 1920s only forestalled the inevitable.
Troll Woman, Iceland
(image via: Not About Books)
Legends of trolls both male and female abound in Iceland, a country subject to immense natural forces far beyond the control of mankind. One such folk tale describes the fate of trolls and bewitched humans who are caught out in the open by the rays of the morning sun: they are turned to stone where they stand (or sit). The seaside rock shown above, according to a local folktale, was once a woman who waited in vain for her fisherman husband to return, eventually turning to stone. The “Troll Woman”, perhaps tired of her long and fruitless wait, finally tumbled into the sea sometime before May of 2006.
Jumpoff Joe, Newport, Oregon, USA
Jumpoff Joe was a famous sea stack that featured a keyhole arch, located at Nye Beach near Newport, Oregon. Composed of relatively soft concretionary sandstone, Jumpoff Joe has been extensively documented photographically for over 100 years as it evolved from a natural pier to a solitary sea stack to finally, isolated rock outcrops that barely rise above the ocean waves.
(image via: Postcard Paradise)
The above postcard illustration dates from around the turn of the 20th century. It may seem amazing how quickly such a large natural structure can be reduced to nearly nothing, but it just goes to show the unmatched power of nature and the Earth’s inexorable geologic forces at work.
London Bridge, Australia
“London Bridge is falling down…” and so it did, on January 15th, 1990, leaving a single-arched sea stack now known as London Arch. In either its twin-arched Bridge form or as a stand-alone sea stack Arch, this massive rock formation proves that when it comes to memorable landmarks one CAN have it both ways.
(image via: Pizzodisevo)
The above photo of London Bridge shows it in all its glory. The formation certainly looks both solid and ageless in this image, taken in December of 1959, but appearances can be deceptive. Located in Australia’s Port Campbell National Park in Victoria and easily accessible along the Great Ocean Road, it’s a wonder the inner arch’s collapse didn’t take several oblivious sightseers with it. It was a near thing, however: a couple of tourists left stranded on the suddenly isolated sea stack had to be rescued by helicopter.
The Twelve Apostles, Australia
Just down the Great Ocean Road from London Arch, you’ll find The Twelve Apostles; a spectacular grouping of nine (yes, nine) limestone sea stacks that began eroding away from their parent cliffs between 10 and 20 million years ago.
(image via: Wikipedia)
Bad enough that the original Twelve Apostles numbered only nine, on July 3rd, 2005 a 50 meter (164-ft) high sea stack suddenly collapsed like a house of cards, leaving only eight Apostles to stand guard against the relentless waves of the Southern Ocean. The images above show the grouping in dramatic “before & after” fashion, with the “after” photo taken several minutes following the collapse.
Chimney Rock, Nebraska, USA
(image via: Visit USA)
Chimney Rock National Historic Site, located near Bayard, Nebraska, is an example of a rock formation undergoing a slow-motion collapse… from OUR point of view, that is. The spire is topped with hard sandstone that has protected underlying layers of clay and volcanic ash to some degree.
The spire was noticeably taller in pre-photographic times, however, and among the weathering agents slowly but surely reducing its height are lightning strikes. Want to see Chimney Rock? Check your pockets… if you have a 2006 Nebraska State Quarter in your change, you’ll see Chimney Rock and a passing wagon train engraved on the reverse.
(image via: Sierra College)
The distinctive natural spire of Chimney Rock towers 325 feet above the rolling plains of the North Platte River Valley and it served as a true landmark for travelers trekking the California, Mormon and Oregon trails. It was said that once you spied Chimney Rock, your long journey across the Great Plains had ended and a shorter, more arduous one across the Rocky Mountains would soon begin. The drawing above, penned by Joseph Goldsborough Bruff back in the days of the 49-ers and the California Gold Rush, looks markedly taller than in recent photos.
The Eye of the Needle, Montana, USA
Not every natural rock formation meets a natural end, and that’s the case of The Eye of the Needle, a graceful 11-ft high white sandstone arch located near the upper headwaters of the Missouri River near Missoula, Montana.
(image via: California Hick)
The graceful arch had stood for many thousands of years and for all intents and purposes could have stood for several thousand more if not for the misguided antics of drunken vandals (NOT the people in the images above) who toppled the Eye of The Needle over the Memorial Day weekend in 1997. The perpetrators have never been found and suggestions that the arch be repaired have been dismissed, with many stating that would give out the wrong message: that unique natural monuments are easy to repair.
Though it’s unfortunate when familiar landmarks fall to bits, at times their passing brings about new monuments that themselves may persist for centuries or more. A prime example is Lange Anna in Helgoland, Germany. This once majestic arch collapsed back in 1868. What remains is a 47 meter (154 feet) tall sea stack that stands in solitary grandeur, looking out across the tempestuous North Sea that carries within it the seeds of its future demise.
We live within a snapshot, a blink of an eye on the geologic scale. Rock formations have been laid down, built up and eroded away time and time again over our planet’s 4.5 billion year lifetime – and even the Earth suffers from fallen arches. While we can’t resurrect the ones that have fallen, it’s certain that given enough time, new ones will arise.