Nature's Stone Giants


Stonehenge is impressive, but pales in comparison to the massive stone pillars Mother Nature gave us. The real stories of how they came to be are as fascinating as the legends that people use to explain unusual rock formations.

England: Brimham Rocks

The Brimham Rocks near Nidderdale, Yorkshire Dales, England are said to have been carved by druids, but they date back to around 320 million years ago when the Yorkshire area formed from sand and other materials washed down from Norway and Scotland, leaving an area known as the Millstone Grit. Later glaciers carved the land down, leaving the strangely-shaped stones exposed, in the period from roughly 73,000 BC to 10,000 BC. The rocks now stand at a little less than 30 meters tall. Some rocks resemble animals or human faces, and have been named for their appearance or for the local legends that grew up around them. The Brimham Rocks area is owned by the National Trust and is open daily for visitors. Image by Flickr user floato.

Canada: Flowerpot Island

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Flowerpot Island, Ontario gets its name from two rock formations on its eastern shore. A local legend says that two lovers from warring tribes eloped to the island and were somehow turned to stone. A profile of a face is visible on one of the stones if you view it at the right angle. The island is part of The Fathom Five National Marine Park and is a popular tourist destination. Image by Thesofa.

Madagascar: Tsingy de Bemaraha

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Tsingy de Bemaraha national park in Madagascar has a forest of limestone pillars. The word tsingy means "where one cannot walk barefoot." Water eroded caves and passages through the land, the roofs of which eventually collapsed and left the pillars standing up to 70 meters tall. The tops of the rocks have a vastly different ecosystem from the valleys, and from the surrounding savannahs. The stone forest is home to thousands of species not seen outside of Madagascar. Image by Stephen Alvarez for National Geographic.

Russia: Man-Pupu-Nyor

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Seven rock formations called Man-Pupu-Nyor (little mountain of the gods) stand in the Komi Republic, a part of the Ural Mountain area of Russia. The seven pillars range from 30 to 42 meters tall! They formed when erosion washed away the mountain that once surrounded them over a period of 200 million years. Legend says the stones are evil giants who had a spell cast upon them. The remote location of the pillars makes tourism difficult, but you can get there by helicopter or snowmobile if you are determined.

Northern Ireland: The Giant's Causeway

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The Giant's Causeway is on the northeast coast of Northern Ireland. Legend says that the giant Finn McCool built the causeway so he could fight his enemy Benandonner in Scotland. The rock formation looks like a set of mostly hexagonal man made stepping stones, but this is a natural formation of basalt laid down by volcanic activity. During the Tertiary period some 65 million years ago, this piece of land was near the equator. Lava tubes pressed up through a chalk layer to form the pillars. The geometric shapes were caused by crystallization of the basalt as it cooled and cracked. The causeway is open to the public and can be reached by a shuttle bus. Devil's Postpile is a similar formation in California. Image by Flickr user Jimbofin.

Faroe Islands: Drangarnir

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Two sea stacks situated between the Faroe islands of Vagar and Tindhólmur are collectively called Drangarnir. The two rocks are called Stóri Drangur (large cliff) and Lítli Drangur (small cliff). You'll find them halfway between Scotland and Iceland. They, along with the rest of the islands, were formed by eruptions of volcanic basalt. The best view of the stones are from the mountain on Vagar, which has tourist facilities. Image by Erik Christensen.

See also: Rocks that Rock: 8 Stone Giant Sites