Nature / North Dakota / Science / Travel

Water and Wind: The Unrelenting Sculptors

Hoodoo at RNP FI

“The finest workers in stone are not copper or steel tools,
but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure 
with a liberal allowance of time.”
— Henry David Thoreau

I doubt if Thoreau ever visited North Dakota, but these artistic spires in Theodore Roosevelt National Park certainly prove his point. Thick layers of rock, deposited millions of years ago, have been slowly carved away by the rain and winds, leaving these sandstone and clay towers.


The badlands of North Dakota are arid, and rain is infrequent. However, when it happens, it can be intense. And the lack of vegetation also lets the winds have their way with the exposed stone. Leave the destructive siblings at play for a few millennia, and nature struts her artistic stuff.


Geologists call this process “differential erosion.” The harder sandstone caprock, erodes at a slower rate than the softer clay layer beneath, producing these strangely shaped monoliths. They are known by many names, but my favorite is “hoodoo.”

James at RNP

Nature has provided a number of these beautiful and unusual artworks in the Western US. The best examples are in Arches National Park …


… and Bryce Canyon National Park, both in Utah.


But there are beautiful water-and-wind carved creations all over the world. We saw wonderful examples in Petra.

IMG_4033 - Version 3

Another famous example is the “fairy chimneys” at Cappadocia, in Central Turkey.


A number of specific conditions must come together to produce these unusual formations, which is why they aren’t common. However, when nature pulls it all together, the results are wonderful.

Happy Trails,

P.S. An interesting aside. Did you know that feng shui, literally translated into English means “water and wind?”


Photo Credits:
5. By Cedric Gouyvenoux via Wikimedia Commons
6. By I, Luca Galuzzi via Wikimedia Commons
8, 9. By Michael Day via Wikimedia Commons

31 thoughts on “Water and Wind: The Unrelenting Sculptors

    • When you look at the water & wind sculptured formations, it’s amazing the variation in shape, color, and style. However, they are all interesting to see. Some in the American west are also quite fragile. I wouldn’t want to be around when one tumbles down. ~James

    • Thanks Suzanne, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Cappadocia is on our list for our next trip to Turkey. Interestingly, we first saw it in a magazine article about the hotels in the Fairy Chimneys. This idea of cave houses is very intriguing to me. We’ve seen them in southern Spain and in Santorini. Somehow I have this “hobbit-like” idea that there cozy. ~James

  1. I have seen Bryce Canyon and the arches…..beautiful. Didn’t know about t r national park. That’s a bummer because we were in South Dakota last summer. Oh well, will just have to go again!

    • Thanks Anne, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. Roosevelt NP isn’t one of those places you just drop by, but it’s definitely worth the trip. We had a fun time there (check out my post on “Frisky Buffalo”). We camped and had a few nice hikes, and saw lots of buffalo. We were there in summer, and it was really hot (100+), so if can, go when it’s cooler. ~James

    • Thanks Harrie, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. This part of the US is very arid and desolate. However, I find that pictures taken in these places are sometimes the most striking. ~James

    • Thanks Laura, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. We’ve seen hot air ballons in a number of places, and they look like fun. I did a glider flight once, and learned that un-powered flight takes a bit of trust. Cappadocia is on our list for our next trip to Turkey. ~James

    • Thanks Ailee, for the comment and for dropping by the blog. We’ve been to Turkey, but spent all our time in the west. We’ve had our eye on Cappadocia for sometime and it’s on the list.~James

    • I’m don’t know if you’ve visited Utah before, but there are so many cool things to see there. All the national parks are wonderful, and camping is the perfect way to see them Enjoy. ~James

  2. Beautiful! Did you know that in Spain, near the town of Cuenca, is an area called ‘The Enchanted City’ (Ciudad Encantada) which has beautiful and unusual rock formations? Nothing like on the scale of your photos but still fascinating.

    Having been born in Zimbabwe, my most amazing experience of the power of wind and water is the Matopos hills, near the city of Bulawayo. Here you can see incredible rock formations, with rocks balancing on other rocks or shaped over the centuries into formations that look like people or mythical creatures. Truly magical.

    • Thanks for the comment Amanda, and for dropping by the blog. I didn’t know about either of these sites, and will do a bit of online research to check them out. I enjoy the hoodoos that I discussed in the post, but I also enjoy the balanced rocks as well. There are a few sites in the American West where balanced rock formations occur. Thanks for the information. ~James

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