Nature / Travel / USA

Wind and Water: 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’m sure that Thoreau never visited North Dakota, but these strangely artistic spires in Theodore Roosevelt National Park certainly prove his point. Sixty-five million years ago, right after the lights went out for the dinosaurs, thick layers of sand, silt, and mud were deposited on the flanks of the rising Rocky Mountains. Since that time, rain and wind have been slowly whittling away at these rocks leaving some rather peculiar pillars.


The badlands of North Dakota are arid, and it doesn’t rain very often. But when it happens, it can be intense, and the lack of vegetation allows the water and wind to have their way with the exposed stone. Leave the destructive siblings at play for a few million years, and nature struts her artistic stuff.


Geologists call this process “differential erosion”  because the sandstone in the cap rock is harder than the softer clay beneath, and it erodes at a slower rate. The result is these strangely shaped monoliths standing in a stark, Daliesque landscape. In the States they’re known as “hoodoos.”

James at RNP

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


… and Bryce Canyon National Park.


But the US doesn’t have the market corned on these beautiful, natural carved rocks. There are other famous locations all over the world. We saw colorfully layered examples in Petra.

IMG_4033 - Version 3

And the “fairy chimneys” at Cappadocia, in Central Turkey entice intrepid travelers from all over the globe.


Hoodoos aren’t common, because a number of specific conditions must come together to form these otherworldly formations. But when nature pulls it all together, the results are remarkable.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

P.S. And BTW,  did you know that the trendy Chinese term feng shui, literally translated into English means “water and wind?”


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

44 thoughts on “Wind and Water: 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

  3. Powerful tools wind and water. Amazing landscapes created all over the world. By an odd coincidence Dave and I stopped in the badlands of Alberta this afternoon. Layering and hoodoos all about. Dave was playing with his new toy Sparky the drone. Some fascinating photos from above I must say.
    Best wishes to you both and hoping your summer is bringing many happy adventures.

    • Sue, if Dave flies his drone the way I do, he needs a place as big and open as the badlands. Mine is super lightweight and the slightest breeze sends it off into the neighbor’s backyard. Luckily, their dogs have always been inside. I can see them nibbling on my poor little drone before I can retrieve it. The badlands are awesome, and the day we hiked out to the hoodoos, we stopped at the visitors’ center for a map and the thermometer read a toasty 103° F. ~James

      • I think our drone and we might melt in those temperatures! Sounds like the wee drone is lucky not to have become kibble. We will be in the watch for the canine chasers. Never thought of that.

  4. Our favorite photo amongst all these magnificent shots is the arch in Utah. But all these sculptural formations are quite amazing and are no doubt even more dramatic in person. We have visited very little of Americas natural wonders and if landscapes so it is nice to get acquainted through posts like this one.


    Ben & Peta

    • Peta, the American west is big, big country and takes lots of planning to visit. But it has a number of fabulous natural attractions that are wonderful. We spent a couple of months there tent camping and it was a life memory. In addition to buffalo in our tent camp, a friendly mouse moved into the back of our truck. 🙂 ~James

    • Thanks Lynn. This area of the badlands is fabulous, and lots of it feels like another planet. Another cool thing about this area around the hoodoos were petrified trees – very neat and worth the grueling hike. ~James

  5. Seeing the fairy chimneys in Turkey is something I’ll never forget. Thanks for bringing back a great memory and sharing some additional places to find these beauties. Hope you’re both enjoying summer!

    • Kelly, we haven’t been to Cappadocia, but we’ve only heard good things about it. It’s interesting, that every example of these types of formations that I know of exist in the absolute middle of nowhere. In the case of the Badlands of North Dakota, you definitely don’t just drop by, and as you know, getting to central Turkey is no easy thing either. This may be one reason these beautiful places still exist. ~James

    • Gilda, one of my favorite things about these hoodoos was I could walk around them and get close. Sometimes, in order to protect them, the park service will fence off these types of formations. But here they didn’t and it was wonderful. ~James

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