Cairn - Stacked Stones or Rock Pile

Cairn – Stacked Stones or Rock Pile

Off in a corner of Afton, on the far side of the snowshoe trail, on a ridge in the woods lies a cairn collection. Someone started stacking rock and either couldn’t stop themselves or started a movement. There are at least a dozen little cairns on the stumps.

I did a little research today on the word cairn. I knew the word, but couldn’t spell it (it’s pronounced like Karen). I tried every variation that I could think of and discovered that there are a lot of rocker chicks who like to misspell Karen (search: Karyn or Caren rock). That’s why I used a descriptive title on the post today in hopes that I can help someone else. Once the true spelling revealed itself, I was delighted to read about them on wikipedia. Now I want to build more of them when I’m out hiking. They have lots of purposes, but one of them is to denote a path. Often a pointed rock is included in the stack that indicates the direction of travel. This kind of cairn is called a duck or duckie (I know!) because the pointed rock indicating the route looks like a beak. How often does someone who uses a duckie as a trademark find something like this!

The Wiki article also includes a neat term: two rocks do not make a duck. Meaning that a lost hiker might think they see a duckie, but it could just be one rock sitting on another rock. I like that. It reminds me of researching on the web — you want to find more than one or two sources. How many rocks does it take? When you five rocks of different origin neatly stacked, you can be pretty sure you have a duck.

So stay the course, enjoy the journey and mind the ducks.

Since this original post, I’ve discovered many other Cairns and Land Art forms around Minneapolis.

Cairn Information and other Cool Stuff

If you like cairns, here’s a few cool cairn-related things I’ve found on Amazon that you might like.
[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”B018VPJM3Q, 1594856818, B01B3HKRLA, B00UHP0VCK” desc=”1″]

18 replies
  1. Strangetastes
    Strangetastes says:

    Whose woods these are, I think I know.
    His house is in the village, though.
    He will not see me stopping here
    To watch his woods fill up with snow.

    OOPS, wrong state. That’s Massachusetts, not Minnesota. But who could tell the difference?

    Gonna be 70 here today. WOO HOO. But, well, I’m stuck in an office.

  2. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Great photo! I laughed because I spent some time in Australia, and there Cairns is one of the biggest tourist cities in north Queensland – on the Great Barrier Reef – and is pronounced “Cannes”. They drop their Rs like us Bostonians, though, so maybe it really is the same pronunciation!

  3. Margi
    Margi says:

    I saw a beautiful “cairn” by the beach in Florence, OR. It also contained a piece of what looked like raffia. I took several pictures. I thought the whole thing was beautiful. I will watch for them from now on.

  4. Kim
    Kim says:

    Also throughtout the Bible people were stacking rocks as alters to communicate with God. To “ask” for a blessing or help of some kind. When they received from God and later in life found themselves in great need again they were instructed to return to the place that they asked and received before.They would return to the original alter but if that wasn’t possible they would erect another.It’s a rititual that puts them into a place to communicate with God.I think the old tradition of building an alter helps us feel we are not alone, ever!

  5. Sheree Cooke
    Sheree Cooke says:

    Was Googling “stacked rocks meaning” (on my endless search of trivial knowledge, lol) and arrived here. Thanks for posting the cairn info. Will enjoy perusing your colorful site!

  6. K Pinson
    K Pinson says:

    Beautiful photograph – I heard wherever there were Cairns meant friendship/welcoming – I really enjoyed your interpretation – Something about them are very peaceful, beautiful, and spiritual. I built a small one at the entrance to our log cabin in Blue Ridge, GA years ago. Thanks for your great website!

  7. Mitchster
    Mitchster says:

    K Pinson –
    Thanks for the compliment, I now try to build them when I go out hiking. I think the appeal is that it is an essentially simple act that requires incredible attention and balance. It’s like meditating, so simple, yet so hard. It takes time, patience and thumbs, so only calm humans can do it.
    – Mitchster

  8. Linda Luker
    Linda Luker says:

    For several years here in beautiful S. Chester County, PA. on a road called Good Hope I have been passing a home with stacked stones at their driveway entrance. Sometimes there is more than one stack and now others on the road have started creating the stacks. Now that I have read your research, I am heading out to find my stones for the entry way of my home. I have paths through the woods so I will be making some there and adding ducks to show the way.

  9. admin
    admin says:

    Linda –
    Good luck on your adventures, it’s nice to know someone else is leaving ducks for those who follow.
    – Mitchster

  10. Gary Farmer
    Gary Farmer says:

    We(my wife and I ) traveled quite a bit a few years ago as we had a 5th wheel camper and it was very comfortable. We were out west somewhere ,Utah or Colorado I think, and came across quite a few stacks in differant locals, so I don’t think they were done by the same people. These rocks were 4 to 8 inches in dia. and kind of flat so they would stack. 6 to ten high.

    I listen to Easy listening music on my cable and they have a picture which changes every once in a while with the artists info, and every now and again—VIOLA— there they are—–CAIRNS—–What the heck do they mean?
    Now I own a Cairn, but he’s my dog named Oliver. You probably know about Cairn Terriors right?

  11. leon
    leon says:

    I was in New Zealand last July and I came across stacks of these cairns as you mentioned, all along both sides of a section of road from from Christchurch to Queenstown. I don’t remember which section it was and didn’t have enough time to pull aside and take pictures but after seeing such vast amounts of them, I’ve been fascinated as to what the meaning of those rock piles meant so I’m glad I came across your site! Ta

  12. sirjulez2004
    sirjulez2004 says:

    thanks. you sure cleared up my stacked rock question. i searched google and you were choice number one. but hiking or on a trail is answered. but why stacked thousands in one area. maybe the ducks are facing all different ways. you get what im saying. why stack tons of em

  13. Anne (Cornucopia)
    Anne (Cornucopia) says:

    Thanks for this informative post. Don’t they also look like the ones in the Blair Witch Project movie? Although I don’t know why people are putting them all over the place. (I posted a picture of one and didn’t realize this is a trend in the woods, until I received a comment about it.)

  14. Indi
    Indi says:

    Thanks for this information. I have been trying to understand what these rock piles were for years. I felt there was something spiritual about these…somehow they seemed special as if placed with great care and patience.


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