National Geographic

How The Rock Got To Plymouth (And To The Parking Lot Near You)

  • "Leaverites" — leave 'er right there — is another nickname for erratics too big to move, like the one by a parking lot in Mystic, Conn.
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    "Leaverites" — leave 'er right there — is another nickname for erratics too big to move, like the one by a parking lot in Mystic, Conn.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Thanksgiving parade confetti litters the sand around Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, the landing place of the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1620.
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    Thanksgiving parade confetti litters the sand around Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, the landing place of the Mayflower Pilgrims in 1620.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Receding glaciers left these rocks behind in what is now New York City's Central Park. Frederick Law Olmsted, the park's co-designer, in some cases arranged the boulders, known as erratics, into what he considered poetic tableaux.
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    Receding glaciers left these rocks behind in what is now New York City's Central Park. Frederick Law Olmsted, the park's co-designer, in some cases arranged the boulders, known as erratics, into what he considered poetic tableaux.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Glen Rock, N.J., is named for its 570-ton erratic. Scientists believe a glacier brought it from about 20 miles north. The Lenape Native Americans, who inhabited the area, had another idea: Their name for such a rock was "pamachapuka" — stone from the sky.
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    Glen Rock, N.J., is named for its 570-ton erratic. Scientists believe a glacier brought it from about 20 miles north. The Lenape Native Americans, who inhabited the area, had another idea: Their name for such a rock was "pamachapuka" — stone from the sky.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Brenda Diaz and Jessica Ruiz take a break near Yeager Rock during a road trip. Native Americans used to mark boulders with carvings. Today's artists, some of whom have immortalized the years of their high school graduations here, prefer paint.
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    Brenda Diaz and Jessica Ruiz take a break near Yeager Rock during a road trip. Native Americans used to mark boulders with carvings. Today's artists, some of whom have immortalized the years of their high school graduations here, prefer paint.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic
  • Looking as if it fell from the sky, a 40-ton erratic stands on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state. Such boulders are sometimes called rubbing stones because bison scratched up against them.
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    Looking as if it fell from the sky, a 40-ton erratic stands on the Colville Indian Reservation in Washington state. Such boulders are sometimes called rubbing stones because bison scratched up against them.
    Fritz Hoffmann/National Geographic

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In his own words, photographer Fritz Hoffmann is "hooked on erratics," which is a somewhat erratic obsession in the first place. It's a fancy geology term for rocks that have been moved by glaciers — the famous Plymouth Rock being an example. And it's the subject of Hoffmann's most recent story in the March National Geographic.

"I'm not a geologist, don't have a science background and hardly paid attention in high school biology," Hoffmann admits in an email. But he is observant — almost obsessively — and one day started noticing that everywhere he went, rocks seemed to be plopped in the most random locations.

"One element that I wanted to instill in the images was the concept of time," Hoffmann explains. "I thought about this while sitting on top of a 10-foot step ladder in a parking lot waiting for something to happen near a rock, watching people hustling by, the glacial rock sitting where it may have been placed 18,000 years earlier. The rocks move and we move at different speeds."

It's an interesting thought that, in a sense, these unassuming chunks of rock are a bit like time capsules.

What do you think? Have you noticed them where you live?

Be sure to check out Hoffmann's other recent story on Denmark's dogsled team, Sirius.

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