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Travel 101: Cairns, Tributes & Memorials

While traveling you probably have seen more than a few little rocky towers dotting the sidelines of the trails you have been hiking or roadsides you have traveled. But what are they and why do so many people feel the need to leave these behind?

Known as tributes, memorials or cairns the rock structures created by travelers are used to pay tribute to others, mark the landscape and serve as a point of reference or a tower for wish making. They are a human made stack of rocks in a pyramid shape with originations in the Scottish culture.

In my travels I have seen these dotting just about every landscape and have even built a few myself. For me the cairn is more of a tribute left behind for those which cannot travel alongside me and a way of marking that I have been to a place and seen the sight and spectacle of it. Now while this is a wonderful fun way to leave your mark, there are areas in which they do prohibit these from being constructed so as a traveler you must always be aware of limitations before creating your own.

One unique adventure in Telluride, Colorado I stumbled upon an area set aside from any other as it had hundreds of these tiny towers left behind by all those who ventured in the area. While cairns do have ties to the native cultures which used to inhabit the area however this area is now more so used for just leaving an environmentally friendly mark on the world.

In other travels, I have seen elaborate and tall towers constructed in such ways that looked as though they were defying gravity and small towers in the most unlikely places.

So what do you need to know if you are wanting to leave your mark in this way?

  • Check park guidelines or posted signs to make sure this is not a prohibited activity.

  • Start with large rocks that are semi flat first then build upward but make sure your structure is supported and will not collapse and endanger others.

  • Remember leave no trace when traveling to any natural area other than natural things such as these towers, you never want to disrupt the habitat and environment around you.

  • Remember these structures have various meanings to various adventurers. Be respectful of others which have built structures as some might be memorials to lost loved ones or wishes they left behind.

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