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Waffle Rock

The Waffle Rock: What The Heck Is It?

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A long time ago – circa 1930 – in the area of Mineral County, WV, there was a little town called Shaw.  You won’t find it on any modern map though, because it no longer exists.  Where Shaw once stood is now a small lake.  Jennings Randolph Lake to be precise, but it wasn’t a natural disaster that condemned Shaw, it was the American Army Corps of Engineers (USACE).  Residents of Shaw were asked to pack up their lives and leave, as the government had decided to install a dam on the Potomac River, which flowed through the small town.

An entire town told to pack up and leave in the name of progress.  The people of Shaw were largely unhappy about this proposition, as could be expected, but several of those residents were less worried about their own wellbeing than they were about a strange rock known locally as ‘The Indian Rock’, that was to be buried under meters of water with the completion of the damn project.

It might seem strange that people would be so concerned about a rock, but this was no ordinary rock.  One-time resident of Shaw, Ms. Betty Webster Bishop, recounts her memories of the rock via both the Army Corps of Engineers website, as well as a commemorative website honouring the history of Shaw.

“Our Sundays were for worship and rest. The one allowed activity was a walk in the woods. It was on one of these walks that my Mother discovered ‘her’ rock, as we often referred to it. She loved God and all aspects of nature, with a special fondness for rocks, large and small. This big rock, the subject of this story, was her ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow. She never tired of taking visitors to see it, whether local or out of town. She called it ‘The Indian Rock’, but we later referred to it as ‘Mom’s Rock.’ It was located a short distance up the hill. All who came were granted the privilege of visiting Mom’s ‘Indian Rock’. We felt it belonged to us and we reveled in the sharing of it. Many spoke of it and the awe it inspired, even after many years, and the many miles that separated us.”[1]

Betty’s story is heartwarming and engenders nostalgic longings for a simpler time.  The full version, which I encourage you to read, tells of her Mother’s discovery of the rock and how it came to be known, at least to them, as “Mom’s Rock”, and of how Betty brought its story to the world via a letter to the Saturday Evening Post (December 1984).  That letter was precipitous, and led to the best answer at the time for what, exactly, this rock might actually be.  But this is getting ahead of the story.

Waffle Rock, as it’s now called, is a large block of sandstone lodged into the ground just outside the visitor center at the lake in question.  On one side of the rock appears a regular waffle-like geometric pattern of raised, darker stone that creates pockets or deep pits on the rock’s surface.  This odd formation has caused many to speculate on what might have caused such a strange pattern.  As is apparently a common failing of the editorial standards in the world of paranormal blogging these days, if you search for ‘Waffle Rock’, you’ll find numerous websites offering pretty much the exact same story, which generally goes as follows:

“This is a boulder on display at Jennings Randolph Lake in Mineral County, West Virginia. There have been numerous theories and speculations as to its origin, ranging from a pictograph made by prehistoric man, an Indian carving, the impression of the skin pattern of a giant lizard, or evidence of a visit to earth by an early travelers [sic] from outer space.

After examination of the phenomenon, Corps of Engineers geologists and those of other agencies have concluded that it is a natural geological formation. Although such formations are not common, similar patterned boulders were found on the east side of Tea Creek Mountain in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Dr. Jack B. Epstein of the Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the interior, explained that the waffle rock is part of the Conemaugh geologic series that was deposited about 300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian period.  It is surmised that the waffle rock is a large loose boulder that fell from a parent outcrop somewhere higher up the slope, many decades ago, before the present trees grew.”[2]

That being the extent of the readily available information on the rock, one can almost forgive the Internet’s rather quick descent into wild speculation, but the somewhat obscure accounting by Ms. Webster Bishop does provide more material to sink one’s teeth into.  In response to her December 1984 letter to the Saturday Evening Post, a letter-to-the-editor was published in the April 1985 edition, from a Col. Martin W. Walsh Jr. Corps of Engineers Commander (Baltimore MD).

Col. Walsh offered some interesting commentary about the rock:

 “Speculations range from the impressions of the skin pattern of a giant reptile, to evidence of space travelers on earth.  Upon examination by geologists from the U. S. Corps of Engineers and other agencies, it was concluded that the rock is a natural geologic formation.”[3]

Apparently Col. Walsh went on in his letter to describe the process by which such patterning could form naturally, suggesting that sand deposited by ancient streams consolidated into sandstone layers with rock above and below being compressed into the large folds that make up the pattern.  It’s believed that this occurred between 250 and 300 million years ago, during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.

Of course, there are those who are less than enthusiastic about these conventional, natural explanations.  Many claim – namely the Rense.com correspondent identified as “Jeff” and the author of s8nt.com’s piece on the matter – the scientific explanations don’t account for all of the features present in the rock.  Aside from the usual ancient alien talk, many believe that the pattern is actually an early form of hieroglyphic or primitive writing, and that the rock is the result of Neolithic art by pre-Columbian peoples.

That’s a little short sighted though.

The rock on display at the West Virginia Outlook on Jennings Randolph Lake is but a small piece of the original rock.  It was moved there to save the geologically significant piece of history from the dam project; likely in no small part because of pressure exerted by the original residents of Shaw.  Photographs of the whole rock show clearly that the pattern, or the structure of the pattern does not run all the way through the rock, but rather can only be seen on one side.  And Dr. Epstein (mentioned above) offers an explanation more plausible than aliens or dragons, or even ancient art.

As outlined in Epstein’s official USGS fact-sheet on the Waffle Rock; when layers of sandstone were formed during the Appalachian Orogeny (the epoch during with the Appalachian range was formed), approximately 250 million years ago, the lower layers of the bedrock experienced compression forces as the Appalachian range heaved and folded.  Those different forces, which pushed that lower layer in different directions, resulted in a unique folding of the sandstone which formed joints or fractures that just happen to look like the pattern shown on the Waffle Rock.

This is a photo of a part of the rock prior to the flooding of the lake. This p

“Four sets of joints are apparent in the waffle rock.  Sets a and b are roughly perpendicular to each other; sets c and d are at an acute angle to each other.  The stress that formed the joints, as well as the folds in the rocks, bisects the angle between joints c and d…”

The mechanism that causes the waffle pattern to appear to be of a different material is similar to that which formed the Klerksdorp Spheres.  Following the formation upheaval of the bedrock, iron ore particles filtered through the sediment and rock, and leached out of the material below, settling into the spaces between sand particles, which ultimately acted like a cement or glue.  Once settled, the compression of the sandstone by the ongoing movement of the surrounding rock turned the iron ore into Hematite (as with the Klerksdorp Spheres), which is darker, harder and of a different consistency than sandstone.

This process is sort of like a perfect storm of conditions, which resulted in the rare but not unique form we see in the Waffle Rock as it sits near Jennings Randolph Lake (also called Bloomington Lake).  Another example of the Waffle Rock (which was also taken from Jennings Randolph Lake) sits at the entrance to the US Geological Survey Headquarters in Reston, Virginia.  And as it turns out, there are many undocumented examples of identical stone patterning in several other places around the world.  (Undocumented because, to the trained eye, they aren’t particularly remarkable)

It seems likely that there will be people who refuse to accept that the Waffle Rock is a natural formation.  Hell, there are still people who think the Earth is flat.  But since Dr. Epstein was good enough to provide his expert analysis and opinion on this subject, perhaps we should bow to his superior knowledge on the subject.

But whichever camp you find yourself in, if you’ve found any of this interesting, I urge you to read Betty Webster Bishop’s story on ShawWV.com, if only to keep some part of that history alive.

 


[1] Dennis, Norm. The Waffle Rock: A big attractions to the thousands of visitors at Jennings Randolph Lake each year. http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Portals/63/docs/Recreation/JRL/Maps/WaffleRock.pdf

[2] “Jeff” via Robert Weese. Strange Fossil Rock Formation. Rense.com http://rense.com/general3/foss.htm

[3] Webster Bishop, Betty. The Rock and I. ShawWV.com http://www.shawwv.com/betty_bishops_rock.html

 

Editor - Author
  1. Shaw, West Virginia
    I remember Shaw, West Virginia. I had relatives that lived in the area. I was a youngster when Dad took the family through Shaw before the waters took her. Unfortunately, we did not know about the rock. That rock has an awful lot of straight lines to be natural. I really have to wonder how nature managed it. If nature managed it.

    1. straight lines
      Nature can make straight lines. I absolutely hate it when people site the “straight lines theory.” Crystalline structures follow patterns and that’s what this reminded me off. I would like to see more from a geologist’s study first. It does not look like Native American work of that area or a hidden language.

      1. Jack Epstein’s USGS funded
        Jack Epstein’s USGS funded fact-sheet on this particular formation is publicly available, just not online. It stands as both the USGS’, the USACE’s, and Smithsonian’s official position on the matter. He mailed me a copy directly for the purposes of this article, I just don’t have the means to produce it digitally.

        It is exactly as thorough as one would expect, though. (I should also note that the Smithsonian has a sample of this formation in their archive, though I wish you luck in locating any reference to it in their ridiculous online search.)

        I too, am annoyed by the “nature doesn’t do straight lines” cop-out. Not least because it betrays an fundamental missunderstand of just what a straight line even is.

  2. Another Waffle Rock
    I’ve seen this rock discussed before and each time it reminds me of a nearly identical rock I saw as a youth on vacation with my Mom nearly 40 years ago. The rock in question or bedrock, was in the ground, on the perimeter of a tourist spot, not designated in any way. I found it simply by exploring. I could not remember the name of the location until I Googled it just now, but I did remember that the location allegedly had weird gravity anomalies, and optical illusions making it a tourist attraction – unrelated to the waffle rock in the ground there. The name of the location is Mystery Spot, in Santa Cruz, CA. Google it and you’ll see they have built all sorts of optical illusions there. The rock though is a natural feature. 40 years ago it was buried in the hillside, on the perimeter of the property, ignored by all I presume. When I stumbled across it, I found it more interesting than any of the constructed structures there, but then it was time to get back in the car and continue our road trip. Now that I know where the location is, I think I’ll plan a road trip with my own family up the coast since I live in CA about 5 hours south of it, and revisit the spot and see if I can rediscover “my” waffle rock. If I succeed, I’ll get some pictures and note it here.

  3. The Waffle Rock
    I have no wish to sound like an ignoramus or an interloper, but I am on the side of those who prefer an “unnatural” explanation for the formation of this extraordinary rock. I know that today there are all kinds of definitions of a straight line. But if nature came up with this grid-like formation – without any help from a passing kindly soul! – then I see no harm in asserting that Nature created Stonehenge or Mohenjo Daro.

  4. Waffle rock
    So some people despare because some of us question the straight lines. Frankly I would love to see the natural process that would produce so many straight lines, some over rather long tracks. Some of these tracks are double, on atop the other.

  5. OK, so I guess what I’ll do
    OK, so I guess what I’ll do is, I’ll find a way to scan Dr. Epstein’s analysis and provide it for you geological experts to assess for yourselves.

    I mean. Have you never seen a poplar tree? Pretty damn straight line. A blade of grass? More straight lines. How about, as was mentioned above, any crystal lattice? In fact, a crystal lattice is an even more precise grid pattern than what’s seen here.

    Straight lines and grid patterns appear all the time in nature. They’re just not as convenient for you to accuse of being unnatural.

    The other thing you all seem to be forgetting is that this type of rock formation is, dare I say it, quite common. Examples that appear almost identical to the Jennings Randolf Lake Waffle Rock have been found and identified all across the southeastern US. As well as in places around Europe and Africa.

    You want geometric patterns that appear unnatural? Try the Giants Causeway in Scotland that sports hundreds of five and six sided pillars in a garden of geological weirdness. Or the limestone pavement of England? Huge slabs of stone seemingly cut to look like a roadway laid down by giants (or dragons, as the legend asserts). I could easily go on, but I suspect it would be a wasted effort.

    ““There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’” – Isaac Asimov

  6. First off ….
    ….. I’d like to see a chemical analysis determine if its an inclusion in the sandstone, in the same way that dinosaur bones are – my betting is that it is.

    I’d also bet that it’d be found to be much harder and stronger (a ‘geopolymer’ or ceramic material of some kind) than the encasing standstone.

    (Opinions that because the pattern doesn’t appear on the opposite side of the fragment, and therefore it’s only on the surface, ignore the likelihood that it is indeed an inclusion).

    I think it is what it looks like – a space-frame, exactly as we use in aircraft and other applications where high strength and low weight is imperative.

    It’s likely a fragment of an aerospace vehicle, interred during a global upheaval in the (very) distant past.

    In this case, a kind of ‘fuzzy logic’ is evident in its manufacture, either by design or a result of the manufacturing process itself (perhaps ‘grown’ in a process akin to the way crystals are).

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