13 Natural Rock Formations That Look Human-Made

A red sandstone formation against a dark blue sky
The Wave is a sandstone formation in northern Arizona, famed for its striped colors and undulating form.

Barna Tanko / Shutterstock

Natural rock formations have always fascinated humankind. They feature prominently in cultural traditions, serve as important landmarks, and attract tourists from across the world.

Some famous formations are balancing boulders that teeter precariously on spires of rock, while others are rolling waves of sandstone with attractive striations. Often, humans have a particular affinity to rock formations that bear a likeness of a person or animal. Though some of these geological marvels seem perfectly sculpted, all are formed entirely by natural forces of erosion.

Here are 13 rock formations with such unusual beauty that they seem formed by human hands.

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Wave Rock (Australia)

A smooth, striated rock cliff in the shape of a tall wave

Fredrik Bülow / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Wave Rock is a well-known landmark in western Australia that was formed about 2.7 billion years ago. At nearly 46 feet tall and 360 feet long, this smooth granite cliff looks like a huge ocean wave about to break.

Wave Rock forms the north side of Hyden Rock, which is a granite inselberg — an isolated rock formation that rises abruptly from a flat plain — with three domes. The curved face of the cliff has been rounded over its lifetime by water erosion from two sources. 

First, when it rains, Hyden Rock sheds rainwater, and the surrounding plains receive the runoff. This erodes the granite and is the reason for the concave slope of Wave Rock. 

Second, as the face of the granite cliff has eroded over the years, groundwater has risen to the surface. That water deposits chemicals in the granite as it runs down the cliff, resulting in the striped pattern we see today.

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Eye of the Sahara (Mauritania)

A prominent circular rock formation in the Sahara Desert

Sentinel Hub / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Eye of the Sahara, also known as the Richat Structure, is a massive geological formation in Mauritania that creates a bulls-eye of sorts in the Sahara Desert. The formation, which is about 30 miles in diameter, is so prominent that astronauts can use it as a landmark while in orbit.

Its circular shape originally led experts to believe it formed from a meteor impact, but modern researchers now believe that it was formed entirely by erosion. It sits on a shelf about 650 feet above the surrounding desert.

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Thor's Hammer (Utah)

Red sandstone towers in the desert

Luca Galuzzi / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 2.5

Hoodoos are tall, skinny rock spires found in arid basins, and Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah is considered the hoodoo capital of the world. Thor's Hammer is a particularly photogenic example of the bizarre geological formation, with a wide knob that resembles a mallet on the tip on the 150-foot tower. 

The hoodoos in Bryce Canyon National Park formed about 40 to 60 million years ago through a process called frost wedging. Melting snow will seep into the cracks of rocks, and then freeze and expand when the temperature drops. With more than 200 freeze-thaw cycles in Bryce Canyon every year, frost wedging can be a powerful force.  

Rain plays a role in sculpting hoodoos, too. Hoodoos have layers of several different kinds of rock — one of them being limestone. The slightly acidic rainwater slowly dissolves the limestone, resulting in rounded edges and lumpy silhouettes.

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Queen's Head (Taiwan)

A rock tower that resembles the profile of a woman's head and neck

Siripong Kaewla-iad / Getty Images

Queen's Head is a 26-foot-tall mushroom rock in northern Taiwan that attracts two and a half million visitors a year. Though it is only one of many similar rock structures in the 24-acre Yehliu Geopark, Queen's Head is famous for its resemblance to a woman's head seen in profile. 

Mushroom rocks inherit their shape thanks to a unique form of weathering. Wind-blown sand is the dominant source of erosion here, but wind can only lift sand a few feet in the air. The upper portion of the rock is larger and more textured because it is not subject to as much erosion. 

The 4,000-year-old sandstone structure has eroded so much that the bulbous head will soon be too heavy for its support. Geologists estimate that the "neck" of the rock is shrinking by about 1.5 centimeters a year, and plans are underway to protect the rock from further erosion that could cause it to break.  

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Rock Sites of Cappadocia (Turkey)

A valley filled with triangular rock towers

Nedim Ardoğa / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

The Rock Sites of Cappadocia, near Kayseri, Turkey are an example of the unique geology that can form as a result of volcanic activity. The area, part of Göreme National Park, is famous for its "fairy chimneys." These rock pillars, formed of solidified volcanic ash and shaped by wind and water erosion, stretch up to 130 feet into the sky. 

Around the 4th century, humans began carving cave dwellings, places of worship, and even entire underground towns into the rocks — some reported to be as many as eight stories deep. While they were originally occupied by monks and Christians fleeing Rome's persecution, today they serve as museums that preserve examples of Byzantine art and dwellings. 

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Skull Rock (California)

A rock in a boulder field that resembles a skull

HanaBilikova / Getty Images

Skull Rock is a granite boulder in California's Joshua Tree National Park with depressions that resemble a skull. Joshua Tree's expansive boulder fields developed over nearly 100 million years, as flash floods eroded a softer layer of gneiss that exposed the granite. Tiny depressions in Skull Rock collected floodwater and rainwater, deepening the depressions over time and leading to its current appearance. 

The skull is the starting point for a 1.7-mile nature trail through the park, where the Mojave and the Colorado deserts meet in southern California. 

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Pamukkale (Turkey)

Flat rocks covered with water at sunset that resemble a terrace

John_Walker / Shutterstock

Pamukkale is a series of expansive bleached terraces and brilliant blue pools, which is often considered one of the most beautiful places in the world. It gets its name, which means "cotton castle" in Turkish, due to the brilliant white rock formations composed of calcite. 

The travertine basins are filled with thermal, calcite-rich spring water, which leaves white deposits on the rocks as the water flows over the edges of the pools. The calcite also creates "petrified waterfalls" where the deposits are especially thick, forming waves on the rocks. 

Locals and tourists alike have bathed in these pools for thousands of years. Today, protections are in place to safeguard this gorgeous historical site. Hotels that had been built nearby were demolished when it became a World Heritage Site in 1988, to restore the natural character of the area. 

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Devils Postpile National Monument (California)

A rock outcropping that resembles a stacked pile of posts

Chris Geszvain / Shutterstock

In geological terms, the rock formations in Devils Postpile National Monument are relatively young. Studies show that they formed less than 100,000 years ago when a lava flow cooled and cracked into multi-sided columns. 

Basaltic lava tends to form columns because it is rich in iron and magnesium and flows more quickly than most lava does. In Reds Meadow Valley, where the rock formations are found, an ancient eruption created a lava lake about 400 feet deep. The lava cooled at different rates, with shallow parts of the lake hardening first. As it cooled, the solid lava contracted away from the liquid lava, causing cracks or joints. These joints formed columns that now stand about 60 feet high.

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Sphinx of Balochistan (Pakistan)

A rock tower in a canyon that resembles a sphinx

Bilal Mirza / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

While Egypt is home to the Great Sphinx of Giza, Pakistan's Hingol National Park is home to another sphinx — one that has been formed by natural processes. This sphinx, carved by wind and rain, sits atop a mountain about 155 miles from Karachi on the Makran Coastal Highway. The unusual rock formation, which is just one feature in a mountainous region full of canyons and bluffs, was only discovered in 2004 when the road was constructed. 

The Makran Coastal Highway offers visitors a view of other unique rock formations as well, such as the Princess of Hope, a rock shaped like a human standing tall above a pile of rocks.

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Moeraki Boulders (New Zealand)

A group of rounded boulders on a beach

Westend61 / Getty Images

The Moeraki Boulders are a series of more than 50 spherical stones found on Koekohe Beach on New Zealand's South Island. Each one weighs several tons and some stand more than six feet high. 

The boulders formed around 60 million years ago from sediment on the sea floor. Over time, the concretions have been exposed as waves eroded the soft mudstone layer that contains the boulders. 

The boulders have long held a place in Maori legend, which identifies the boulders as gourds that washed ashore and turned to stone after a great canoe called Araiteuru was shipwrecked in ancient times. 

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Heart Rock (California)

A rock with a heart-shaped negative space

Brian / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Heart Rock is a rock formation in California near a waterfall with a distinctive, heart-shaped depression on its surface. A pool of water fills the natural formation, and nearby Seeley Creek Falls will flow over the rock when the creek is full, adding to the picturesque view. The water from the 20-foot falls is the main source of erosion that created the unique shape. 

Heart Rock is found near Crestline, California in the San Bernardino National Forest. It's accessible on a one-mile hiking path through the forest. 

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Chiricahua National Monument (Arizona)

A boulder appears to balance on another rock

Federica Grassi / Getty Images

About 27 million years ago, a huge volcanic eruption deposited a layer of dark ash and pumice over what is today the Chiricahua National Monument. Over time, the thick volcanic layer eroded into a stunning landscape of cliffs, hoodoos, and balancing rocks that rise hundreds of feet into the air. 

The area was designated as a national monument in 1924 to preserve the unique geological formations. However, due to its remote location in southeastern Arizona, the monument is not very busy, with about 60,000 visitors a year

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The Wave (Arizona)

A red sandstone canyon with swooping rock walls

Bureau of Land Management / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Wave is a rolling sandstone formation in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in northern Arizona. The formation is comprised of two sweeping "troughs" that have been formed by water erosion from a nearby basin. Now that the basin is dry, erosion has slowed.  

With its bands of red, pink, yellow, and white rock, The Wave is a popular tourist destination, especially among photographers. Due to its popularity and sensitivity to foot traffic, though, the US Bureau of Land Management only issues hiking permits for 16 groups, or 64 people, each day.