10 Amazing Hoodoos Around the World and How They're Formed

Hoodoos in dry landscape of Utah against blue sky
While Bryce Canyon is the most well-known place to see hoodoos in Utah, Goblin Valley State Park is packed with similar (but shorter) rock formations.

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Hoodoos, fairy chimneys, earth pyramids, tent rocks—while they go by many different names, these peculiar badlands rock formations are one and the same. They're naturally formed columns or pinnacles that come in an array of shapes and colors and can be found in various iterations across the planet. Whether protruding from a barren desert or peeking from the treetops of a lush forest, these geological wonders have a way of turning ordinary landscapes into otherworldly scenes.

Here's the science behind these surreal formations—plus, 10 incredible hoodoos around the planet.

How Are Hoodoos Formed?

Hoodoos are formed over many centuries through a combination of physical and chemical weathering forces, including wind and acid rain. If you've ever seen one that's capped by a sturdier stone, it's because the soft rock beneath it has slowly been eroded by rain. The most powerful process that helps sculpt these rocks into top-heavy columns or cones, though? That would be a phenomenon known as frost wedging.

What Is Frost Wedging?

Frost wedging occurs in the same sort of way a pothole develops: When melted snow seeps into cracks in the rock and freezes, the crack widens as a result of expansion.

All hoodoos start as an intact plateau. Over time, the plateau may break down into a "fin," a narrow wall of hardened sedimentary rock, then into arches, then, ultimately, into potentially wonky standalone columns. The fifth and final stage of a hoodoo's life is its disappearance. Due to their ever-eroding tendencies, hoodoos have a relatively short geological lifespan when compared to other rock formations.

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Bryce Canyon

Sun hitting a sea of hoodoos in Bryce Canyon
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One of the best places to see hoodoos is in southern Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park, which boasts a vibrant collection of natural amphitheaters filled with craggy columns composed of sedimentary rocks like sandstone and shale. This area is particularly prone to erosion because of its high elevation. The uplift of the Colorado Plateau continues to raise these rocks' elevation, exposing them to below-freezing temperatures (and therefore frost wedging) for more than half the year. As a result, Bryce Canyon's hoodoos are quickly shrinking—at a rate of about two to four feet every 100 years.

Scientists estimate that in about 3 million years, Bryce Canyon's erosional patterns will have advanced so far into the present-day plateau that it will eventually hit the watershed of the nearby East Fork Sevier River. When this happens, the canyon's hoodoo-forming erosional patterns will be largely replaced by erosional patterns dominated by flowing water.

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Sunrise view of fairy chimneys in Göreme, Turkey
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Unlike the sedimentary rocks that make up Bryce Canyon's hoodoos, the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia in Göreme, Turkey, are primarily composed of volcanic rock—namely, a thick layer of ashy tuff topped by a layer of basalt. Because tuff is such a soft, porous rock, it erodes quicker than basalt, which is why many of Cappadocia's hoodoos take the umbrellalike shape of a mushroom.

Starting around the fourth century, Cappadocia's famous fairy chimneys were carved out and turned into dwellings, churches, monasteries, and more. Because of the "unique evidence of Byzantine art" it provides, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage site in 1985.

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Yehliu Cape

Single hoodoo shaped like a head in Yehliu Geopark
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Although there are water-eroded hoodoos all throughout the Yehliu Cape of northern Taiwan, the centerpiece of this special place is generally considered to be the Queen's Head, a natural sandstone bust named for its supposed resemblance to Queen Elizabeth I. Part of the Daliao Miocene Formation in New Taipei, the hoodoo's thin "neck" shrinks by up to two thirds of an inch in circumference every year, which has many scientists and spectators wondering how long it will be able to support the 1.3-ton "head" that sits atop it.

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Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness

Hoodoos scattered across the desert in Bisti Badlands
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The eerie, desolate badlands of the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness Area in the Four Corners region of New Mexico is home to some of the strangest-looking hoodoos on the planet. Many of them even appear to defy gravity. What was once the site of an ancient river delta is now a desert landscape of sandstone, mudstone, shale, coal, and silt. The uplift of the Colorado Plateau mixed with the receding of the last ice age some 6,000 years ago created the perfect formula for nature to carve out these peculiar formations.

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Putangirua Pinnacles

View of Putangirua Pinnacles and greenery from the valley below
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New Zealand is known for its utterly cinematic landscapes, like the Putangirua Pinnacles at the southern tip of North Island. Created many centuries ago by sedimented scree and gravel that were washed down from eroding mountains to the coast, these pinnacles have been chipped away by the powerful Putangirua Stream for roughly 120,000 years. The craggy pillars of muddy sandstone and siltstone are so otherworldly it's no wonder why they were used as a filming location in "The Lord of the Rings" movies.

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Goblin Valley State Park

Short hoodoos that look like goblins in red Utah desert
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Thousands of oddly expressive, goblinlike rock formations litter the landscape in Goblin Valley State Park, yet another example of Utah's surreal and hoodoo-heavy geology. The formations here are petite, bright red, and surrounded by a wall of cliffs that protect some from wind erosion and leave others exposed. Named Mushroom Valley in its early days—in the late 1940s—the hoodoos bear striking resemblance to vaguely anthropomorphic figures, so it was later named Goblin Valley as a nod to the lifelike rocks.

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Earth Pyramids of Ritten

Earth pyramids near Ritten surrounded by autumnal trees
TeleMakro Fotografie (Ina Hensel) / Getty Images

These spiky, boulder-topped geological formations in South Tyrol, Italy, are composed of moraine clay soil. They formed when the last ice age receded and have been slowly eroding for the past 25,000 years. The cone-shaped earth pyramids of Ritten—Ritten being the local commune that sits on the region's namesake high plateau—are currently touted as the tallest group of hoodoos in Europe, some of them reaching 50 feet. They can be found protruding from three nearby gorges.

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Drumheller Hoodoos

Close-up of hoodoos near Drumheller at sunset
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The mushroomlike Drumheller hoodoos are some of the most distinctive icons of Alberta, Canada's expansive badlands environment, which also happens to be one of the world's most prominent fossil-bearing region. As a result, Drumheller boasts a wealth of dinosaur-related tourist activities and destinations, including Dinosaur Provincial Park, Devil's Coulee Dinosaur Heritage Museum, the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology and, of course, the "world's largest dinosaur," which is a giant roadside model of a Tyrannosaurus rex.

The hoodoos, some of which are 20 feet tall, are also culturally significant: The indigenous Blackfoot and Cree peoples deem them petrified giants, coming alive at night to protect them.

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Demoiselles Coiffées

Row of hoodoos surrounded by green trees in Pontis, France.
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This exquisite cluster of some 50 spindly columns was formed by the erosion of a ravine below the mountain Pointe du Daillait. It is situated in Pontis, a village in the French Alps, and it remains the most impressive example of hoodoo geology in France. The phrase "demoiselles coiffées" translates to "ladies with hairdos"—a reference to the layers of hard rock (one of which is covered in vegetation) that are perched atop the tip of the tapered column's softer rock.

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Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

Cone-shaped rock formations amid the forest of New Mexico
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These New Mexican conical tent rocks are the result of volcanic eruptions that blanketed the land in ashy deposits of tuff and pumice between six and seven million years ago. Today, many of the hoodoos are equipped with boulder caps that perch precariously atop their softer columnar bodies. The Kasha-Katuwe tent rocks are quite uniform in shape, but they do vary dramatically in height from toddler-sized to 90 feet.