That's SLO Weird

Have you seen these mysterious stacks of rocks at Avila Beach? Here’s why they’re here

Who stacked the rocks in Avila Beach?

Hundreds of rocks are stacked along the bluff at Avila Beach, California. Who did this and why?
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Hundreds of rocks are stacked along the bluff at Avila Beach, California. Who did this and why?

“That’s SLO Weird” explores the things that make San Luis Obispo County so wonderful and so ... well ... weird. Wondering about something weird in SLO County? Send your tips to Gabby Ferreira at gferreira@thetribunenews.com or @Its_GabbyF on Twitter.

You’ll see it as you walk south on Avila Beach — but make sure you go when the tide is low.

Descend the steps down to the sand, pass a rock outcropping, come around the corner and — boom — rock cairns stacked on a sandy stretch of beach.

Before king tides and rough surf battered the beach, you’d find hundreds of cairns scattered across the sand, nestled in crevices and balanced atop driftwood. It almost looked like something crafted by an ancient civilization.

Though the ocean has decimated many of the cairns, they can still be found perched atop boulders along the shore. But the impermanence of the structures is part of their charm — and, according to their creator, their purpose.

“There’s a sense that this isn’t going to last, and the tide might take it away,” said Ondine Chattan, who was visiting the beach with her family in November when they came across the hundreds of cairns.

“It’s neat to come around the corner and see that, and realize someone built this for the enjoyment of others,” Chattan said. “It’s pretty impactful.”

Chattan, her husband, David Reed, and their three young children came across these cairns while on vacation from their home in Sonoma. On a sunny November morning, the family sat in the sand, making their own cairns to add to the collection.

The cairns, which blanket a stretch of beach at the base of a bluff, are a source of joy and awe for people who stumble upon them.

“I just think it’s incredible,” said Katie Bravante, who was walking on the beach with her husband, Steve, when they unexpectedly came across the cairns in November. They ooh-ed and ahh-ed in delight.

“It makes you wonder how this got here,” she said.

The cairns’ creator, a man who goes by the pseudonym Adam Stawiarski, said there were already some cairns on the beach when he started making them a few months ago.

“Every day I just stack them. And now, there’s way too many,” he said as he stacked rocks one November evening. “I’ve almost run out of spaces to put them. But the idea is impermanence. It’ll all be gone one day.”

Stawiarski said he started making the cairns for no particular reason.

“It’s just something for me to do,” he said. “You just start doing it, little by little and all of a sudden it’s like ‘Whoa, there’s a lot!’ ”

“People start going ‘Whoa!’ when they come around the corner and I’m like ‘Yeah!’” Stawiarski continued. “It’s not mystical to me, but everyone else — they’re all amazed by it.”

The Bravantes and Chattan noted how the cairns are similar to ones on hiking trails.

“You see cairns like this on trails, and there’s a traveler sensibility to it, one of community or shared experience,” Chattan said.

She paused. “It needs a name, though,”

Reed, her husband, smiled, and they both laughed as he said, “Avila Henge.”

Tribune photographer David Middlecamp contributed to this story.
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Gabby Ferreira is a breaking news and general assignment reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. A native of Houston, Texas, she was a reporter in Tucson, Arizona; Indianapolis, Indiana; and Palm Springs, California, before moving to San Luis Obispo County in 2016.

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