Humboldt County, California
Three Broken Rock is my name for this giant rock formation now, but I remember when it was one unbroken rock. Over the last forty-some years, I’ve watched it change.
Location: You know that set of big rocks you can see across the South Fork Eel River when you’re standing by the shrubs in the turnout up the bank next to the road on the opposite side of the river? Exactly — you know where this is. Memorable spot, right?
It has been memorable to me — I have watched this formation for a long time. I commuted past it for six years from 1979-1985, riding the bus to junior high and high school. It caught my eye as a kid because it was one gigantic rock, and back then we didn’t have smartphones to distract us from our surroundings. We were all unbelievably fortunate to have such a beautiful bus ride to school.
Sometime after high school, I noticed the huge rock had broken in two. A great, dark crack had split it vertically from top to bottom. From across the river it was hard to tell the scale, but I thought the crack was wide enough to walk into. The contours of the two halves were perfectly shaped to fit together, like two continents recently drifted apart. For years when I would pass by I watched the crack gradually widen. The lower, smaller of the two pieces was slowly sliding down into the river. Still their contours perfectly matched.
High water slaps the feet of the largest rock on the right, but the river would surround the lower rock during floods, pushing it and pulling it, and eroding its support. Eventually, sometime around twenty-ish years ago or so, the great boulder that had broken away itself split in two. Now the one great rock was three. Three Broken Rock.
As the years pass, I continue to watch them drifting further and further apart. The lower rock is always under the river’s influence, its feet in the water even here at the end of summer. I expect the river to continue being the major force moving these great masses apart.
At the time of this writing, the gap between the two larger rocks is wide enough to drive a truck through, except its sandy floor is filled with many lesser boulders, and oak trees are growing up through it all. The rock is huge; its base is out of view below and behind the bushes; if I had been standing beneath the rock for this photo, I would have been too far down behind everything to see, and very small.
The night of this photograph was beautiful, warm and clear. We sweated profusely trekking through the dusk light up the riverbank. It was a little family outing: with me were two brothers, Seth and Ben, and Ben’s wife, Sam, and their son, Henry. Together beneath the Milky Way, we paid homage. I have a version without us in it, but I prefer this record of our outing together to this far out place. For years I’ve wished I’d photographed it in its various stages, and finally I have, albeit in my own unusual style.
By the way, if it sounds like I know all about geology, drop that notion right there. These are simply my observations and speculations. I noticed this rock feature and how it has changed across the decades, I like trying to make interesting photographs, and here we are.