Pet Rocks

How a glacier pushed a boulder to a place near you.

This story appears in the March 2012 issue of National Geographic magazine.

Stone Love Confetti sifts onto sand around Plymouth Rock following that Massachusetts town's annual pre-Thanksgiving parade. Though no one really knows whether the Mayflower's passengers set foot on it—no mention is made in their accounts of their arrival—the glacial erratic sits enshrined in a harborside pavilion, from which some million and a half visitors gaze down upon it every year. Even if the Pilgrims did know the stone, they might not recognize it today. Broken during moves and chipped at by souvenir hunters before it was protected, it may be half the size it was in 1620. —Margaret G. Zackowitz

Behind the Lens

Q: What got you interested in these big rocks?

A: I live in New England, and one thing I love is the terrain. You have these really beautiful exposed outcrops, these boulders that seem so misplaced. In winter, when the leaves are gone, you can drive along the road and see them sitting there mysteriously in the middle of a stand of trees. Growing up in Seattle, I always associated that feeling about nature with large trees and lush undergrowth, but the eastern part of the country feels very old with its glacial boulders exposed all over the landscape.

Q: How did you go about shooting Plymouth Rock?

A: I climbed right down there with it. It sits on the beach under a portico. Visitors have to view it from above, on the street level. I was with the rock for quite a while, waiting for interesting people to look down. When you're a photographer, you kind of want to fade into the background. But everybody who came by saw me waiting to get a picture. I heard two things over and over. When people saw the rock, they'd say, "That's it? I expected it to be bigger!" And when they saw me: "What's that guy doing down there?"