UPDATED: The Waffle Rock: What the Heck is it?

Waffle Rock, as it sits today at the entrance to the concourse for the Jennings Randolph Lake Observatory

If you’re a regular reader, you’re aware that I have a penchant for stone.  Well, for stone formations; circles, henges, pyramids, temples, statues, and pretty much anything made of stone…the older the better.

Yesterday I brought you the story of the Seven Strong Men of Russia, or Manpupuner, which, although some would like to think otherwise, is a natural rock formation near the northwest Ural Mountains.  Today, I bring you something similar, but a little closer to home (if you’re in North America at least).

There seems to be a good deal of confusion over this particular monument, but hopefully I can clear that up.  I’m talking about the little known Waffle Rock of West Virginia.

A long time ago, circa 1930, in the area of Mineral County, WV, there was a little town called Shaw.  You won’t find it on any modern map though, because it no longer exists.  Where Shaw once stood is now a small lake, Jennings Randolph Lake to be precise, but it wasn’t a natural disaster that condemned Shaw, it was the Army Corps of Engineers.  Residents of Shaw were asked to pack up their lives and leave, as the government had decided to install a dam on the Potomac River, as it flowed through the small town.  Several of those residents were less worried about their own wellbeing than they were about a strange rock known locally as ‘The Indian Rock’, which was set to be buried under meters of water with the completion of the dam project.

It might seem strange that people would be so concerned about a rock, but this was no ordinary rock.  One-time resident of Shaw, Ms. Betty Webster Bishop, recounts her memories of the rock via both the Army Corps of Engineers website, as well as a commemorative website honouring the history of Shaw.

“Our Sundays were for worship and rest. The one allowed activity was a walk in the woods. It was on one of these walks that my Mother discovered ‘her’ rock, as we often referred to it. She loved God and all aspects of nature, with a special fondness for rocks, large and small. This big rock, the subject of this story, was her ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow. She never tired of taking visitors to see it, whether local or out of town. She called it ‘The Indian Rock’, but we later referred to it as ‘Mom’s Rock.’ It was located a short distance up the hill. All who came were granted the privilege of visiting Mom’s ‘Indian Rock’. We felt it belonged to us and we reveled in the sharing of it. Many spoke of it and the awe it inspired, even after many years, and the many miles that separated us.”[1]

A picture of the original rock as it now sits beneath the lake

Betty’s story is heartwarming and engenders nostalgic longings for a simpler time.  The full version, which I encourage you to read, tells of her Mother’s discovery of the rock and how it came to be known, at least to them, as “Mom’s Rock”, and of how Betty brought its story to the world via a letter to the Saturday Evening Post (December 1984).  That letter was precipitous, and led to the best answer for what, exactly, this rock might actually be.  But this is getting ahead of the story.

Waffle Rock is, as it can only be described, a large rock showing a waffle-like pattern on one side.  The regular geometric pattern of raised, darker stone creates pockets or deep pits on the rock’s surface, and many have speculated on what might have caused such a strange pattern.  As is apparently a common failing of the editorial standards in the world of paranormal blogging these days, if you search for ‘Waffle Rock’, you’ll find numerous websites offering pretty much the exact same story, which generally goes as follows:

“This is a boulder on display at Jennings Randolph Lake in Mineral County, West Virginia. There have been numerous theories and speculations as to its origin, ranging from a pictograph made by prehistoric man, an indian carving, the impression of the skin pattern of a giant lizard, or evidence of a visit to earth by an early travelers (sic) from outer space.

After examination of the phenomenon, Corps of Engineers geologists and those of other agencies have concluded that it is a natural geological formation. Although such formations are not common, similar patterned boulders were found on the east side of Tea Creek Mountain in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Dr. Jack B. Epstein of the Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the interior, explained that the waffle rock is part of the Conemaugh geologic series that was deposited about 300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian period. It is surmised that the waffle rock is a large loose boulder that fell from a parent outcrop somewhere higher up the slope, many decades ago, before the present trees grew.”[2]

I’m not entirely sure where this story came from, as I can find no papers, articles or publications by Dr. Epstein (who is in fact an Emeritus Geologist with the USGS and is widely published) regarding the Waffle Rock or even the general area in question, though this hardly rules it out. [See below for an UPDATE on this issue!]  Another website suggests that this information comes from a newspaper article that appeared in the Mineral Daily News-Tribune (unknown date), which I’ve also been unable to confirm – though I have confirmed that the listed author of the article was at one time employed by the newspaper.

In any event, the above is what you’ll find on almost every website regarding Waffle Rock, but – and again the editorial standards of these sites leaves something to be desired – the story really doesn’t provide any answers.

Ms. Webster Bishop’s accounting does provide some more material to sink one’s teeth into however.  In response to her December 1984 letter to the Saturday Evening Post, a letter-to-the-editor was published in the April 1985 edition, from a Col. Martin W. Walsh Jr. Corps of Engineers Commander (Baltimore MD).  Col. Walsh offered some interesting commentary about the rock:

 “Speculations range from the impressions of the skin pattern of a giant reptile, to evidence of space travelers on earth.  Upon examination by geologists from the U. S. Corps of Engineers and other agencies, it was concluded that the rock is a natural geologic formation.”[3]

Apparently Col. Walsh went on in his letter to describe the process by which such patterning could form naturally, suggesting that sand deposited by ancient streams consolidated into sandstone layers with rock above and below being compressed into the large folds that make up the pattern.  It’s believed that this occurred between 250 and 300 million years ago, during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.

Col. Walsh’s explanation works as good as any, and for that matter, so does Dr. Epstein’s (if he really did make such statements).  Of course, as mentioned above, there are those who are less than enthusiastic about these conventional, natural explanations.  Many claim, namely the Rense.com correspondent identified as “Jeff” and the author of s8nt.com’s piece on the matter, that the scientific explanations don’t account for all of the features present in the rock.

Google Earth view of West Virginia Outlook at Jennings Randolph Lake

The rock on display at the West Virginia Outlook on Jennings Randolph Lake is but a small piece of the original rock.  It was moved there to save the geologically significant piece of history from the dam project.  Photographs of the whole rock show clearly that the pattern, or the structure of the pattern does not run all the way through the rock, but rather can only be seen on one side.

Aside from the usual ancient alien talk, many believe that the pattern is actually an early form of hieroglyphic or primitive writing, and that the rock is the result of Neolithic art by pre-Columbian peoples.  Though this does not fit with current archeological theories of migration and culture.

Outside of these unconfirmed reports of analysis by the USGS and the Corps of Engineers, it doesn’t seem like many in the geological community are taking any interest in this story at all.  It is said that the Smithsonian Institute has a small sample of the Waffle Rock in its collection, though I was unable to find it in their online collection library (which doesn’t say much, it’s a rather difficult library to search).  I wonder what analysis has really been done, though I’m prone to accept Col. Walsh’s explanation over that of ancient aliens.

If you find this interesting, as I do, I urge you to read Betty Webster Bishop’s story on ShawWV.com.



In my research for this post, I contacted Dr. Jack Epstein of the US Department of the Interior (USGS) to clarify the story about his analysis and to determine the USGS official position on the Waffle Rock formation.  I have now received, by mail, a copy of the United States Geological Survey, Department of the Interior fact-sheet on this issue, written by Dr. Epstein in 1977 for the US Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District.

This confirms that the story given above, is in fact correct, and that both of the sources for information on the Waffle Rock are based in fact, though both provide only a very basic and condensed version of the facts.  A summary of the analysis follows:

As mentioned, the USGS and USACE both take the position that the Waffle Rock and all other examples of such a rock formation are natural and are explained thus: as layers of sandstone were formed during the Appalachian Orogeny (the epoch during with the Appalachian range was formed) approximately 250 million years ago via sediment laid down by ancient streams and water flows, the lower layers of the bedrock experienced compression forces as the Appalachian range heaved and folded.  Those different forces, which pushed that lower layer in different directions, resulted in a unique folding of the sandstone into the pattern shown, known as fractures or joints.

“Four sets of joints are apparent in the waffle rock.  Sets a and b are roughly perpendicular to each other; sets c and d are at an acute angle to each other.  The stress that formed the joints, as well as the folds in the rocks, bisects the angle between joints c and d…”

The mechanism that causes the waffle pattern to appear to be of a different material is similar to that which formed the Klerksdorp Spheres.  As the sandstone formed, iron ore particles filtered through the sediment and rock, and possibly leached out of the material below the sandstone, ultimately settling into spaces between sand particles, acting like a cement.  Once settled, the compression of the sandstone and fracture stresses turned the iron ore into Hematite (as with the Klerksdorp Spheres), which is darker, harder and of a different consistency than sandstone.

This process is sort of like a perfect storm of conditions, which resulted in the rare but not unique form we see in the Waffle Rock as it sits near Jennings Randolph Lake (also called Bloomington Lake).  Another example of the waffle rock sits at the entrance to the US Geological Survey Headquarters in Reston, Virginia.  As mentioned in the comment section, there are similar formations in Oklahoma and possibly other locations around the world.

This analysis, as mentioned, comes directly from Dr. Jack Epstein of the US Geological Survey, and stands as the USGS and USACE official position on this strange rock formation.  Readers should bear this in mind, when deciding for themselves, just what is the truth.  I’ve already heard from several people that the natural formation theory seems unlikely or implausible, but I would suggest that Dr. Epstein and his colleagues are the experts on this particular topic, and perhaps we laymen should defer to their expertise.

My thanks go to Dr. Epstein for his readiness to provide this information.

[1] Dennis, Norm. The Waffle Rock: A big attraction to the thousands of visitors at Jennings Randolph Lake each yearhttp://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Portals/63/docs/Recreation/JRL/Maps/WaffleRock.pdf

[2] “Jeff” via Robert Weese. Strange Fossil Rock Formation. Rense.com http://rense.com/general3/foss.htm

[3] Webster Bishop, Betty. The Rock and I. ShawWV.com http://www.shawwv.com/betty_bishops_rock.html

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