31 May 2013

Peña de Bernal: Now Officially the World’s Tallest Rock

About 8.7 million years ago in what is north central Mexico, a pair of tectonic plates converged.  One was forced under the other and sank in to the mantle of the Earth. The resulting volcanic activity formed a dacite rock which, after hardening, eventually forced itself through as a solid plug to the surface. This subduction zone activity created Peña de Bernal which has, you could say, weathered the passing time remarkably well. It has recently been declared the tallest monolith on Earth.

It has taken an age of argument for the monolith, in the Mexican state of Querétaro, to finally acquire this status.  For many years scientists have that the Rock of Gibralta and South Africa’s Sugarloaf Mountain were both larger than the Mexican monolith.  However, the journal Geosphere has finally settled the competition and declared that Peña de Bernal is indeed the world’s tallest free standing rock.

Surprisingly, it has taken this long for the rock to be accurately measured in terms of its height.  Yet a team from the National Autonomous University of Mexico have finally settled the monolith’s vital statistics once and for all.  It is 1,421 feet high (that’s 433 meters) which is higher than Gibraltar at 1,398 feet (426m) and the Sugarloaf which trails in third at 1,299 feet (396m).

Image Credit Flickr User Christian Ramiro Gonzalez
Image Credit Flickr User Christian Ramiro Gonzalez
So, by a whisper, the world has a new tallest monolith – not to mention a young one.  While it was estimated previously that Peña de Bernal was over 34 million years old it is now believed to be closer to 9 million.  Even so you might ask how the comparatively youthful rock has managed to stand for so long without being weathered by the elements.  The reason for its longevity is that about 70% of it is made up of silica which is particularly resistant to erosion.

Image Credit Flickr User openalva
Not surprisingly legends have sprung up around Peña de Bernal.  Many maintain that at its heart is an amethyst cave which exudes healing energy.  Others, that a giant snake sleeps at its core and that anyone who can get past is will enter a cave in which the secrets of life, the universe and everything will be revealed to them.  If it sounds like something from an Indiana Jones movie then yes, there are plenty of reports of UFOs too.

Image Credit Flickr User Diego Valadez
Now the geological mysteries of the monolith have been at last uncovered, perhaps it is time to focus more on the small town of Bernal which snuggles in the shadow of the monument.  Its residents are said to be the longest lived in Mexico with many of them living well in to their nineties.  They maintain that the forces within the monolith are responsible for their longevity.

Image Credit Flickr User Eneas
Mexico’s general population seems to agree and the town is crowded each weekend with visitors, keen to prolong their time on the planet through their proximity to Peña de Bernal’s supposed healing energies.  Whether you chose to believe the monolith has therapeutic powers, Bernal has become known as one of Mexico’s Magic Towns (although it must be said this is a designation of social and cultural importance rather than any admission of belief).

Image Credit Flickr User Michael Swigart
Evidence of enchanted snakes and mystical crystals is scare. Yet Peña de Bernal is a beautiful hunk of rock, the biggest on the planet – whether you believe in magic or not.

Image Credit Flickr User Mike Nowak
First Image Credit Flickr User Michael R Swigart