WHITEHALL - Tucked away in the mountains about 10 miles south of Whitehall, a curious sound rings out - the musical chiming of a pile of rocks.
Montana’s Ringing Rocks are this week’s Montana Treasure.
The Ringing Rocks formation is a tourist draw for a rare characteristic. They ring out when tapped with a hammer. Even more curious, the rocks will stop ringing if they're removed from the pile.
For Ringing Rock visitors there's certainly a music mystery, but for geologists it's all about the science.
Colleen Elliott, professor with Montana Bureau of Mines and Geology, says the rocks are mysterious even to scientists.
“This pile of rocks is very unusual," she says. "I’ve looked at rocks all over the world and you don't see rocks piled like this.”
These rocks are believed to be 80 million years old. Elliott says there are currently two accepted theories on how rocks so vastly different from their surrounding terrain formed here. The first - “That just heating and cooling through the Ice Ages heaved the boulders apart and into this jumbled pile - so that’s one theory.”
Either that, or the rocks are eroded remnants from the spires on Homestake Pass.
Elliot believes it’s a combination of both, and the unique formation creates the sounds.
“Just the way the shapes of the rocks and the way they're perched on each other allows them to resonate freely.”
While the exact reason for the ringing remains unknown, visitors agree the Ringing Rocks are worth the trip - just take a high-clearance vehicle or prepare to hike the steep, rocky last section of the road. Make sure to leave the rocks as you find them and preserve their natural wonder.
To get there: Take the Pipestone exit (241) on Interstate 90. Travel east on a gravel road paralleling the interstate for about .75 mile, then turn north on a gravel road, cross the railroad tracks and continue north for 3 miles.