Bolivia's Stone Tree: Sandblasting As An Art Form

The Stone Tree in Southwestern Bolivia
We gotten up early to get a head start on reaching the Salar de Uyuni that night, only to get a flat tire on our Land Cruiser within 45 minutes.  The wind blew unrelentlessly across the southwestern Bolivian aliplano and we all got out of the vehicle while our driver changed out the tire.  I braved the strong wind and took a short walk to find a place to urinate.  With winds this strong, a few calculations were required to ensure that I stayed dry during my nature call.

After a successful bathroom break I returned and our driver had finished changing the tire, so we all piled into the car and resumed driving.  Within an hour we arrived near some windswept stone sculptures on the edge of the desert.  We slowed down and plowed through deeper sand and stopped near a lone tent and two bicycles leaning against a large rock.  I guessed that whoever this was had tried a few different spots to avoid the wind until they finally settled on this one.  A French couple bounded out and greeted us.

We chatted with them for a bit and asked about their trip.  He was going from Tierra Del Fuego to Alaska and she was visiting him for a few months and they'd been slogging through the desert sand for the last month.  We gave them some of our candy bars and the man wrote a message and email address on paper and asked that I email it to his friend, which I did two days later.

We wished them well and started driving and within a minute saw an immense stone structure and our driver said "Arbol de Piedra -- Stone Tree."  We got out an marveled at its size, its dimensions and the apparent nature of how it was formed: natural sandblasting.  It sat in the open where winds could shape it from all directions.  It was about 30 feet high and made of solid rock.  I wondered why it was so top-heavy; surely it would have been just as easy to sandblast a bottom-heavy pyramid type structure? 

We stopped for a few pictures and continued our journey.  While there were plenty of interesting sights along the way, we wanted to reach the Salar by sunset.


  1. A stone tree; looks very cool - and gives a nice bit of shade if that's needed. But it does look like a strong wind might topple it over.

  2. As soon as I saw it, it reminded me of a Salvador Dali.

    It's easy to envisage how there were probably thousands of these formations scattered around that got broken up and reduced to dust.

    A time-lapse video over a few thousand years or so would probably show that - not sure how to arrange it though.

    I looked at the word 'plowed' and ground to a halt. Surely not 'plowed' but rather 'ploughed'.

    Having checked, I see that 'plough' is the British spelling, whereas 'plow' is the American spelling. One more thing learned.

  3. Amazing natural occurrence, not sure I'd be happy to walk under it though.

  4. Wow - impressive! We completely missed this but we did also experienced a flat tire along the way. Saying those roads are rough is a gross understatement!