Monday, January 20, 2014

Bear Rock (NJ)

by Ray Whritenour – Oct. 17 2011
(A reworking of an old talk I (Ray Whritenour )gave at the North Jersey Highlands Historical Society's annual conference, October, 1995.)
“The uses of Bear Rock and the reverent regard in which it must have been held are confirmed by the evidence of archaeology and ethnology…its form suggests a huge lumbering quadruped when viewed from the south, and a great perched raptor with wings outspread, or a giant tortoise head, when viewed from the north.”


     "Bear Rock stands at the heart of the Pyramid Mountain Natural and Historic Area (part of the Morris County, New Jersey park system), serving, today, as a boundary stone separating the municipalities of Kinnelon and Montville. It is an enormous glacial erratic deposited in the intervale between Mine Ridge and Pyramid Mountain during the last ice age. It forms a double rockshelter by virtue of a deep niche in its eastern side and an upward sloping overhang on the western side—the latter formed when a huge slab of the rock split off and fell to the ground, providing a bulwark for the western shelter./1/ Here, on an ancient trail /2/ between the Rockaway and Pequannock river systems, Bear Rock was employed as a hunting lodge by the Indians of northern New Jersey for thousands of years./3/ Just fifteen minutes away, on foot, atop Pyramid Mountain, is an unusual rock formation known, locally, as Tripod Rock. It consists of a huge boulder held aloft by a stand of three smaller stones. This, too, is a glacial formation./4/

Bear Rock in the valley, Tripod Rock on the mountain--the former well-known, the latter obscure--each possessed more than practical significance for the indigenous people of New Jersey--those who held this land the longest. To understand that significance, in the absence of documentary records, we must turn to a discussion of stone as a manifestation of spiritual power among the Lenape, and try to see these monoliths and their surroundings through Lenape eyes…
…Lenapes perceived the spiritual power inherent in stone and bestowed the honorific title, "Our Grandfather," on some rocks./6/ Among them, as among other Algonquian peoples, certain peculiar rocks and boulders were recognized as the haunts or habitations--or even the embodiments—of powerful spirits. Brian Leigh Molyneaux has written:
"The Ojibwa of the Upper Great Lakes regarded unusual rocks and other atypical features of the landscape as the dwelling places of spirits."/7/
And, in his study of Lenape religion, Mark R. Harrington wrote:
"Certain localities, it is said, were thought to be the dwellings of local genii, to whom offerings were occasionally made, especially such places as displayed curious or unusual natural features, while even certain stones were said to have an animate principle or indwelling spirit."/8/
The idea that a particular rock or stone regarded as sacred achieved that status because of its association with supernatural beings—and that that association was suggested by features the rock or stone exhibited--was a concept deeply ingrained in the Lenape religious attitude. One need only consider the various "Spook Rocks," "Standing Stones," "Indian Heads," and so on, that dot the landscape of the old Lenape homeland and other areas of the Northeast, to see how pervasive this idea was./9/
Contemplation of the stony contours of certain rocks may reveal the likeness of a figure or face. Lenape belief dictates a taboo against looking too long at such features, for they may begin to talk, and that may be for evil./10/ On the other hand, those seeking a vision may receive what they desire from the spirits animating these forms./11/
Remember the famous Delaware story, wherein seven prophets transform themselves into seven stones. Some "pure youths" discovered them on a mountain ridge "among rocky cliffs" and gained access to their wisdom. However, this allowed others (presumably unqualified to receive visions) to find their hiding-place, whereupon the stones changed, first into evergreens, then into stars, in order to escape these other folks./12/

It was also "among the rocks on a hill" where the Lenape first encountered that powerful "Mask-Spirit," Mizinkhoalikun, who told them how to obtain his power, which included the ability to cure diseases./13/ Mizinkhoalikun means "living solid face"/14/--strongly suggesting its prototype was one of these stone countenances…

The uses of Bear Rock and the reverent regard in which it must have been held are confirmed by the evidence of archaeology and ethnology. Tripod Rock is a nearly unique formation in the land of the Lenape. It surely exhibits all the characteristics which mark a sacred stone. It is nothing, if not "atypical," "curious," and "unusual;" its form suggests a huge lumbering quadruped when viewed from the south, and a great perched raptor with wings outspread, or a giant tortoise head, when viewed from the north..."
    Note: The photos come from friendof theforest who comments on Jan. 25, 1012:
"I know this orginal post is quite old by now but I enjoyed reading it so much that I figured I would take some pictures of Bear Rock specifically to share with the community here.  These were taken about a month ago and sadly its taken me this long to post them online.  The area is a favorite of mine, however on most nice days there are too many people traversing the trails looking for fairies or portals to other worlds at tri-pod rock,  right up the hill from bear rock.  Most of the hikers pass by Bear rock and just marvel at its size and continue on to tri-pod rock which is the more well known attraction these days.   If you have the chance to get out to the site and see it for yourself, climb on the rock and note the ampi-theatre affect the surrounding hills have on the site.   You can make animals noises and scare all the new agers up at tri-pod rock, haha...not saying I do this ever.   The dogs in the shot are mine and are there for perspectives sake.  The larger tan colored one is a 110lb cane corso.  The last picture is of the "fire remnants on the underside of the larger shelter, the ground is also still quite black from fires throughout the ages."  


  1. What have the dogs got there?

  2. At first I was going to say they seem to be idly posing rather than sniffing out anything - but the last photo makes me wonder a little...