10 Amazing Volcanic Plugs & Natural Monoliths

A volcanic plug, also called a volcanic neck, is a volcanic landform created when magma hardens within a vent on an active volcano. A natural monolith is a mountain or large rock formation consisting of a single massive stone. Both types of these geological structures are similar in that they are often steeply rising above the surrounding terrain. The unusual appearance and the buildings which are often located on these structures, amaze visitors and attract them to come back again.

1. Saint Michel d'Aiguilhe, France

The Chapel of Saint-Michel d'Aiguilhe is a fascinating little pilgrimage chapel perched atop a rocky needle of volcanic formation jutting dramatically high into the sky, at a place near Le Puy-en-Velay in France.

The basalt needle on which the chapel is built rises approximately 280 feet (85 m), and is reached by 268 stone steps that wind their way up the side of the rock. The chapel is surrounded by a walkway that provides a beautiful view of the city with its Puy Notre Dame Cathedral and the old bridge crossing the cusps terminal.

The chapel was built in 962, to celebrate the return of Saint James from the pilgrimage. In 1429 the mother of Joan of Arc, Isabelle Romée, was said to have come to the site to pray.

2. El Peñón de Guatapé, Colombia

El Peñón de Guatapé is a monolithic formation located at the town and municipality of Guatapé, 1 km (0.6 mi) inside the city limits in Antioquia department, Colombia.

The rock was first climbed officially on July 1954. In 2006, Luis Villegas, Pedro Nel Ramírez and Ramón Díaz climbed the rock in a five-day endeavor, using sticks that were fixed against the rock's wall. A new species of plant was found on the top of the rock, subsequently named Pitcairma heterophila by a German scientist.

A viewing spot was built on top of the rock, where it is possible to acquire handicrafts, postcards, and other local goods. It is possible to see the 500 km (310 mi) shore-perimeter dam. There are 740 steps to the top of the viewing spot. In the 1940s, the Colombian government declared it a "National Monument".

At its highest part, on the rear (southeast side), it has an elevation of 2,135 metres (7,005 ft) over sea level. With an average temperature of 18 °C (64 °F). The "Peñol" has 185 cubic metres (6,500 cu ft) of rock mass and it is 385 metres (1,263 ft) long, with an approximate weight of 10,000,000 tonnes (11,000,000 tons).

3. Trosky Castle, Czech Republic

Trosky Castle is a castle ruin located some 10 km (6 mi) south of Semily, Liberec Region, Czech Republic. It is one of the most famous Czech castles and is situated on the summits of two basalt volcanic plugs.

On the lower peak (47m or 155ft) is the two-storey structure called Baba (Old Woman), and on the higher outcrop (57m or 187ft) is the four-sided structure known as Panna (Virgin). The castle is a landmark which cannot be missed in the countryside known as Český ráj (Bohemian Paradise).

The castle was established by Čeněk of Vartenberk (a commander in the Hussite Wars) in the second half of the 14th century. Two towers were constructed, one on top of each rock, and various residential buildings and outhouses erected between them. Three rings of fortified walls protected the complex.

4. Katskhi Pillar, Georgia

The Katskhi pillar is a natural limestone monolith located at the village of Katskhi in western Georgian region of Imereti, near the town of Chiatura. It is approximately 40 metres (130 ft) high, and overlooks the small river valley of Katskhura, a right affluent of the Q'virila.

The rock, with visible church ruins on its top surface of around 150 sq m (1,600 sq ft), has been venerated by locals as the Pillar of Life. It remained unclimbed by researchers and unsurveyed until 1944 and was more systematically studied from 1999 to 2009. These studies revealed the early medieval hermitage, dating from the 9th or 10th century.

Religious activity started to revive in 1995, with the arrival of the monk Maxim, a native of Chiatura. Between 2005 and 2009, the monastery building on the top of the pillar was restored with the support of the National Agency for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Georgia. The rock is now accessible through an iron ladder running from its base to the top.

5. Zuma Rock, Nigeria

Zuma Rock is a large monolith located in Niger State, Nigeria. It is just north of Nigeria's capital Abuja, along the main road from Abuja to Kaduna, and is sometimes referred to as "Gateway to Abuja." It is depicted on the 100 naira bill (national currency). Zuma Rock is 725 m (2,400 ft) above its surroundings.

As the tourist gets closer, a human like face becomes visible with engravings representing the eye sockets, the nose and the mouth on the side of the rock that faces the Abuja - Kaduna express road. Zuma Rock represents a beautiful and unique natural work of rock formation. If offers a good environment for picnicking and relaxation. A Five Star Hotel, Zuma Rock Resort International Limited is being constructed near the rock.

6. Sugarloaf Mountain, Brazil

Sugarloaf Mountain, is a peak situated in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, at the mouth of Guanabara Bay on a peninsula that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Rising 396 metres (1,299 ft) above the harbor, its name is said to refer to its resemblance to the traditional shape of concentrated refined loaf sugar.

The mountain is only one of several monolithic morros (hills) of granite and quartz that rise straight from the water's edge around Rio de Janeiro. A glass-walled cable car, capable of holding 65 passengers, runs along a 1400-metre route (4,600 ft) between the peaks of Pão de Açúcar and Morro da Urca every 20 minutes.

To reach the summit, passengers take two cable cars. The first ascends to the shorter Morro da Urca, 220 meters (720 ft) high. The second car ascends to Pão de Açúcar. The Italian-made bubble-shaped cars offer passengers 360-degree views of the surrounding city. The climb takes three minutes from start to finish.

7. Sigiriya, Sri Lanka

Sigiriya (Lion's rock) is a place with a large stone and ancient rock fortress and palace ruin in the central Matale District of Central Province, Sri Lanka, surrounded by the remains of an extensive network of gardens, reservoirs, and other structures. A popular tourist destination, Sigiriya is also renowned for its ancient paintings (frescos), which are reminiscent of the Ajanta Caves of India. It is one of the eight World Heritage Sites of Sri Lanka.

Sigiriya may have been inhabited through prehistoric times. It was used as a rock-shelter mountain monastery from about the 5th century BC. According to the chronicles as Mahavamsa (a historical poem) the entire complex was built by King Kashyapa (477 – AD 495), and after the king's death, it was used as a monastery until 14th century.

8. Pico Cão Grande, São Tomé and Príncipe

The Pico Cão Grande (Great Dog Peak) is a landmark needle-shaped volcanic plug peak in São Tomé and Príncipe, located in the south of São Tomé Island in Obo National Park.

It rises dramatically over 300 m (1,000 ft) above the surrounding terrain and the summit is 663 m (2,175 ft) above sea level. Clouds and fog often cover the peak of this amazing geological structure.

9. Penyal d'Ifac, Spain

The Penyal d'Ifac is a massive limestone outcrop emerging from the sea and linked to the shore by rock debris. It is home to numerous rare plants, including a number of endemic species, and over 300 species of animals, and a nesting site for colonies of sea birds and other birds.

Rising to 332 metres (1,100 ft) high, the rock is a striking visual feature of the Mediterranean coastline. Behind the rock is a large lagoon cut off from the sea by strips of sandy beach and extending inland to the coastal mountains. The wetland area around the lagoon is all that remains of the formerly much more extensive wetlands of the Marina Alta.

10. Devils Tower, USA

Devils Tower is an igneous intrusion or laccolith located in the Black Hills near Hulett and Sundance in Crook County, northeastern Wyoming, above the Belle Fourche River. It rises dramatically 1,267 feet (386 m) above the surrounding terrain and the summit is 5,114 feet (1,559 m) above sea level.

It was the first declared United States National Monument, established on September 24, 1906, by President Theodore Roosevelt. The Monument's boundary encloses an area of 1,347 acres (545 ha). About 400,000 visitors a year visit this beautiful formation.


Peacock Spiders

Maratus volans, better known as the Peacock Spider, is the dandiest, the cutest little thing you’ll see today. The male of this species has two rounded, most brilliantly colored skin-like flaps on either side of his abdomen that are folded down close against the sides of the body, like a shawl. The brilliant colouring is not just for decoration, he uses it when he courts his mate.

To get the attention of the female spider the male first waves his legs, vibrate his abdomen and moves from side to side. He also raises his third legs which have a brush of black bristles and the white-tipped ends. And then like a peacock, he raises the two magnificently coloured flaps and dances for the female. It’s this final act that has earned the spider, and indeed the whole genus Maratus, the name of Peacock Spider.

The Peacock Spider is extremely tiny – a mere four millimetre in length. Hiding in the undergrowth, it is the sort of thing an average Australian bushwalker would pass right by, but not Dr Jurgen Otto who captured these shots on his camera.

“I have a very keen eye for small things”, said Dr Jurgen Otto. “When I walk around the bush I usually don't look into the trees, I usually look on the ground. There was a spider that just looked different to other spiders I'd seen before so I was very curious...and I took a couple of photos.”

The photographs revealed a most extraordinary looking jumping spider.

“Since then I've been wrapped and wanted to take more pictures so I kept coming back for 3 years but unfortunately I kept searching at the wrong spot.”

Three years later, Jurgen's perseverance paid off and he captured what he believes is the only footage of Australian Peacock spiders.

Other species of the Peacock spider are equally impressive.

Maratus speciosus
The common name of this species is Coastal Peacock spider. Until recently it was called Saitis specious, but it is very similar to other species of Maratus and therefore is now included in this genus. The orange coloured hairs are only visible during the display. One of the most striking species in the genus Maratus, it can be found in metropolitan Perth.

Maratus harrisi
This species was first photographed by Stuart Harris in December 2008, but it took another 3 years for another specimen to be found that could then be scientifically described. That specimen is now lodged in the Australian Museum as the holotype and the species is named in honour of Stuart. The specimen you see here is the third one ever photographed. It too came from Booroomba Rocks in Canberra and was collected by Stuart.

Maratus linnaei

Maratus mungaich

Undescribed species of Maratus from Tasmania

Undescribed species of Maratus from Sydney

Maratus amabilis

Darlington's peacock spider

Maratus splendens


Top 9 Nail Houses

A nail house is a Chinese neologism (a newly coined term) for homes belonging to people who refuse to make room for development. The term, a pun coined by developers, refers to nails that are stuck in wood, and cannot be pounded down with a hammer. Every couple years, these defiant ‘nail houses’ make the rounds online. They serve as a symbolic testament to the "little guy" standing up against the government and pushy developers.

1. Wu Family House, Chongqing, China

Wu Family among 280 others at the location of a six-story shopping mall under construction in Chongqing, refused for two years to vacate a home their family had inhabited for three generations. Developers cut their power and water, and excavated a 10-meter (33ft) deep pit around their home. The owners broke into the construction site, reoccupied it, and flew a Chinese flag on top.

Yang Wu, a local martial arts champion, used nunchakus to make a staircase to their house, and threatened to beat any authorities who attempted to evict him. His wife, a restaurateur named Wu Ping who had planned to open a restaurant in the home's ground floor, granted interviews and frequent press releases to generate publicity. The owners turned down an offer of 3.5 million yuan (US$453,000), but eventually settled with the developers in 2007.

On April 4, 2007 the house in central Chongqing was destroyed and Wu and her family received a one million yuan settlement plus a new apartment.

2. House in Wenling, China

This nail house became notable after it ended up in the middle of a new road in Wenling, Zhejiang Province. The elderly couple had refused to sell the property for the price offered by the government since 2001.

Eventually a major two-lane road to a new train station was constructed around the house. Pictures of the home went viral on the Internet and were widely published by Chinese media. The property was demolished in December 2012 after the owners accepted a compensation offer worth $41,000.

3. Kunming Nail House, China

On October 28,2010, developer dug the ditch around Mr. Zhao's house in Zhaojiadui, Kunming and subsequent rains have filled it with water, creating a moat that Zhao must cross to leave or return to his house.

Asked why he did not move, Mr. Zhao said that his house was built on state-owned land, but the developer would compensate according to commune-owned land standard which is significantly lower. So he and his family did not sign the agreement. He continued to live in the apartment with his wife and 83-year-old mother as all the other buildings in the complex were destroyed, leaving his building alone in an expanse of cleared land.

4. Nail House in Yongji Street, Jinhua, China

Yongji Street is famous in Jinhua city and beyond, for the house which is located in the middle of street road. The building of three floors just stands on the shoulder, with a ring of vegetables around, narrowing the street from four to two lanes. The owner of this house is 57 years old Yao Buqing. The house stands as a nail on the road for 5 years.

5. Edith Macefield's Home, Seattle, USA

Edith Macefield achieved worldwide notoriety in 2006 when she stubbornly turned down US$1 million to sell her home to make way for a commercial development in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. In the process, she became something of a folk hero. Instead, the five-story project was built around her 108-year-old farmhouse, where she died at age 86.

After her death it was revealed that Macefield willed her house to the new building's construction superintendent, Barry Martin, in gratitude for the friendship he had shown her during the construction. In July 2009 Barry Martin sold the house to Greg Pinneo for $310,000. Greg Pinneo intends to use the house as an office to run his real estate coaching firm.

6. Austin Spriggs House, Washington DC, USA

In 2006, Austin Spriggs was happily living in a house that would soon become a thorn in the side of local developers. Such a thorn in fact that Mr Spriggs was offered more than $3m for the property in 2008 even though the property was previously only worth an estimated $200K.

Needless to say, he turned the offer down and then proceeded to take out a loan to convert the building into a pizza joint. As you can see, the building is absolutely dwarfed by the surrounding developments.

7. Building Near Railway Station in Shenzhen, China

This building is located in front of Shenzhen North Railway Station. The owner of seven-story building has turned down an offer of 20 million yen (US$ 3.2 million) to move out. The offer was rejected in 2011, and building still standing on this green field.

8. Nail House in Changsha, China

A nail house remained in Changsha, even after a shopping mall was built around it, and now sits in a courtyard of the mall.

This dilapidated home sits in front of relatively modern-looking shopping centre and the contrast between the two buildings is shocking. The house stands on this spot since 2007.

9. Building in Shenzhen, China

In 2006, Cai Zhuxiang and Zhang Lianhao, proud and determined owners of this 7 storey building in Luohu District, Shenzhen, were approached by local developers who were on a mission to convert the surrounding area into an extremely profitable financial centre.

As you can see from the photos, the couple refused and their 10 years old building and the land beneath it became the focus of a bidding war. Eventually developers made an offer they couldn’t refuse and in 2007 the couple gathered their belongings and moved on. Although the final amount is unconfirmed, estimates point to compensation in the region of between ¥10-20m (over US $1m).

Bonus 1: Nail Tomb in Taiyuan, China

Construction workers in Taiyuan City, are building a new skyscraper around a tomb after family members refused to remove the remains.

The burial mound, 10m (33ft) high, with a single gravestone on top, sits in the middle of a busy construction site. The bizarre stand-off comes after developers bought a cemetery and paid locals to remove their ancestors.

However, one family has held out, despite being offered 1,000,000 yuan ($160,454) as compensation for the land. The family is waiting for a more auspicious day to disinter the remains. The offer was rejected in December 2012, and burial mound still standing on the construction site.

Bonus 2: Farms at Narita International Airport, Japan

In 1966 plans for a new airport were revealed by the japanese government, much to the annoyance of the public and especially those who owned the land upon which it was to be built.

For the next 20 years a combination of regular riots and defiant farmers who own land amongst the proposed runways forced developers to ditch the idea of a 3 runway airport. To this day, the middle of what was to be the 2nd runway is home to a farm and various smaller properties still sit around the terminals blocking construction of a 3rd runway. Above the roofs of farms, over 100 airplanes fly by everyday.

Bonus 3: Stott Hall Farm, UK

Stott Hall Farm is an 18th century farm on Windy Hill, situated between the two carriageways of the motorway between junctions 22 and 23. The road forks around the farm for engineering reasons owing to the surrounding area's geology, though a local myth persists that the road had to be split because the owners refused to sell the land during its construction. Due to its remoteness in the Pennines, the farm is often nicknamed the Little House on the Prairie.

The farm is now separated from the motorway by crash barriers and a high fence to keep livestock in and drivers out, after some stranded motorists attempted to get aid when broken down. The farm, which was occupied by Ken and Beth Wild at the time of the motorway's opening, is now farmed by Paul Thorp. It is one of the ten best-known sights from the motorway network and one of the best-known sights in West Yorkshire.