Geologists and others who’ve studied Pillow Rock have determined it has been moved at least once before. It’s not connected to bedrock. Rather, it’s a glacial ‘erratic,’ which like all the random boulders in the Northwoods, was pushed around time and again by the many waves of glaciers that sculpted our region.
Furthermore, given its curious location right along the line that separates Ely’s original platted neighborhood from the former railway grade and mine staging areas, it likely was bulldozed there over a century back — pushed out of the way of industrial development. There’s nothing sacred about its current location.
But it is extraordinary. Lava that extruded at great depths in a primordial ocean 2.7 billion years ago, Pillow Rock is a featured piece of our area’s prominent geology that reflects the formation of the continents and the history of our planet.
Pillow Rock is also very cool for its the connection to the U.S. space program. NASA historians confirm that astronauts James Irwin and Dave Scott visited Ely from Oct. 7-9, 1970, on a geology field trip to familiarize themselves with ancient, unusual formations like Pillow Rock. They were preparing for their successful Apollo 15 space landing the following summer, from which they brought back the 4-billion-year old “Genesis Rock,” the oldest known moon rock at that time.
The origins of earth and our forays into the final frontier: Pillow Rock is associated with both. Let’s celebrate that by moving Pillow Rock from its backstreet location to front entrance prominence at the North American Bear Center. Pillow Rock is quirky and curious and can add to Ely’s tourist-draw luster, but only if we “move it again!”
Paul and Susan Schurke