LEROY, Minnesota (STPNS) -- For the past several years, Steve Zobeck has found a hobby that has been entertaining the area and getting many to ask questions.

Zobeck has been showing his artistry along the roadways, by showing off his "stacking" talents with the many field rocks that are piled up along side the roads that lead to Elma. His displays are really a vision to behold as his formations have delighted drivers, farmers and children for years. "The reason I do this is for exercise and sunshine," commented Zobeck, who visits the Elma area often to see his parents, who are retired farmers near the Lourdes area. "This also gives me a chance to give praise and thanks to our Creator."



His artistry does hold a grace and balance like no other and even when these rocks fall over from time to time, it's a time for him to come again and repair his work and again "enjoy" the pleasures of rock stacking. Zobeck was recently back in the area getting the chance to repile some of those rocks and also to be honored.

He did get a 'different" challenge over the summer months in helping the Elma Vision Committee stack some huge boulders in creating a new welcome sign area near the Co-op and Depot. Both areas turned out great and showed a wonderful display for the community and visitors to view every time they leave or visit the town. He was honored at a special meeting held by the Visions group and was presented a pie (Projects to Improve Elma) by the local B.R.I.D.G.E. group.

As far as his talents with the rock stacking, it was something that he had to work into . . . you could say it was a small "gift from God," that started all this. It was in the year 2000, while visiting near Elma, that the idea came about for the talented artist. The day before, the day after, and Easter Day, were the days he started manipulating the rocks. "Many farms had all these piles of rocks laying around the ditches," pointed out Zobeck. "That was when I decided to start stacking. The neighborhood took to them right away and that was when I knew I had something that people could enjoy." Zobeck stated that he's Catholic, but added that the Catholic Church doesn't "require me to do this." "I really want to do this to give thanksgiving for all that has come my way," said Zobeck. "It's a way to give gratitude for the blessings we have."

Zobeck has always had a knack for building things and was actually enrolled at college for engineering at one time. It's that love that has always been with him and continues today with his rock stacking.

Over the years, Zobeck stated that he has gotten to know many of those rocks and knows which ones will lie flat and which are the best to set aside. He also knows how high he can stack them and likes to get a design, or show something different, to get people to look more often, or just to stop and possibly take a photo. It was that interest that stopped an artist and his wife from Decorah, who saw him stacking the rocks and eventually learned even more about him.

They were so intrigued that they eventually contacted Iowa Public Television, who did a feature on Zobeck. The show has aired several times over the past few years and now more people stop and talk with the artist as he's creating. "I had one women stop on Highway 63, jump out of her car, and start running right into the ditch," claimed Zobeck. "She told me to never stop doing this. That she loved them!" He added that a pickup was another that stopped and drove right into the ditch, with the people telling him that they have wanted to meet him for quite some time and stopped just to chat.

Over the past several years, Zobeck has been living in Columbus, New Mexico over the winter months, while during the spring and summer he works in Ann Arbor, Michigan at the University of Michigan Hospital doing inpatient care.

His love of rock stacking has not been confined to just northeast Iowa, but has grown to Michigan and New Mexico, where you can spot his work along the Huron River in Ann Arbor, Mich., and along Hwy. 9 in southwest New Mexico. Oddly, he did get in trouble in New Mexico and was questioned by authorities for his work. "One of the Sheriff Department's deputies explained to me that rock stacking is often used by smugglers as a signal at where to pick up drugs," explained Zobeck. "Once they found out why I was doing it, they gave me the okay.

The stacks kind of look like people standing out in the middle of the desert at night. The formations also confuse the smugglers who don't know where to look anymore, because there are so many stacks." The local authorities were just part of the problems brought on in New Mexico. There have been times where U.S. Military will see him stacking rocks and fly overhead to get a closer look. "I'm really getting to know many of the border patrol guards," commented Zobeck. "There's one border patrol that is actually starting to stack rocks himself, with his family, right in his back yard. It's really kind of neat."

Also, in Iowa, a State Patrol officer stopped and asked what he was doing with the rocks, questioning exactly why. "Once he found out it was in gratitude to our Creator, he seemed to be okay with that," added Zobeck.

In Michigan, his work does get admired from those who can see his stacks, but he does have one that doesn't appreciate the art and tends to knock his rock piles down. "The good news is it gives me another reason to go out and stack them again," said Zobeck. "It's like my work never ends there, which is kind of nice. I almost have to thank that person for doing that."

As far as how many rocks he's arranged over the years, Zobeck is really uncertain. "All I know is it's been tons and tons," said the artist. "The amount of stacks is in the thousands." The rock arrangements have also been rewarding in that Zobeck has had polio for several decades and this form of exercise has been good for him, walking through the ditches, and biking to the areas. "The polio has been a struggle," stated Zobeck, who especially has problems with one of his legs. "It really is good exercise. You have to work on some uneven surfaces, and it also gives my good leg a great workout."

Zobeck does joke that he always said he wanted to be a "rock star," especially in his teen years. "I never thought it would have turned out this way," he laughed. Everyone in the area, however, is very glad that he didn't pick up the guitar instead of the rocks.

As far as how long he'll continue to do this wonderful artistry . . . it could be for years and years. "I'll do this until I can't do it anymore," said Zobeck. "I'll be stacking as long as the good Lord lets me." Now, we can only "thank the Lord" that we can see his many creations and only pray that his hobby continues.