Skalky skřítků

Rocks of Elves

Useful Information

Location: On the hill above Dubina, Karlovy Vary. (50.241167, 12.997456)
Open: no restrictions.
Fee: free.
Classification: Speleologylava mold
Light: bring torch
Dimension: A=418-550 m asl.
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1912 G. C. Laube publishes they were formed due to gaseous eruptions in the lava flow and were completed by water erosion.
2016 national natural monument established.


Skalky skřítků (rocks of the elves) is one of a few places on earth, where tree moulds, the forms which remain from trees after a lava flow covered them, form holes big enough to be called a cave. The trees were full of water and so the water was transformed into steam by the lava, but this process required energy and cooled the lava enough to become solid. The tree inside started burning after it was dried and the solid lava formed a sort of mould of the gone tree. If the trees are standing, they form vertical holes, if they are lying they form horizontal caves. The caves have the size of the tree trunk, so only the biggest trees created holes big enough to crawl in. The biggest cave has a diameter of about 1.50 m, the longest cave is five meters long.

This is the newer theory about the origin of the caves. The older theory, published by G. C. Laube in 1912 is that they were formed due to gaseous eruptions in the lava flow. In other words, the caves are blister caves, formed by gas from the magma which could not leave the lava and thus formed blisters in the solidified rock. The blisters were enlarged, probably connected by water erosion. Obviously this last erosional step would also be possible with tree moulds.

The caves are located inside a 100 m to 130 m thick layer of volcanic rocks. The rocks include ashes, slag, breccias, and massive basalt, but the caves are located in the highest parts of tuff breccias. The caves are found on two levels several meters apart. One tube was extended and forms a cavern which is several square meters big, obviously a result of later erosion.

Newest theories interpret the caves as karst caves in insoluble rocks (formerly pseudokarst). The upper part of the volcanic layer was formed by four stages of tuff sedimentation. Each stage starts at the bottom with coarse chaotically deposited tuffs, on top layered fine pyroxenic tuffs, in which cavities are developed. The pyroxenic tuffs are formed by pyroxene crystals about 0.25mm in size, with a clay sealant. So the idea is that the karst processes removed the clay and then washed out the sand. However, this interpretation is very new and requires further research. As a result we decided to stick with the tree mould explanation.

The tree moulds are called Skalky skřítků (Rocks of Elves) because the locals believed the small caves were inhabited by elves.

The elves were peaceful and guarded a great treasure. They were friendly and were invisible helpers with the daily work. In return, they demanded only a little food from the farmers. However, the ringing of the church bell in Svatobor disturbed the ancient peace of the forests, and the peasants preferred to eat the bread formerly intended for elves themselves. So the nation of elves decided to leave this region. One day the king of the elves came to the ferryman across the river Ohře in Dubina. He asked him if he would take the nation across the river. The ferryman agreed and drove invisible elves from one shore to the other all day. At dusk he took the last load over the river and the king rewarded him with gold. When he wondered how many elves he had carried, the king asked him if he wanted to be the last to see the elves. When he agreed the king shouted, "Hats down!", and he saw several thousand elves in the meadow. The king said goodbye, the elves waved at him and set off with a heavy load towards the Ore Mountains. They were never seen again.

Until 2016 the area was part of the Hradiště military district, but when the military district was reduced it became a National Natural Monument. It is protected for the wealth of plants and animals in the dense forest. It is home to the Barn Owl (Strix aluco) and the Spring Orsej (Ficaria verna).