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Cairns are used as trail markers in many parts of the world, in uplands, on moorland, on mountaintops, near waterways and on sea cliffs, as well as in barren deserts and tundra.They vary in size from small stone markers to entire artificial hills, and in complexity from loose conical rock piles to delicately balanced sculptures and elaborate feats of megalithic engineering.One example is a series of many cairns marking British soldiers' mass graves at the site of the Battle of Isandlwana, South Africa.Another is the Matthew Flinders Cairn on the side of Arthur's Seat, a small mountain on the shores of Port Phillip Bay, Australia.These can be seen in the Catskill Mountains, North America where there is a strong Scottish heritage, and may also represent places where livestock were lost.In locales exhibiting fantastic rock formations, such as the Grand Canyon, tourists often construct simple cairns in reverence of the larger counterparts.Different types of cairns exist from rough piles of stones to interlocking dry stone round cylinders.

Such cairns are often placed at junctions or in places where the trail direction is not obvious.

These physical survey mark cairn systems are the basis for national survey grids to interconnect individual land survey measurements for entire nations.

On occasion these permanent interlocking stone cairns are taken down then reconstructed to re-mark measurements to increase the accuracy of the national survey grid.

The building of cairns for recreational purposes along trails, to mark one's personal passage through the area, can result in an overabundance of rock piles.

This distracts from cairns used as genuine navigational guides, and also conflicts with the Leave No Trace ethic.

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