Sisyphus of Hart Park Keeps Stacking Stones Despite Rocky City Reception

Mike Salcido and his dog Buddy in front of his trailer. Photo by Jackson Guilfoil

Every morning, Mike Salcido parks his RV in Orange’s Hart Park and spends all day stacking rocks.

The 68-year-old, who is homeless, spends hours building the towers, which range from ankle to chest height, painstakingly balancing them just so. Salcido says he often receives compliments from people. But he also witnesses people kicking over his works.

Salcido sees everyone from young children to teenagers to adults knock over his towers, which, he acknowledges, were not made to last forever, but he was most surprised at the grown-ups’ behavior. Once, he saw a man in the park with his child, and “his kid walks up to it, looks at it and runs on down. His father walks up to it—now, this is a businessman—stands there for a second and looks at it, then kicks it down,” Salcido recalls. “Here is a businessman with no consideration for the time or effort [spent to make the structures].”

No matter how many are destroyed, Salcido always picks up the pieces and begins anew the Sisyphean task of rebuilding his towers. 

After he retired a year and a half ago, Salcido was in the park one day when he saw three rocks stacked atop each other. It inspired him to search the internet for tutorials on how to build rock towers. He learned how to balance the stones effectively, then began to push the limits on how complex he could make his towers.

“It’s usually about getting the rocks to balance properly so the rocks preceding it will not go helter skelter,” he explains. “The balance changes; the weight on it changes. You can’t just pick any rock to work with; it has to have a semi-flat side so you can build with it.”

A lifelong Orange County resident, Salcido said the round, flat stones remind him of his blind grandfather, who would ask for the same kind of rocks for reasons Salcido never learned.

One of Salcido’s towers. Photo by Jackson Guilfoil

Pesky parkgoers aren’t the only threat to Salcido’s towers: Park-maintenance officials recently started knocking them over, too. He even received orders from them to stop. “Stacking rocks up, in a manner that becomes a hazard, you’re in a public park, and anybody or any child could go by and easily tip them and become injured by falling rocks,” says the city’s parks and facilities manager, Dana Robertson. “In my opinion, it was something we had to be concerned with from a safety standpoint.”

The rocks in Hart Park’s riverbed are also used to prevent erosion.

Salcido says the order won’t completely deter him. Though he will continue to build the towers, he will not stack the rocks as high.

Around six months ago, Jim Stevens was walking his dog in Hart Park and came upon Salcido’s sculptures. Eventually, the teacher found the artist, and the two became friends. 

Stevens says he is frustrated with the park officials’ order. “I don’t think [the towers are] going to harm anybody,” he says. “Honestly, they’re going way too out of their way to fix something that’s out of the ordinary. It’s out of everyone’s way: It’s in the riverbed, and no one allows their kids in the riverbed.”

As the day winds down, Salcido drives his trailer to Santa Ana for the night. Despite his admittedly humble means, he says, he’s not had too much trouble navigating an increasingly expensive Orange County.

“I would prefer having my own place,” he says, “but my finances being as modest as they are, I am forced to live like a monk in poverty.”

An editorial intern and news junkie with a hankering for all things spicy, Jackson gained a passion for journalism writing about housing and homelessness in the Bay Area for the Daily Californian and the Tenderloin Tribune. When not writing, Jackson can be found rambling to anyone who listens about old movies no one else cares about. He can be reached at jckguilfoil@gmail.com.

One Reply to “Sisyphus of Hart Park Keeps Stacking Stones Despite Rocky City Reception”

  1. THANX for taking time to read the truth in my words an
    statement/comment.i am a subscriber to the daily Orange County home
    updates!, i grew up in Orange County since 1966 AN I HAVE SEEN ALOT of
    Overpopulation since then when orange county:s population back then
    was only 1.5miliion and now its over3.5million due to the influx of
    illegal migrants-refugees-immigrants and now Caravans – also to many
    women Pumping out to many babies,this only adds to MORE traffic,long
    lines,higher prices,more crime,more trash and importantly HOUSING
    CRISIS brought on by Peoples personal GREED thinking they are gonna
    get RICH and make a profit by Investing in real estate all over this
    country.it seems to me that no one wants to hear the Truth and the
    News media both Paper and Television Stations do NOT want to report
    the Truth cause it may PISS alot of People Off ,they need to know that
    they are the ones that are part of the PROBLEM creating Housing Crisis
    an shortage of Affordable housing due to their Personal-Corporate
    Greed and so at 63yo here i am homeless {i never thought in my youth i
    would end up this way} but why should anyone care? to them im a drug
    addict and/or a criminal >IM NOT !! NOT ALL HOMELESS are druggies
    /alcoholics or even criminals we are aging baby boomers that are
    suffering at the hands and eyes of those who have a FALSE PERCEPTION
    of anyone homeless,and so my personal goal is to become a MARTYR for
    the homeless to send a message to all across this country >if this is
    what you want then many more who are in my shoes will follow my lead
    to pressure those with Greed to wake-up to what is important in this
    life >is it GREED or SPIRITUALITY thats important to You.
    YES my Statement is Intended for Publication- only if you got the
    courage to Print the truth for BOTH >Orange County Register & L A
    TIMES !
    i am currently residing in my car somewhere here in Orange County!
    Sincerely> Homeless in America
    DO YOU HAVE THE COURAGE TO PRINT-SPEAK THE
    TRUTH?

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