From The Lonesome Gods, pages 54-55, by Louis L'Amour. All you need to know is that these are the words of a dying father, who is crossing the desert to take his son Hannes to California:
Long ago, before the Indians who live here now, there were other people. Perhaps they went away, or maybe they died or were driven out by these Indians' ancestors, but they are gone. yet sometimes I am not sure they are gone. I think sometimes their spirits are still around, in the land they loved.
Each people has its gods, or the spirits in which they believe. It may be their god is the same as ours, only clothed in different stories, different ideas, but a god can only be strong, Hannes, if he is worshipped, and the gods of those ancient people are lonesome gods now.
They are out there in the desert and mountains, and perhaps their strength has waned because nobody lights fires on their altars anymore. but they are there, Hannes, and sometimes I think they know me and remember me.
It is a foolish little idea of my own, but in my own way I pay them respect.
Sometimes, when crossing a pass in the mountains, one will see a pile of loose stones, even several piles. Foolish people have dug into them, thinking treasure is buried there. It is a stupid idea, to think a treasure would be marked so obviously.
It is an old custom of these people to pick up a stone and toss it on the pile. Perhaps it is a symbolical lightening of the load they carry, perhaps a small offering to the gods of the trails. I never fail to toss a stone on the pile, Hannes. In my own way, it is a small offering to those lonesome gods. A man told me they do the same thing in Tibet, and some of our ancient people may have come from there, or near there. Regardless of that, I like to think those ancient gods are out there waiting, and that they are, because of my offerings, a little less lonely.
People are still making those little stone piles. I've seen them out west, and in Europe. I want to say there's a book about the folklore of backpackers in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas that gets into this practice a bit. Can't remember the title. The stone piles might also be related to the ancient Greeks placing a Herm (for Hermes) at crossroads.