Some people have been creative and ingenuitive enough to construct their own rocks out of clay. One Cichlid enthuisiast, Mitchell, shares his experience:
"I have a 60-gallon tall Hex tank. I had a very difficult time aquascaping my tank (hadn't read the other ideas in this article yet) because my tank is taller than it is wide and I could not find a rock with caves and holes that met this profile, and all the rocks I could find were very expensive. I didn't want to pile rocks on top of each other because of cichlids' tendency to dig and potentially topple the structure. My solution was to make my own rock. I picked up 44lbs (wet) of a barium free clay from a local potter shop and spent several nights creating a rock to meet my specifications in shape and size. I then fired my rock and now I have the exact rock that I wanted. Assuming that you have access to a kiln and a little artistic imagination, this is a very low cost solution for a rock in your tank. The clay only cost $17 (US)."
Mitchell did not mention this, but it occurs to me that you could color your "rock" with lead-free glaze if you don't like the look of the clay after it's been fired. Also, be aware that clay does tend to get a little slippery feeling after it's been in the water for a while.
If this is an idea that interests you, check out Rosenthal Pottery, a potter who designs and sells clay-crafted cichlid caves. Even if you don't buy one, at least this site will give you some ideas for your own project.
Another idea that is rather common is to decorate one's tank with clay flowerpots. These can be turned on their side, upside down, or whatever. Cave entrances can also be created using masonry drill bits. These pots can be hidden or disguised by half burying them horizontally in the substrate. Then place a piece of slate or river stone in the front opening to make a rock facade. If you have egg-laying Cichlids (instead of mouthbrooders), you can adjust the aperture of the opening according to the size of your female (and too small for the male). Finally, cover the entire pot with java moss. The effect is a cheap and natural-appearing hide-out.
In addition to creating great-looking aquariums, many of the ideas on this page are concerned with ways to create additional teritories for our fish. Corrin, another visitor submitted this great idea:
"With my lack of income for rocks, I have come up with any easy, although slightly time-consuming way of building arches, caves, pillars, etc. I buy lava rock and large, pebbled rocks in bulk from places like Lowes or Home Depot. To clean the rocks, I bleach and boil them. Then using aquarium-safe silicone, I glue them all together in a way that creates caves, arches, or pillars. I let them dry and instantly! a new breeding territory!"
Hiro submitted pictures of his tank to the Tank of the Month Contest, where he dispalys a similar project. He collected coral-based rocks from the beach in his native Hawaii, glued them together and then coated them with aquarium-safe epoxy.
Stefan Soch and Rocky reminded us of a common trick to create new territories in the tank, and then modified it a bit. They both suggest using 1½-inch PVC elbows. These can be placed behind rocks or covered with rocks or plants so they are not visible to the onlooker. These could also be greased with epoxy and rolled through some of the substrate you use in the aquarium to help camouflage them. Another alternative is to use Chimney bricks that have large holes. These too could be hidden behind rocks or even covered with epoxy and substrate.