The Racetrack Playa - Death Valley, California
Death Valley, California is one of my favorite places. It's gorgeous, strange, eerie and has amazing and warped geology, fossils and history. It's full of mysteries, ghost towns, abandoned mines and even melted rocks that some say are the sign of prehistoric nuclear explosion. Last time I was there it was 112 degrees outside and I was in heaven (I think I'm part lizard)
(Hey! No smart remarks!)
One of the geological attractions is called the Racetrack Playa, famous for it's moving stones. The floor of the playa is dried, scorched mud which has broken into perfect little octagons and pentagons and mosaic. This is as "desert" as you can get in America. It's as flat as flat can be. With rocks which seem to move on their own.
The stones vary in size and shape from pebble size to half-ton boulders. They break off the hills you see in the background. Their tracks vary in length, going every which way from zig-zags to loops; some double back on themselves. Some travel only a few feet; others go for hundreds of yards, yet they can be right next to each other, and right next to some that don't move at all.

My first thought was "Yeah, uh huh. Sure they do".

For a long time the reasons why baffled geologists and scientists who studied them until two geologists from CalTech did a seven year study. They concluded that the reason the rocks move is because under specific weather conditions, rain, heavy fog or dew causes the dried mud to develop a thin layer of slippery glide and the winds push the rocks around.

There's a few problems with this, others say. First of all the rocks make deep tracks in the dirt, and being that the ground is parched rock-hard, pressure of stones that heavy would hit dry dirt and stop. Another argument is that wind doesn't loop, double back on itself and zig zag in the course of a few hours. Two rocks have been seen to be right next to each other and then take totally different paths while a third could have remained untouched.

When I was there last, I spent a week going to Death Valley and the Racetrack twice a day, noting all the conditions. There were 4 rocks I kept my eye on and they scuttled all over this vast Playa on one day especially. "Wind" didn't explain it. Furthermore, it was as dry as a bone out there the entire time, even in the wee hours.

I talked to one of the Park Rangers who said he thinks it has something to do with magnetics underground. Sure, some of it might be that the mud did get slippery when it was damp but that didn't explain how two rocks right next to each other could go in two opposite directions or one could stay put while one three times the size, didn't.

He stated that he's seen the rocks moving long distances when it's perfectly dry out and there is NO wind; sometimes rocks will lay in place for weeks and then the day a few will have moved well away from the rest. Well, let me amend that - he didn't "see" them move. In fact no one has ever seen a rock move. All of a sudden, it just is. The "conditions" that are said to be needed for it to happen just weren't there. Since it's a desert it rarely rains except during monsoon season, and at times it does get very foggy in the morning, yet the rocks do this all year long.

Paul Messina has done a load of research on this phenomenon and even used a Global Positioning satellite to track the movement of rocks in 1996, making a great map of same. His conclusion? It makes no sense.
(Paul's site will open in new window)

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