Death Valley’s Sailing Stones

12 Nov

One thing I have always found to be fascinating is the unexplained movement of the sailing stones on the Racetrack Playa of Death Valley. Scientists/Geologists have known about the stones for roughly nine decades. The sailing stones are and remain a geological phenomenon. The stones, some weighing up to 700 pounds, only move every two or three years and most tracks develop over three or four years. Stones with rough bottoms leave straight striated tracks while those with smooth bottoms wander. The force behind their movement is not understood and is the subject of research. There are two main theories on how the rocks move. The first is that the constant prevailing wind that blows across Racetrack Playa from the southwest to the northeast is strong enough at times to set the rocks in motion, and then constant enough to keep it in motion. The second is that the limited amount of water the playa recieves each year freezes at night. The thin layer of ice coupled with the previously stated prevailing winds enable the rocks to glide along the surface.  What is so fascinating to me is that all the rocks do not move in the same constant direction. Here are some great photos of the sailing stones, followed by a video on the ice thory. Enjoy!

sailing stones 8

sailing stones 6

sailing stones 9


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