Sliding Rocks of the Racetrack Playa

On a dry lakebed in Death Valley, rocks weighing up to 320 kilograms locomote themselves slightly uphill over time, often leaving zig-zag trails in their wakes. Geologist Paula Messina has painstakingly documented boulder movement via GPS. Smells like a hoax? Take a look at this table, linked to hard data on every named rock. A time-lapse map records boulder movement over time — some have chugged as far as 3.2 kilometers.

The mechanisms for these unusual events have been hypothesized and in some cases tested, but never proven.

Music: Yo La Tengo :: You Can Have It All

3 Replies to “Sliding Rocks of the Racetrack Playa”

  1. Death Valley is a pretty amazing place.
    A visit there can really shake up your worldview.
    Only 3000 years ago, well within recorded human history, it was a lake.

    In 50 million years, Death Valley and most of Nevada and Utah will be part of a new ocean stretching down to Baja — the Gulf of California is the first crack of this ocean as the North American Plate splits in two. Mount Whitney will be oceanfront property. By that time, LA will be up by Alaska somewhere, and the current islands of Hawaii will be glommed on to the west coast of California.

  2. And Otisville will have a nice view of the ocean?

    (I’m playing Spot-The-Reference here :-)

  3. I was in Death Valley over Memorial Day, visiting with my dad, and we went out to the Racetrack to check it out. It’s pretty spooky, and way cool. Stones bigger than your head have obviously moved many feet. Sometimes a group of rocks have all moved together in the same direction. The rocks are smaller than I had pictured in my mind, but it’s still pretty impressive.

    I’ll post pictures when I get them processed.

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