At the southern end of the Last Chance Range at the north end of Death Valley is a high desert basin containing a unique and puzzling geological phenomenon. The moving rocks of Racetrack Playa have been a mystery for decades.
Large dolomite and a few metamorphic rocks on the lake bottom of Racetrack Playa lie at the head of long, nearly inch deep furrows in the dry cracked mud. But what moved these rocks hundreds of feet, even hundreds of yards away from the base of the dolomite buttress at the southeast end of the playa?
The first gallery of photos taken in February 2004 depict the tracks at the southeast end of the Racetrack as they typically appear on the dry bed of the playa lake. Foot traffic tracks in the silty clay are not typical but may mar the surface of the playa for years.
Visits to the Racetrack on two days in January of 2005, documented in the second and third galleries, reveal the normally dry playa about a third then a sixth or less covered with several inches of water.
A follow-up investigation twelve days later, in February 2005, documented in the fourth gallery reveals an abundance of long new tracks covered by a thin skin of water at the southeastern end of the playa.
All one has to do to definitely resolve this issue is camp out on the dolomite buttress with video capturing equipment and catch the playa in winter after enough rain to make a large pool of water a few inches deep, when it's sure to freeze long enough for an inch or so of ice to form on the pool and wait for some wind while praying it doesn't get dark. Rafts of ice are bound to make entrained rocks move around in a moderate wind. The problem is... just as the desert gets cold at night in summer, in winter the inundated playa probably freezes over at night. It's for this reason no person has seen the rocks move. In all likelihood they never will.
After visiting the Racetrack four times under different conditions I believe I have helped validate the theory as to how the rocks move across the surface of the near perfectly level lake bed; near level, but very slightly sloping to the south.
Enjoy the following photo journey into Death Valley to see the mystery of the moving rocks of Racetrack Playa revealed and explained by winter rains and ice and wind.
Welcome to the solution to the mystery of the moving rocks in Death Valley.
The National Park Service writes on the placard above that people other than scientists have suggested that floating rafts of ice are responsible for moving large rocks around on the playa. My question is, can the Racetrack's rocks move in any OTHER way?
Oft quoted authority Dr. Paula Messina of San José State University claims: 'The likelihood of future events are dependent on the optimum combination of lubrication and wind climate.' She postulates that gale force winds are required to move the rocks across a wet slippery playa.
I see it a bit differently.
Please read the Introduction by clicking on Read Gallery Introduction - upper right hand corner of this page.