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California’s Death Valley: The Mysterious Secret Behind Moving Stones that May Leave You Puzzled

California’s Death Valley: The Mysterious Secret Behind Moving Stones that May Leave You Puzzled

Death Valley National Park is one of the strangest places in the world by any standards and is famous for being the hottest place in the world, sitting at the driest and lowest elevation in North America. The mysterious Racetrack Playa is the strangest feature of the valley where the rocks drift across the flat desert landscape.

Located on the border of California and Nevada, the Death Valley National Park, designated in 1933 is home to one of the world’s strangest phenomena: rocks moving along the ground of the desert without any gravitation.

Famed as “sailing stones”, the rocks vary in size from a few ounces to hundreds of pounds. The trails left behind the stones and periodic changes in their location make it clear that the stones actually move.


The moving rocks baffled the curiosity of the researchers and scientists, spending decades for solving the puzzle. Some scientists stated that the apparent movement of the rocks was caused as aliens from space controlled them, while others hypothesized the magnetic fields and blamed the pranksters for the cause of moving stones. However, as no one has experienced the stones to move on their own, which adds mystery to the phenomena.

Some even theorized the dust devils are moving the rocks, especially those weighing about 700lbs (318 kg). Other researchers believe strong winds whipping across the region are causing the rocks to slide across the ground.

All these theories were disproved, leaving the scientists without any explanation. In some cases the trails of rocks measure as long as 820 feet, some forming graceful curves, while others forming a simple straight line and shifting abruptly to the left and right, bewildering the researchers.

Scientific Studies:

Ralph Lorenz, a NASA scientist, in 2006, started investigating the weather conditions on other planets, thereby taking a keen interest in studying the causes of sailing stone in the Death Valley.

He was particularly interested in comparing the meteorological conditions of the Death Valley to those near Ontario Lacus, a vast hydrocarbon lake on Titan, a moon of Saturn. The enigmatic sailing stones of Racetrack Playa intrigued Lorenz while he was exploring the Death Valley.

He further developed a kitchen table model using an ordinary Tupperware container and investigated the gliding of rocks along the lakebed. He kept the container into the freezer and ended up with a small slab of ice with a rock embedded in the container.

By placing the ice-bound rock in a large tray of water with sand at the bottom, all he had to do was gently blow on the rock and make it move it across the water.

With the blow, the ice-embedded rock began to move, scrapping a trail on the sand. He devised his clever experiment by further researching the buoyancy of ice causing large rocks when encased in ice to move by floating along the tidal beaches in the Arctic Sea.

Scientists revealed that not all stones in the Death Valley moved. However, the ones that did move, move once every two to three years. It further complicated that the stones that moved never moved in the same direction or at the same time.

California’s Death Valley: The Mysterious Secret Behind Moving Stones that May Leave You Puzzled

Further research and analysis provided an adequate explanation about the “sailing stones”. It revealed dolomite and syenite as the main composition of the rocks as well as the surrounding mountains that tumble due to the force of erosion, coming to rest on the parched ground below. After reaching the level surface of the playa, the rocks start moving horizontally leaving behind perfect tracks that help the researchers in recording their path.

Many large rocks leave behind a trail of 1,500 feet, suggesting their long way from their original location. Rocks having a rough bottomed surface are found to leave behind straight tracks, while the smooth bottomed ones wander. Since the 1900s these stones are kept under observation and several theories suggested explaining their mysterious movements.

Later in 2014, for the first time, scientists were able to capture the movement of the stones with the help of modern technologies: time-lapse photography. The results obtained through the study strongly suggest the sailing stones are the outcome of a perfect balance of wind, water, and ice. In the winter of 2014, rain formed a small pond.

Astonishingly, it froze overnight and thawed the very next day, creating a vast sheet of ice, reducing by midday to only a few millimeters thick. With the drive of light wind, the sheet broke up, accumulating behind the stones, thereby pushing them forward.


However, the Death Valley, nestled between the borders of Nevada and California has more astonishing features ready to astound everyone who passes by the area. Now, when the Racetrack Playa conundrum has been solved, scientists and researchers have inclined towards solving the mysteries of the park’s other features: sand dunes, dicey canyons, and meteor crater.

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