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Mystery Solved: The Death Valley Racetrack

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

Moving Rocks at the Death Valley Racetrack
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This is a big day for humanity, folks. It's a HUGE day. That's right - they finally figured out how those mysterious migrating stones move all on their own at the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park. This is bigger than the moon landing!

Okay, maybe not. But I'm pretty damn excited about it because ever since I visited The Racetrack to photograph these moving rocks, I've been utterly fascinated by this natural wonder.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, The Racetrack is a massive cracked-dirt playa deep in Death Valley National Park. Dotting the south end of the playa are a bunch of boulders with long trails carved into the dirt behind them as if they up and moved all on their own. It's quite a sight, which is why people from all over the world come to see them.

I have a 30x45 print from The Death Valley Racetrack hanging in my office (the one at the top of this blog post) and almost every class I teach, a student asks "how does the rock move?" My answer for a cheap laugh is simply, "Aliens, dude." But then I follow it up with what was the commonly accepted theory: rain comes, wets down the playa, it turns the mud into a slippery surface, wind comes howling through, the rocks move, the rain dries up, and boom, you got yourself some migrating rocks. It was a good theory and it sounded right to me.

Well, turns out that theory wasn't right. The Slithering Stones Research Initiative led by Scripps Oceanography paleooceanographer Richard Norris finally figured out the real reason: ice. And rather than try to explain it myself, hear it from the horse's mouth in this video they posted on YouTube (they even filmed the rocks moving!):

Watch "How Rocks Move" on YouTube

Maybe I'm just a geography geek, but this is exciting stuff! Only nature could dream up such a marvelous display of the elements working together to create art. But a part of me is a little sad to lose the mystery of it all. I liked that we couldn't explain everything even in this modern age. Plus, the mystery made my photos of The Racetrack so much more interesting! But at the same time, the knowledge of how it actually works is too remarkable to ignore.

The theory proven in this video was actually thought up long ago along with the slippery-windy playa theory. I'd heard both years ago, but I thought the slippery-windy playa theory was much smarter. " moves them. Yeah, right." But I guess that's why I'm not a scientist...

Enjoy the video and enjoy this newly discovered knowledge. And here's some more pictures from The Racetrack for your pleasure:

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks

The Death Valley Racetrack Moving Rocks