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The sailing stones of racetrack playa

Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park is well known for the phenomenon of tracks left by hundreds of rocks plowing across the nearly flat playa surface. Cavernous within Death Valley National Park you'll find a dry lake bed (called a playa) nestled between two mountain ranges. Racetrack Playa, as it is known, is approximately three miles long and one and a half miles wide. Rocks moving along the desert ground with no gravitational cause known as "sailing stones," the rocks vary in size from a few ounces to hundreds of pounds. Though no one has ever seen them move in person, the trails left behind the stones and periodic changes in their location make it clear that they do. You’ll need a four-wheel-drive vehicle with good ground clearance and tough, off-road tires to the track. You'll want to set aside about three and a half hours to drive the 27 miles on the washboard gravel road that leads to the playa.

The trails illustrates that these rocks have rolled and zigzagged across the ground, sometimes for as long as 860 feet. The trails last for years beforehand changing colors, so it is almost impossible to predict when the stones will move or how fast they move. 

Do not disturb the rocks or their tracks while visiting. Subsequent on rainy days, the playa becomes muddy, so be careful to avoid approaching the rocks and leaving unsightly footprints during wet conditions. Driving off established roads is also prohibited.

Those clear tracks behind the rocks exposed that some of them had moved as much as 1,500 feet. Since there were no footprints around, these rocks are known as "sailing stones" were somehow moving on their own. The tracks there are occur in the spring when the ice in the ponds has mostly melted, but with some rocks caught in ice cakes. The wind pushes the ice cakes across the ponds and the rocks stuck in them leave tracks just like at racetrack playa.


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