Slithering Rocks in Death Valley National Park

// December 27th, 2012 // Weather

A slithering rock at Death Valley's Racetrack

Introduction

In California’s Death Valley, there is an area call ‘Racetrack Playa’ that  has puzzled visitor’s for hundreds of years.  The area gets its name from the large flat stones that mysteriously ‘race’ around this barren dry lake bed.

These rocks, some weighing for than 600 pounds, slithering across the ground leaving snaking grooves in the hard, dry, stone.  Some of the trails left by the moving rocks are thousands of feet long.

Scientific Studies

Studies have been made of the area and measurements taken of the rocks and their positions.  Scientific proof indicates that the rock movement is continuing to occur.   Scientists believe a rare combination of events must occur for the rocks to move.  The first requirement is rain in the parched desert climate which transforms the area into a shallow lake. Next, temperatures must fall low enough to freeze the water before it evaporates. Then the sun has to come out and thaw the ice, causing the sheets of ice to crack. Finally, wind has to blow strongly enough to break the ice into floes and move it across shallow water underneath – pushing the rocks along with it.

Visiting the Racetrack Playa

Access is via Racetrack Road, reached at the Grapevine Junction near Scotty’s Castle. The 28 mile rough gravel road heading south-west from Ubehebe Crater is passable with non-4WD vehicles but requires off-road compatibility. It rounds the western side of the playa to a parking area with descriptive signs by the National Park Service. Another access to Racetrack Playa is Lippincott pass road that enters the Racetrack valley from the south west, climbing up from Saline Valley. Lippincott Pass and the roads in Saline Valley are extremely rough and negotiable for high clearance 4WD vehicles with all-terrain tires only. Visiting remote areas of Death Valley bears considerable risk. Summer temperatures can surpass 120°F (49°C), large areas are without cellphone reception, roads are treacherous and the closest gas station is in Furnace Creek.

Check out the slither rocks photo gallery below:

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