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Death Valley National Park - Racetrack Playa

Racetrack Playa (February 17, 2004)
Racetrack Playa (January 28, 2005)
Racetrack Playa (January 29, 2005)
Racetrack Playa (February 10, 2005)

The Mysterious Moving Rocks in Racetrack Playa


At the southern end of the Last Chance Range at the north end of Death Valley is another high desert basin containing a unique and puzzling geological phenomenon.

The sliding rocks of Racetrack Playa have been a mystery for decades.

Large dolomite and a few metamorphic rocks on the lake bottom of the 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 three page gallery of photos taken in February 2004 illustrates the tracks at the southeast end of the Racetrack as they typically appear on the dry bed of the playa lake.

Visits to the Racetrack in January of 2005 documented in galleries 2 and 3 reveal the normally dry playa about a third then a sixth or less covered with up to 6 inches of water.

A follow-up investigation twelve days later in February 2005, documented in the 4 pages of gallery 4 reveals an abundance of long new tracks covered by a thin skin of water at the southeastern end of the playa.

After visiting the Racetrack four times under different conditions I believe I have answered the question 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 sliding rocks of the Racetrack Playa revealed and explained by winter rains and ice and wind.

Copyright © 2003-2009 by Tim Jones
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Leopard frog in rock crevice