Death Valley's Moving Rocks

Boulders leave a mysterious trail in a dry lakebed
The moving rocks of the Racetrack

Photo by Jeffery Aiello

Racetrack Playa is home to one of Death Valley's most enduring mysteries. Littered across the flat surface of this dry lake, also called a "playa," are hundreds of rocks that seem to have been dragged across the ground. Sometimes these rocks—some weighing as much as 320 kilograms (700 pounds)—leave synchronized trails that can stretch for hundreds of meters. The rocks may sit for years without moving.

What causes these rocks to move? Researchers just recently found out. Remote observations from 2011 to 2013 showed it's a rare combination of water, ice, and wind.

Discover the details about the moving rocks of Death Valley, including a first-hand account from the researchers who may have solved this mystery.

A note about seeing the moving rocks: The surface of the Racetrack Playa is very fragile. Driving on it or anywhere off established roads is strictly prohibited. Do not move or remove any of the rocks and avoid walking in muddy areas when the playa is wet. A more easily accessible location to observe the tracks of sliding stones is the Bonnie Claire Playa east of Scotty's Castle. The south shore of the playa runs right along the north side of Highway 72. There is abundant evidence of sliding stones at this playa, which is believed to experience the same rock-moving conditions as the Racetrack. The area is administered by the Bureau of Land Management.