Nature's Magic Trick

November 30, 2013  •  1 Comment

 

Every now and then, nature does something that's inexplicable. In the case of the moving rocks at the Racetrack playa in Death Valley National Park, rocks at the southeastern section of the dried lake bed leave tracks, some stretching for a quarter mile. At first, this would seem to be made by humans because - of course - rocks don't move by themselves. But when standing on the rock-hard lake bed, the surface is almost impenetrable. So, how do the rocks make their tracks? Nobody knows...for sure. The most likely cause is a sequence of events that is something akin to the revealing of a magic trick.

First, the stones naturally tumble off the mountains that surround the lake bed. Although Death Valley is the driest spot in North America, the Racetrack does receive a small amount of rain in the winter months. The lake bed fills with a shallow layer of water which them freezes, trapping the rocks in a large, thin sheet of ice. As temperatures warm in early spring, winds are thought to move the ice sheets with the rocks still frozen in place. The rocks make contact with the now softened lake bed, creating scars or "tracks" in the lake bed. Once dry, the lake bed rehardens, capturing the scars for years to come. The effect is other worldly - sometimes making the rocks appear as though they are racing and sometimes crossing each other's paths.

Moving Rocks, The Racetrack, Death Valley National Park, CAMoving Rocks, The Racetrack, Death Valley National Park, CAAmong the most spectacular sites on the planet are the "moving rocks" on the remote Racetrack Playa at Death Valley National Park, California. Several theories exist about how the tracks are made by the rocks. Although never witnessed or recorded, scientists believe that the stone-like lake bed fills with a thin layer of water from early winter rains that freezes over winter, trapping rocks that fall onto the playa from the nearby mountains. As the ice begins to melt, thin sheets are blown by the region's strong winds, dragging the boulders, weighing up to 80 pounds each across the now muddy surface. As the lake dries, the tracks that remain make the rocks appear as though they race each other.


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Emilie Fielder(non-registered)
Beautiful photography, as always!
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