An Unsolved Mystery of the Sailing Stones

North America | | June 1, 2010 at 12:05 am


A baffling phenomenon of nature or a paranormal display of supernatural existence or is it an alien intervention? Questions still remain unanswered while experts are still nailing down on what could be the accurate reason behind stones of Death Valley that slide by themselves, without the interference of humans or animals. In the southwest of the United States of America, lies this mysterious valley- popular as the hottest and driest location in North America. This lowest lying point of the continent is a deserted floor located in the Inyo Country by the border of California and Nevada, and consists of a dry lakebed named ‘Racetrack Playa’ which is proved to have the motion of rocks every two or three years.

sailing stones of death valley

What are Sailing Stones?

‘Sailing Stones’ of Death Valley- named from their distinctive and mysterious feature are in a count of hundreds scattered allover the Racetrack Playa from the size of a pebble to as large as huge boulders. The playa which is nothing but a flat bed of scorched mud observes the sailing of such stones surprisingly in straight tracks on its broken surface of flat octagons and pentagons. While the stones having rough bottoms tend to form smooth straight tracks, stones with smoother bottom are found wandering in an unorganized pattern. Stones also tend to turn over during this process leading all the way to another track.

death valley mysterious rocks
Like the size and shape of sailing stones, its component also happens to vary all over the Racetrack Playa. In the southern end of the region, they’re found to be made of dark dolomite, while the stones from the adjacent slopes consist more of tan-colored igneous rock. From as small as 10 feet to as long as 100 feet, the tracks formed by these sailing stones are usually 2.5 cms deep and 4-12 inches wide, consisting of silt and clay sediments and last usually for three to four years.

The Science of Sailing Stones

Even though this geological phenomenon is a mystery and still a subject under research, various speculations have been made on the exact reason behind the sailing of the stones. Scientists say it may be an outcome of strong winter winds with a speed of up to 90 mph, while the playa is slippery enough during rainfalls. This assumption is rightly explained with the understanding of the prevailing winds across Racetrack Playa that blow from southwest to northeast and most rock trails are found parallel to this direction.

why do sailing stones move

The ice sheet theory is also been proposed by a different set of scientists stating that the rocks get moved easily by the wind on the ice layers formed on the floor during low temperatures. Somehow, this happens to be the still a theory leaving behind lots of arguments.

However, all the studies prove that there are certain common factors between all the sizes, shapes of types of stones and tracks that aids the movement of the stones, be it a saturated non-flooded surface, thin layer of clay, tough draft as an initiating force or a strong wind to help the stones slide by themselves.

death valley sailing stone
Till date these mysterious stones and their movement remains un-filmed and unobserved by human eyes, but the various speculations made by experts keep us driving towards this mystical happening of nature wondering how this could be possible.

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  1. vareeja says:

    The sailing stones, also known as sliding rocks and moving rocks, are a geological phenomenon where rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention. They have been recorded and studied in a number of places around Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, where the number and length of travel grooves are notable. The force behind their movement is not understood and is the subject of research.

    Sliding rock trails fluctuate in direction and length. Some rocks which start next to each other start out traveling parallel, but one may abruptly change direction to the left, right, or even back the direction it came from. Length also varies because two similarly sized and shaped rocks could travel uniformly, then one could burst ahead or stop dead in its track.

    Speed is an unknown variable. Since these stones are rarely transported and nobody has witnessed the movement, the speeds at which the rocks travel are not known.

  2. eerene says:

    .they are such a marvellous looking stones, and as nobody has witnessed the movement of the stones..the force behind the movement of the stones is not yet known.

    while scientists say its because of the rai nfalls….

  3. Freddie Soares says:
  4. Petie Jackson says:

    Time and pressure can do a remarkable things .

    And being that the rocks have all the time in the world to move.

    And the world has the pressure.

    It’s no surprise to me.

    it seems that people think too deeply about the subject .

    In that valley i bet the winds could be in excessive of 80 miles per hour 4 days on end and given the mud and ice factor rocks will move .

    Look at what tornadoes can do with just with wind.

    Try living in the windy parts of wyoming and you’ll understand .

    i must say it’s interesting and it gets people to thinking.

    But don’t try to get to scientific about it.

  5. Jamie says:


    That’s the fun of it !

    Trying to explain the unexplained with science !

    Actually, all we have here is a collection of some really interesting theories, and some interesting opinions; but that’s what makes a mystery so much fun !Isn’t it!

  6. Josephine says:

    Yes absolutely agree with you Jamie!

    There’s so much fun in elaborating inexplicable things of nature through science..

    Cheers to all here!

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