Sailing Stones, Racetrack Playa

Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park in California. I flew 3 hours in a plane to Las Vegas, and then drove another 5 hours through the desert just to get there, sleep in a car, see some stones on a dried lake bed and then turn around the next morning to get back home… That’s over 14 hours of travel for a 12 hour stay. Crazy?

This remote, dried up, ancient lake bed sits 3,700 feet above sea level and is so damn flat. Towards the middle of the lake bed sits what would be an island, named ‘The Grandstand’. A stack of tall, jagged rocks that stick up and stand out in contrast to the bright surface of the dried up lake. It gets windy out there, I can attest to that, it was absolutely howling the whole time I was there but it has been known to get up to 150 kilometers per hour!

Sailing Stones, Racetrack Playa

That picture above, that is exactly what I came for. They call them Sailing Stones, rocks that mysteriously move along the lake bed. I’m not talking about little pebbles that skip in the breeze, these rocks or ‘stones’ can range from anywhere between 25-30lbs right up to 700 pounds! You will notice in the photos, the trails or ‘racetracks’ (which gave the valley its name) out the back of the stones. It has been said that the stones only move once every two or three years and most tracks last for three or four years. If it wasn’t for these marks in the mud, we wouldn’t even know they were moving.

Sailing Stones, Racetrack Playa

Since discovered in 1915, no-one has actually seen them move and so all we can do is speculate. The most likely theory is that with the playa surface being made up of very fine clay sediments, it becomes extremely slick when wet. When you put together the information I mentioned earlier about it being quite high in elevation, mixed in with the strong winds surging through, you can imagine that this would be the most likely scenario.

So as you can see, it really a fascinating phenomenon. I will leave you with one last shot I took with the stones off on their trail heading towards the Milky Way… Being so remote, the stars were absolutely incredible out there!

Sailing Stones under the Milky Way, racetrack Playa

I absolutely loved it out there. I got to see something that I have admired and marvelled about for quite a while and I would definitely recommend everyone to try get out there if they can. It is such a great feeling to be out in such a remote part of the world and knowing you are the only person there. Truly amazing.

Nic

  • Aspen Glow
  • My Modern Met for Beakerhead…
  • Plain of Six Glaciers – Victoria Glacier
  • A silent, sleeping Lake Louise

2 Comments. Leave your Comment right now:

  1. by ang

    Love the milky way one!

  2. Pingback: Sailing Stones at Racetrack Playa | Nic Sharkey - Life.Love.Photography

Leave a Reply to ang Cancel reply