Sliding Rock…No Longer Just a National Park in Western North Carolina

A fascinating movement of rocks is taking place out in Death Valley, California. In fact, it has been for centuries. On the Racetrack Playa (playa meaning dry, lake bed) in the national park, rocks themselves have been, for lack of a better word, sliding across the landscape and leaving long, streamlined trails in their midst while cutting a furrow in the sediment on and below the surface. For years, scientists have sought an explanation for this curious phenomenon, and the results (but mainly theories) that they have comprised still leave much room for doubt. So what is it exactly that causes the rocks in this lake bed to slide in a fashion similar to a kid slipping down a chute at the friendly neighborhood Chuck-E-Cheese’s? Could it be that either people or animals are effecting the rocks’ movement? After long deliberation and hands-on research, geologists have concluded that neither of these entities have any effect whatsoever on the paths that these materials take. The movement tends to occur whenever the floor of the basin is identified by a soft, squishy mud (more often than not a result of sparse yet heavy rains). Therefore, a non-presence of disturbances in the mud surrounding the trails goes to show that there has been  no evidence of human/animal interaction with the rocks themselves whether it be pushing or picking up and moving. So if living creatures are not involved in the movement of these rocks, what would be the next logical theory to suggest? Geologists have found it—wind!!! Racetrack Playa is a mostly flat and dry lake bed that spans an area of four kilometers; it has an extremely arid climate, resulting in little rain over the course of a year. However, when precipitation does come, the dry bed is transformed into a shallow, slippery, and muddy lake. It is when this shallow water is present that the wind appears to play its pivotal role. The water moves extremely quickly in comparison to the flow speed of normal water thanks to a gusting wind that blows across the landscape from a southwest to northeast direction. The paths of the sliding rocks run parallel to the course of this elemental factor. Torrential gusts are thought to wiggle the rocks into motion, after which a softer wind can continue to push the rock along the surface due to the makeup of the sediment it’s moving through—silt and clay. There have been other suggestions revolving around the idea of rock movement influenced by a thin layer of ice that many have claimed to have seen on occasion covering the lake bed. This could be true, taking into account the possibility that the rock would freeze in the ice and then be carried along by the sheet as it began to melt. Geologists claim, however, that wind is still at the forefront of their explanatory theories, and that only further research will uncover the possible truth. One can’t deny though that this is truly an awesome phenomenon that’s been happening for hundreds of years; it provides us with yet another reason to step back and look at the world and realize that there are still so many things that we members of the human race do not know.


About willdogg10

I am a renegade in this world, challenging both myself and others to become more and more inspired by our faith and the God for whom we live every single day. May we take heart in the possibilities that LOVE and SELFLESSNESS have to offer us, and may we come to realize that the greatest luxuries in life are those we participate in that belong to Someone greater.
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