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Mystery of Sailing Stones


Enormous stones migrate themselves across the arid landscape leaving trails behind is one bizarre sight that one can find in the dry lakebed of Death Valley National Park of California.

These boulders are known to us as ‘The Sailing Stones’.


Sailing or slithering or sliding stones are the mysterious dozens of stones that are found in the Racetrack Playa which is the dry lakebed in Death Valley. Since 1940s the scientists have been perplexed by the sailing stones. These rocks move on their own without any visible method of locomotion.

There are few hundred rocks in this region. Some are in the size of a baseball but, while some weigh as much as 300 kilograms. Not all the stones move in the same time and in the same direction.

There has been umpteen speculation about the movement of the sailing stones from space aliens to slippery bacteria.In fact no one has ever seen the phenomenal action in person. The only evidence that these rocks move is identified from the dusty trails that they leave when they slither across the dried muddy Playa.

It even made us to think that it is the wind that propels them forward but how it is possible for a gusty wind to push forward a stone weighing 300kg on a dry bed like Race track playa?

Wind alone is unlikely to be reason for the sliding stones. There is a lot more to do with the science. So let’s dig it up


Death Valley isn’t a dry place all the year. Sometimes rains do occur and Playa can indeed flood during stormy time.

Though there are some dubious theories surrounding the Death Valley’s sailing stone, the actual truth that prevails in this area is the combo of three natural  factors the sun, wind and water.

A team of researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego were curious in knowing the cause that made the rocks move.

During the winter of 2011, they visited the site and set up cameras and placed GPS systems on the stones and then prepared to settle in for a long wait since the stones made theirs moves very rarely.

In two and half months the researchers were able to document five movement events of the rocks.

Now this is how it works. . .


It is a perfect harmony of all the three factors

Rainwaters from the surrounding mountains flow off and find their place in the lakebed Playa. At night they froze to form a thin layer of ice.

Next day when the sun shines out, the thin layer of ice melts and breaks up into floating panels. These panels flow in a steady direction of even a light wind is caused and they help in the transport of the rocks.

“Too much of anything is good for nothing”, and the case here is also the same. When any of the three factors are in excess then the rocks won’t be able to move.

Few Spanish scientists claim that the locomotion of the rocks are due to the action of microbial community that lives on the bottom of the lagoon and secrete slippery substances which in further makes the rock to move.

Regardless of how they move, the wandering stones have been attracting the mystery lovers and nature enthusiasts.