Exploratorius Redux

Atelier Aquarell & Fotografie

Sailing Stones At Another Racetrack


Moving rocks
Death Valley, California — October 2016
Zeiss Ikon ZM + Zeiss Biogon 21/4.5 ZM
Ilford Pan F Plus + T-MAX RS (stock) 4 minutes

One of the things I most eagerly wanted to see during our trip to Death Valley were the sailing stones at the Racetrack Playa, having learned about them many decades ago when I was attending design school.  However, a month or so before we went out to explore that vast area with my dad and sister, vandals struck the Racetrack and created 10-miles of ruts in the delicate dry lake bed — ruts that have ruined the experience for others of seeing the sailing stones for at least years, if not decades.  You can read all about the horror story of the initial vandalism here, here, and here; a follow-up one-year later where the damage had begun to fade somewhat here; and a variety of other images of the damage that was caused here.

Volunteers working with the National Park Service have recently gone out to begin repairing the damage caused by the vandals (you can read about their results here, here, and here), but their work — while commendable — only addressed 512-feet of the ruts.  That means the volunteers only have to repeat their effort 103 more times to completely repair the 10-miles of damage, and even then the repairs themselves will still be visible for a very long time.

Why am I making such a big deal about this?  After all, it’s just a dry lake bed, with some scattered rocks at the end of some ruts that already exist.  Well, this natural phenomena is known to exist in just a handful of places around the globe — the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park in California, Little Bonnie Claire Playa in Nevada, Great Slave Lake in Northern Canada, a few areas along the shores of the Baltic Sea, and in some dry lake beds in Spain and South Africa.

And the process by which the rocks moved and created tracks had been a mystery since the 1940s, when they were first discovered in Death Valley.  Over the years, scientists had offered a number of possible solutions, but definitively solved the puzzle back in late 2013 and published their findings in August 2014.  The detailed scientific paper can be read here, but the gist of it is illustrated in the graphic below:

Image credit: Javier Zarracina, Los Angeles Times

However, there is at least one more place to see sailing stones to add to the list… an untouched, secret location that my sister and I stumbled across when we were hiking to find good photographic opportunities.

It is a small, unnamed playa (dry lake bed) situated within the borders of Death Valley National Park.  It doesn’t have as many sailing stones as the Racetrack Playa, nor do the tracks have the definition and quality of those at Racetrack.  But — as you can see in the image at the top of this post — it exists!  And that’s all I’m going to share about about this treasure, because if the exact coordinates are revealed, people either will go and love it to death, or destroy it.

And I’m happy just knowing it exists, with the thought that I might be able to return to it someday and see if this stone has moved any further.

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