Rocks of the Playa

I having been pondering about the “sailing stones of racetrack playa”. I know, what can we learn about stones that move upon their own accord, besides the fact that no one has seen them move. Is it because Racetrack Playa is so far removed from civilization? Or is it part of a vast conspiracy of stones being moved by aliens for their own amusement. I have even heard that this was a training ground for individuals learning the “black arts” of telekinesis.

If somehow you have missed the story… Racetrack Playa is a dry, mud cracked, lakebed, just north of Death Valley in California. It is rather scenic as dry lakes go, but in addition it has over a hundred stones from ounces to hundreds of pounds, that have moved on the dry lakebed, leaving furrows that meander hundreds of feet. And there are no footprints, thus the name “sailing stones”.

Shades of “crop circles”.

First discovered in a documented account in 1915, it was officially suggested the stones moved as the result of hurricane force winds. This was an absurd idea, but it was the best that early science could provide. Privately, they were uncertain. It wasn’t long before underground theories began to fill in the void of “uncertain knowledge”.

Many different theories were put forth in the following 50 years. Finally, in May, 1972, a sailing stone movement monitoring system was put into place. A corral was built to isolation approximately thirty stones, in order to measured their movement from month to month. Each stone was measured and given names, like Karen, Mary Ann, Nancy, etc. Mary Ann moved a whopping 212 feet during the first winter. After seven years of study, Nancy had accumulated 860 feet. Karen was the big disappointment, she had not moved an inch in seven years. It’s 570 feet of trail may have been from it’s first walk, but nothing since. Some say it was reasonable because Karen was approximately 700 lbs. I think that’s a little “fat shaming”.

Now, of course, Karen is not there. She disappeared in 1992 or 1993. There may have been a sighting in 1994, but nothing since then. Looking for her photo on a milk cartoon, “700 lb dolomite rock, answers to the name Karen.” You can be sure that there are several additional theories of what has happened to Karen.

Finally, modern technology caught up to the mystery. ‘If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around, does it make a sound?” Sure it does, prove it with with a remote audio recorder. So, a group of researchers set up time lapse video cameras on several stones, and placed special GPS devices on as many as 60 sailing stones. The results of this study was published in 2014.

Warlocks did not appear to move the stones. Aliens did not use force beams for curious reasons. A thin layer of ice had formed during the rainy season, and even a mild wind could cause a stone to sail. They actually video taped movement on a pleasant day.

My question is… why is it so easy to believe the impossible, instead of maintaining, “I don’t know yet”?

Now, one more fact for conspiracy people- why is it that the highest and lowest points on the North American continent are only 90 miles apart?

I forgot to mention, if you plan to visit Racetrack Playa and the sailing stones, it’s only 6 miles from Teapot Junction, a stop sign corner. Bring your own teapot, (now that’s a mystery)

About johndiestler

Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
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4 Responses to Rocks of the Playa

  1. ~M – Beyond the beyond – “When the weight of the world is upon you and you're left spinning out of control. When you’ve been plunged head first into darkness, and you don’t know where to go. Simply follow that tiny flicker of light, far off in the distance somewhere. It’ll lead you to a place where love abounds and where hope is found everywhere.” ~M
    ~M says:


  2. Anonymous says:

    That was very cute the way you wrote that. I remember hearing about these Stones along time ago and it’s the evaporation of the moisture under them that propel. It’s pretty remarkable. I love your take on these things I wish I had your mind

    • johndiestler – Lafayette, California – Retired community college professor of graphic design, multimedia and photography, and chair of the fine arts and media department.
      johndiestler says:

      And what would that leave me? Brain cells in my tailbone?

  3. Rebecca Cuningham
    Rebecca Cuningham says:

    What a wonderful natural mystery!

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