Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa: Natural Force or Prankster’s Trick?

The Sailing Stones of Racetrack Playa: Natural Force or Prankster’s Trick?


Located in California’s Death Valley National Park, Racetrack Playa is a mysterious dry lake bed known for its peculiar phenomenon – the sailing stones. These large rocks, weighing up to hundreds of kilograms, mysteriously move across the playa’s surface, leaving behind clearly visible trails in their wake. For decades, scientists and enthusiasts have been intrigued by this spectacle, attempting to decipher the secret behind these moving stones.

The Mysterious Phenomenon

The sailing stones have fascinated researchers due to their ability to seemingly glide across the flat terrain without human or animal interference. The trails they leave suggest a deliberate movement, often traveling in straight lines or distinctive patterns. These trails can extend for several meters, making it even more perplexing.

Scientific Explanations

Over the years, various scientific hypotheses have been proposed to explain the movement of the sailing stones. One prominent theory suggests that the phenomenon is caused by a combination of wind, ice, and thin layers of water. During rare occurrences of rain or melting ice, the stones become partially submerged in shallow water. Wind gusts, aided by small floating ice sheets, then push the rocks, causing them to slide along the muddy lake bed.

Researchers have tested this theory by placing GPS trackers on the stones, and to their amazement, they found that they do indeed move. Furthermore, they discovered that depending on the surface conditions, the stones can travel at different speeds, altering their trail patterns.

Controversies and Alternative Explanations

While the aforementioned theory is widely accepted, not everyone agrees. Some skeptics argue that the movement of the stones might be due to elusive pranksters who secretly push them during the cover of night. However, this explanation seems less likely given the weight and size of the rocks, as well as the consistency of their movements.

Another alternative explanation suggests that the sailing stones might actually be moving due to small earthquakes or tremors that vibrate the playa’s surface, causing the rocks to inch forward. However, this theory lacks substantial evidence to support its validity, making it a less favored hypothesis.


While the sailing stones of Racetrack Playa continue to captivate our imagination, the most widely accepted explanation involves the combined forces of wind, ice, and water. The phenomenon occurring at Racetrack Playa is relatively rare and truly fascinating, showcasing the remarkable ways in which natural forces can shape our world.

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