Sailing stones, sliding rocks or moving rocks, all refer to a geological phenomenon where rocks move in long tracks along a smooth valley floor without human or animal intervention.
They have been recorded and studied in a number of places around Racetrack Playa, Death Valley, where the number and length of travel grooves are notable. The force behind their movement is not confirmed and is the subject of research.
The stones move only every two or three years and most tracks develop over three or four years. Stones with rough bottoms leave straight striated tracks while those with smooth bottoms wander. Stones sometimes turn over, exposing another edge to the ground and leaving a different track in the stone’s wake.
Trails differ in both direction and length. Rocks that start next to each other may travel parallel for a time, before one abruptly changes direction to the left, right, or even back the direction it came from. Trail length also varies – two similarly sized and shaped rocks may travel uniformly, then one could move ahead or stop in its track.
Only recently, however, has a viable scientific hypothesis been given to explain how 300-kilogram sailing stones ended up near the middle of such a large flat surface.
It turns out that high winds after a rain can push even heavy rocks across a temporarily slick lakebed.