The Mysterious Sailing Stones

One of the most famous landmarks in the southwestern United States is Death Valley. This vast desert is also home to one of the greatest mysteries of the ages.

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In an area known as the “Racetrack playa” in Death Valley near the western border of Arizona, there are an amazingly large number of stones, ranging in size from mere pebbles to half ton boulders that regularly travel by themselves and no one has ever been able to explain why!

These huge stones move of their own volition, leaving miles of zig-zagged, curved and straight tracks that have continued to baffle the scientific community for decades.  As you can see by the photos, the hardened surface of the landscape is marbled with the trails of water rivulets that would make concealing evidence of outside interference impossible.  So the big question is, just how DO these mysterious stones move?

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Early studies of the Sailing Stones began when geologists Allen Agnew and Jim McAllister mapped the area and noted the tracks left by the boulders in 1948.  After that, these Sailing Stones were forgotten or ignored  by scientists for two decades.

Then, in 1968, two scientists from the Institute of Technology in California conducted an ambitious seven year study tracking the stones that involved painstakingly mapping their movements by noting their positions at regular intervals.  Although their data and their methods of observation were sound and well documented, their conclusions were found to be faulty.

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In their report, the two geologists wrote that “the wind is able to pick up the rocks and start them moving.  They push aside the very slippery mud and slide along on the firm surface.”  According to Sharp and Carey, surface water would freeze overnight, creating a slippery surface upon which the rocks were propelled. 

Admittedly, during the rainy season the water can flood the surface of the “playa” rather quickly, but the volume and the strength of the water current would simply not be enough to provide sufficient propulsion. This video demonstrates how fast the water usually advances across the ground:

As I mentioned earlier, Carey and Sharp maintained that the rocks would sometimes zig-zag across the desert floor in these erratic patterns because of shifting winds.  Even at first glance, this theory is flimsy at best. 

Yet amazingly, it was widely accepted until 1991, when yet another geologist studied the enigmatic stones and brought his students along to test the validity of the earlier findings.

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This time, John Reid from Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts and a group of students converged on the stones en masse, during a time where the weather conditions matched those stated in the 1968 study.  Reid and his students slid in the mud quite easily but they attempted as a group to push, shove and/or pull the rocks with ropes.  Yet nothing could budge them and despite their valiant efforts, the rocks remained stubbornly immobile.

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“The Tristan Effect” is yet another theory that has recently been suggested.  The University of Zurich conducted research dealing with the actual physical properties of the rocks themselves.  Their theory maintains that the air within the porous interior of the rocks compresses during the sub-zero nights.

The next day, the intense desert heat and sun causes the air inside to once again expand and thus propel the rocks along their paths.  However, this writer doubts the validity of the theory. 

I highly doubt that anything short of an explosion would cause enough sudden changes in air pressure surrounding the rocks to cause them to move.  If that were the case, I would think the rocks would become unstable due to these repeated changes of internal pressure and eventually crumble.

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Even now, the scientific community is still investigating and trying to discover just how these rocks move.  Currently, they are being tracked with GPS devices and satellite tracking.  It would also be interesting to discover if time lapse photography or video surveillance cameras could shed light on their movements.

Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but I continue to find it intriguing that these Sailing Stones happen to be in a reasonably close proximity to the famed Roswell Area 51.   Being interested in ancient ley lines and their alignments with heightened strengths of lines in the magnetic field of our planet, I can’t help but think there may be a connection.

For now, I suppose, our planet and these fascinating Sailing Stones will simply have to continue to mystify, enchant and baffle us.

More articles by Bren Parks include:

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88 Responses to “The Mysterious Sailing Stones”
  1. s hayes Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    fascinating article – amazing phenomenon

  2. Nemotak Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    That is amazing! To here that not even the scientist community can’t figure why and how the boulders move. This is very good write up and I love it, so.

  3. rajeev bhargava Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 6:55 pm

    an awesome article, that held my interest throughout. the subject matter on sailing rocks and stones is fascinating and it goes to show that even in the 21st century, forget about outer space, even on our home planet earth, there are still unsolved mysteries which coninue to baffle these scientists. one of my theories is perhaps it has something to do with the climatic changes and erosion of the rocks and stones which causes them to move , but let it remain a natural mystery! BEAUTIFUL!

  4. maranatha Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    Great job on a fascinating subject. I had never heard the last theory; I wonder what the makeup of the rocks is – lots of iron, maybe, or something that would magnetize?

  5. Betty Carew Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Excellent article Bren i have never heard of this and found it fascinating. I love things like thi and you have presented it so very well. just something else for me to think about and wonder lol. Thanks for the write.

  6. Leroy Altman Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    Excellent article

  7. Jeffrey B. Merrow Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 7:47 pm

    amazing i have been ther and it is awsome gret work very detailed interesting check out my new stuff

  8. C Jordan Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    Its a fascinating phenomena that I have come across before. Intriguing. Good write up and pictures.

  9. Kimberly Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 8:20 pm

    Fasinating and mysterious love it!

  10. Joni Keith Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 8:54 pm

    Wow, Bren. What a fascinating subject. And presented in such a great format as I’ve come to expect from you. We may never know but it’s still nice to theorize about.

  11. Joie Schmidt Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Enjoyable, fascinating article!



    -Liane Schmidt.

  12. Chambo Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 10:16 pm

    Really interesting piece Bren. Thanks.


  13. Sandra A Flowers Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 10:17 pm

    totally amazing, a great article

  14. Lauren Axelrod Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 10:30 pm

    Wow Bren, I am blogging this one at the I loved it.

  15. papaleng Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 10:33 pm

    Wow! a very fascinating article. I didn’t know there’s such thing as Mysterious Sailing Stone phenomenon.

  16. EYEAM4ANARCHY Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    That’s really interesting. How much do they move; can you visibly see the movement?

  17. Denise Kawaii Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    Really weird, interesting and amazing! I think it’s wonderful that even today with our extensive technology, there are things that we fail to understand on our planet.

  18. Tarra Buluran Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 11:13 pm

    It’s very interesting, and worth-sharing.

  19. Mr Ghaz Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 11:17 pm

    Wonderful! That was miracle! Interesting story and nice pics as well. I really appreciate yr work. Well done and thanks 4 sharing

  20. The Quail Says...

    On March 10, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    Interesting article and I have lived in the deserts a long time. I would put fourth a theory that tremours as well as flooding combined with frozen surface may also be responsible?

  21. mysticdave Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 12:00 am

    very cool and interesting:)

  22. Majic Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 12:01 am

    This is very fascinating! I wonder why I haven’t heard of it before

  23. K Kristie Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 12:07 am

    Awe inspiring! Haven’t heard of it before either.

  24. denus Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 12:40 am

    looks great!

  25. HatedNation Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 1:21 am

    I am with the others, I wonder why this particular phenomena has not recieved enough attention for me to have at least heard of it before…Im so passing this on!

  26. Patrick Bernauw Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 1:57 am


  27. George W Whitehead Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 2:26 am

    I remember seeing these stones in a documentary many years ago. Great article, Bren.

  28. Yovita Siswati Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 2:47 am

    Very fascinating! Your last theory is very interesting!

  29. Kate Smedley Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 4:02 am

    Fascinating article, I’d not heard of this before, great work.

  30. revivor Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 4:39 am

    truly amazing!!
    what is going on?
    your article made me want to investigate further
    thanks – revivor

  31. Sotiris Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 6:13 am

    Wow! AMAZING! I think someone is moving them lol :P

  32. Darren Goad Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Facinating stuff here Bren.

  33. nutuba Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 6:36 am

    Bren, this is a wonderful and intriguing write! I had never heard of this before — really interesting! I love your descriptive writing!

  34. Stacey T Pollock Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 6:52 am

    Very interesting article!

    Maybe they are magnetic, and move in relation to the stones that are still deep in the soil and that when water is added the magnetic current becomes change???

    I know at school we used to do this experiment all the time with stones and making them magnetized, it could easily be produced from the friction of the weather conditions as well.

  35. Lorna Dykstra Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 7:00 am

    Amazing. I had never heard of these Sailing Stones.

  36. weegysgram Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 7:03 am

    Very well written you made it very interesting. I have been there and seen these rocks, I would sure love to know what is going on to make them move.
    Great Read I really enjoyed it!

  37. baladewa Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 7:17 am

    great article ben…

  38. Unofre Pili Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 8:08 am

    Really enigmatic! A very nice article bren.

  39. pengirl M Burdick Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 8:16 am

    Great article. These mysteries fascinate me. Our planet is a really cool place to live.

  40. Debbie Mahler Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 9:00 am

    Cannot wait to see what the satellite and GPS shows! Thanks for the great article!

  41. Alina Beck Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    Totally cool in every way!

  42. Andrew Davies Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    It is time for me to go and research this further, thanks for the great article, and the new found interest.

  43. rutherfranc Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 1:54 pm

    really mysterious and fascinating.. this really needs further investigation..

  44. CutestPrincess Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 2:31 pm

    Amazing article, so well researched, fabulous photo pix — I am breathless with your talent to put together such wonder!

  45. Loving Child Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I learned something new and quite interesting today! Thanks!

  46. Glynis Smy Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 4:29 pm

    Fascinating subject, something new for me, great article, thanks!

  47. Mercedes Selvira Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    Very interesting… I wonder why so few of us have heard about this before.

  48. ML Sheldon Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    Ok, now that is neat. Has anyone suggested aliens yet? (kidding, of course).

    Very interesting article. :)

  49. Bullwinkle Muse Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 6:13 pm

    Very interesting subject, and a really nice read, Bren.

  50. Kathleen (from digg) Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 6:21 pm

    I never knew about this. So fascinating! I would love to go see these rocks!

  51. postpunkpixie Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 7:45 pm

    How bizarre. Very interesting article, I’d never heard of those before.

  52. derrickblogs Says...

    On March 11, 2009 at 11:37 pm

    Very nice, I wonder how they move as well, its got to be something you might need a scientist and a engineer to figure this out.

  53. lindalulu Says...

    On March 12, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Wonderful Bren as always!!!! We all get these type of comments sometimes…so annoying!

  54. catlord Says...

    On March 12, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Found this via DIGG. -My wife was telling me last night about this article but neglected to say whom wrote it. :-)

    Very interesting!! -Gee… what if they ’spiked’ a few rocks deeply to the ground to see if that holds them in place while leaving a few ‘control rocks’ nearby un-spiked, to see if *they* move…
    Or, embed a rock or two with a GPS tracker… monitor from orbit. ;->

    Lovely article; DUGG


  55. Peter Cimino Says...

    On March 12, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    This articled ROCKED!! No pun intended! LOL! I have visited that area many years ago. Very unforgettable. Nice twist on the Roswell incident as well. AWESOME WORK!!

  56. Investinmenetwork Says...

    On March 12, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    this is great , loved the pictures as well ,very interesting peice

  57. Eclipse7 Says...

    On March 12, 2009 at 6:31 pm

    I love this article! This was very interesting article. I like the picture!

  58. Dee Gold Says...

    On March 13, 2009 at 8:24 am

    a very wonderful atrticle

  59. dee gold Says...

    On March 13, 2009 at 8:29 am

    sorry for the typo

  60. jeff Says...

    On March 15, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    The video clip you linked, I believe, posits a different, simple, and (compared to the others) believable explanation. Or perhaps I read to much into it? It states that the valley floor frequently becomes flooded with a shallow body of water, which freezes every night, and thaws in the daytime. When these ice sheets are thawing, they would be floating on the meltwater beneath them, as it flows across the surface, dragging embedded rocks with the ice, sometimes in a straight line, sometimes curved or crooked. Rocks that are not embedded would stay put. I find that explanation quite easy to visualize.

  61. HatedNation Says...

    On March 16, 2009 at 1:39 am

    According to the National Park Service, there are 8 other playas near Death Valley where this phenomenon occurs

    And this is very analytical of the subject:

  62. Bren Parks Says...

    On March 16, 2009 at 7:38 am

    yes, jeff, you are right, but they have disproved that one ………but who knows……..and thanks HatedNation, I am fascinated and will take a look, who knows, may even do another edit on this one…….thanks!

  63. Michelle Says...

    On March 17, 2009 at 6:46 am

    Great story! very interesting to read.

  64. S A JOHNSON Says...

    On March 21, 2009 at 6:24 am

    Very cool article

  65. Jake O Says...

    On April 6, 2009 at 6:29 pm

    Wow, I have never heard of this before. That is amazing that they can advance across the desert in such a way. I am very curious as to how this happens. I really enjoyed your article, it is well written and the pictures add so much.

  66. James DeVere Says...

    On April 15, 2009 at 12:40 am

    Topic 10/10
    Grammar 100%
    Readability 150%

    Thank-you, I couldn’t stop reading each word…Tops . j

  67. Brian Daniel Stankich Says...

    On May 20, 2009 at 7:21 pm

    Bren, I didn’t know. How fascinating! Brian

  68. HelloSiti Says...

    On June 16, 2009 at 12:49 pm

    It is suitable with Al Qur’an that actually mountain is moving.

  69. Teves Says...

    On October 15, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Good Work…

  70. Alien Says...

    On October 26, 2009 at 6:50 pm

    Area 51 = Nevada
    Roswell = New Mexico

  71. Arnie M Says...

    On October 30, 2009 at 10:59 pm

    Would be nice to roll one over and check future movement. At least it would give us a chance to check for legs :-)

  72. spronto Says...

    On February 6, 2010 at 6:21 pm

  73. SanTang Says...

    On March 26, 2010 at 11:06 am

    It is not the stones, it is the ground under that moves.

  74. Noogie Says...

    On March 26, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    I believe that Jesus moves them with his love.

  75. Anon Says...

    On April 7, 2010 at 3:07 pm

    These rocks move due to strong winds during some wet seasons. These rocks only move every once in a few years. Sometimes they tumble over, changing their further track form. The tracks are only a few years visible. Nice phenomena though.

  76. Edge Says...

    On April 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Hmm the students tried to move the rocks physically yet didn\’t attempt to even use wind or air in any way. Could it be that the high winds coupled with the very porous rocks create an effect similar to a hovercraft, where the exposed surface is besieged with shifting high winds, while the underside is surrounded in a sort of mud skirt of sorts. Small amounts of pressurized air from the winds attempt to escape underneath and with the slippery surface lift the rock and the winds then just give it the ever so slightest movement to push it along in some direction. There is nothing that says these rocks are moving at high speeds, it could be minuscule movements over long periods of time.

  77. Sailing Stones Says...

    On June 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Time and pressure can do extraordinary things. And is that the stones all the time in the world of travel. And the world has the pressure. This is not a surprise to me. think people think too deeply about it. in this valley, I bet that the winds could be in excess of 80 miles per hour four days and days. and given the mud and rocks ice factor movements. see what tornadoes can do it with just the wind. try to live in windy parts of Wyoming and understand. I must say that is interesting and allows people to think. but not try to get scientific about it.

  78. alvinwriter Says...

    On November 8, 2010 at 8:42 pm

    These stones are an amazing tourist attraction!

  79. elnavann Says...

    On February 17, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    Amazing – maybe known in America, but it is the first time I heard of this

  80. Tony Payne Says...

    On March 10, 2011 at 5:43 am

    These really are quite a phenomenon. It would take more than wind to move a heavy rock like these. Maybe we need a satellite that is dedicated to studying them.

    How about them being made of a material that is attracted by the rotation of the moon, who’se magnetic effect causes them to virtually lose contact with the ground. Then it would only take the slightest breeze to move them.

    Just another crackpot theory, but since none of the other ones stand up to well so far…

  81. Carl Says...

    On March 17, 2011 at 4:27 am

    Can it be magnetism? Mayber there’s some magnetic phenomena lying underground and rocks just have that needed amount of metal to be pushed towards the source o_O.

  82. G. Velez Says...

    On March 23, 2011 at 9:44 am

    Sounds like a “new” propulsion system being tested.

  83. dnasca Says...

    On March 23, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I wonder if what we are seeing here is not actually the rock itself moving, but instead the earth moving and the rock staying in a more static location due to some magnetic forces.

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    On November 19, 2011 at 12:44 am

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  85. REN Says...

    On March 15, 2012 at 3:49 am

    好神奇的石头, my

  86. quayla Says...

    On May 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    is this a blog??

  87. Tiki33 Says...

    On October 21, 2012 at 2:19 am

    I’m curious about this. I wonder how long it will take scientist to figure out how the rocks move.

  88. Oklahoma J. Hill Says...

    On November 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    I realize we all have theories as well as doubt others. I’ve never been there nor seen anything about these stones aside from my browsing the net.
    Yes, and now I too have found an ineresting theory. That non the ones I have heard hold water. It just took a bit of interest and alot of research to find that it never freezes on the basin, Least not enough to move a blade of grass. and the Winds that blow so strong are the Sanna Ana winds which blow late summer, early fall.
    So there is no way that would do it. Plus, It would take a 2′ sheet to even begin to move 5 or 7 hundred ponds of dead weight bogged down in mud.
    But while chasing down all this, several things kept appearing that I didn’t untill later put together. Then I went about backtracking and taking another look at the possibilities.
    It all starts with History. I am currently writing a paper on the facts and not theory. My thoughts on the Sailing Stones of Badwater Basin was, and is still being researched.

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