Death Valley May 2007

A Virtual Visit to the Devils Race Track

I would love to have visited the Devils Race Track, but it was quite a ways from where I stayed in death Valley, and the road was reputedly difficult.  So I watched it described on television instead.

This is the part where they scare you about the road:

And this is the dry lake bed where, apparently, rocks move when no one is looking (there has never been an eyewitness to movement, said the TV program).

This is the lake bed up close, looks like the same salt-indurated clays that exist elsewhere in the dry lakes of this desert:

But something different is happening here: rocks are moving, leaving trails, but they are not rolling!

Nothing this shape would roll easily:

Some places the trails merge into an optical illusion with other features in the landscape:

Other places, they seem to be in a race:

Bets, anyone?  But all in all it is a fascinating place that I want to go visit for real soon.

There are a number of ideas about how the rocks move including water and high winds.  They certainly get high winds here (see the sandstorm page below).  The dry lakes also get water occasionally.  My own theory?  Wetting causes swelling of the clays around the rock more than under the rock, until water penetrates there too.  Drying in the direction away from the sun occurs slower than where the sun shines (or the dessicating wind blows).  In the meantime, water is finally penetrating under the rock and selling those clays, tipping the rock in the drying direction ever so slightly and moving it a very, very small amount.

I can't help but relate this phenomenon to the one that produces desert pavement: wind drops clays and silts around any obstacle on the surface.  Wetting and drying cements these clays together into structures that shrink and swell and push gravel that may be embedded, which does not shrink or swell, toward the surface to allow more expansion below.  And so rocks rise to the top of the cay layer always found beneath them.  If you don't believe me, read the poster that comes up when you click here.

(Just in case they remove the poster from that website, here it is also).

What do they call a pooling of mutual ignorance:  an expert elicitation?

 Go to Devils Golf Course page

 Go to Golden Canyon Walk pages

Take a walk in the Panamint Range

Take a walk in a sand storm

 Go on a tour with the Amargosa Conservancy

 Go to 2007 Yearbook Page

 Go to Link-Outline page

 Go Home to ThoughtsandPlaces.Org start page