There was a second wide spot in the road at the south end of the playa; we parked and continued our explorations. This time we found stones sitting on the surface of the lakebed. There were not many, and we had to hike a mile or so to find them. Some sat happily contemplating their position in the uniform semi-infinite plane of mud cracks. Others showed a faint trail of disturbed, and now solidified mud, leading to their current position. These were the famous sailing stones!Continue reading
Life highlights are those you can list on a single hand. They are indelible events that exceed the normal range of our experience. They may include a first kiss, the birth of a child, recognition of a career accomplishment, or the challenging hike to reach a beautiful mountain pass. This is the story of adding one more of those outlier life experiences to my list.
Years ago, I had read about the geologic mystery of the “sailing stones” on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley. Death Valley is an intriguing place and not just because of its ominous (and deserved) name. It is a geology and biology classroom, displaying the impacts of volcanoes intruding on sedimentary layers that have been shape-shifted into ribbons of colorful escarpments with water and wind-eroded features. Somehow, the valley has fallen below sea level, and the water, when there is water, dissolves minerals from the mountains and finds its way to the bottom, where it evaporates and leaves the residue behind as a salt flat.
In the spring, the water also nourishes an intense flowering of desert plants, desperate to reproduce. For a few brief weeks, colorful plants and flowers adorn the roadsides and cover the otherwise barren hills. I have been to Death Valley during this season, during a “superbloom” following an unusually wet winter. It was a stunning display of flowers in this otherwise arid and nonviable setting, something I had never expected to see. As impressive as this floral show was, I had really hoped to visit the famous sailing stones on the playa.Continue reading