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In a dry lake bed of California’s Death Valley known as the Racetrack Playa, something weird and wonderful happens. Rocks – some of them pretty small, some of them great big ones weighing hundreds of pounds – crawl around on their own, leaving big trails behind. No joke, no trick, not a hoax, they really do, and have been for as long as people have known the place existed. Go there and this is what you’ll see:

For decades, this freaked people out. It’s not the sort of place in which you’d pitch a tent and hang around for a couple of weeks – it ain’t called Death Valley for nothing, cousin – so nobody was ever on hand to see it happen. All anybody knew was that whenever you paid a visit, the rocks were apt to have moved about on their own, as if they’d sprung briefly to life and crawled around for a while like big old slugs. Not all the time. The things would sit still for the longest while, behaving themselves like the ordinary inanimate rocks they obviously were, but then one day you’d go back and discover they’d all been running around again. There was lots of speculation about spirits, magic, aliens and such. Maybe the Racetrack was the site of a gravity vortex or something? The only thing certain was that the phenomenon was real.

Then, see the attached video, a couple of geologists decided there had to be a prosaic explanation, and set out to solve the mystery. They set up cameras, and attached GPS transponders to various rocks, and sure enough, there was nothing magic going on at all. Actually, the truth of it turned out to be rather boring. The thing about Death Valley is that it does rain there once in a blue moon, and it also gets cold, so when conditions are just right, the lake bed will form a thin layer of ice, which then starts to melt in the sun, creating a lubricating layer of water on top. Throw in a stiff breeze and the rocks skid along the flat level surface with ease, like stones on a curling rink, travelling several feet at a time, changing direction with the wind. They were able to catch it on camera.


If I’d been writing this ten years ago, I’d have been able to call it a genuine mystery that had everybody baffled, but not anymore. No, the frigging scientists had to stick their noses in and come up with a solution, which is just like them.

I guess what that leaves us with is a former mind-bender.

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