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A. Current problem: The essence of the Racetrack Playa and the phenomenon of the sailing stones.

B. Population/Area of Focus: the Racetrack Playa;

C. Key Terms: the Racetrack Playa, sailing stones.

Thesis statement: The official reason for the movement of stones and the main hypothesis of this phenomenon is the influence of the wind flows and frozen water.


In 1948, geologist Thomas Clement began to study the Racetrack Playa and the movement of the stones for the first time.

3. MAJOR POINT: For the many years, scientists have studied and provided hypotheses about the Racetrack Playa and the phenomenon of the sailing stones.

Minor point: This is the biggest area in the world where the stones can move independently.


Restatement of thesis: the Racetrack Playa and its stones are the amazing phenomena of the United States. The place has many hypotheses of origin, but the official theory concerns the action of air and water.

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The Racetrack Playa – an Ancient Dried-up Lake

The Racetrack Playa is an ancient dried-up lake located in the south of Death Valley in California. This place has a very smooth and flat plain with a clay surface. More to say, a geological phenomenon of sailing stones is observed at the bottom of this lake. It should be noted that there exist various hypotheses of their origin. Scientists name different reasons of this unbelievable process. The official reason for the movement of stones and the main hypothesis of this phenomenon is the influence of wind flows and frozen water. The goal of this essay is to analyze the essence of the Racetrack Playa and the phenomenon of the sailing stones.

The Analysis of the Area

In 1849, the settlers traveling in search of the shortest path to the gold mines of California gave the name “Death Valley” to one of their routes (Miller & Wright, 2002). In fact, many of them died in the expanse of the valley. Those who survived and reached their goals left a gloomy title for this land. Today, Death Valley is the largest national park in the United States with the total area of 13,518 km? (Miller & Wright, 2002). This park is interesting for its pristine nature and the beautiful landscape that attracts many tourists and researchers for its geological, historical, and aesthetic resources. In fact, the valley of sailing stones is a waterless desert exposed to temperature changes. The dried up lake bottom of the Racetrack Playa is a salted clayey field with a smooth surface, whose length is 4.5 km and width of 2.2 km (Miller & Wright, 2002). The Ridge Mountains decorate the open space of this lake (Miller & Wright, 2002). For the most part of the year, the lakebed is dry and covered with a crust of takyrs. In the central part, there is a solid rock. In summer, the area is exposed to the scorching rays of sun, and the usual daily temperature in the shade is about 50°C (Miller & Wright, 2002). However, the winters in the region could bring hurricane winds, snow, and blizzard. More to say, the night temperature in winter falls below 0°C, but in the daytime, the desert still has a high temperature (Miller & Wright, 2002). The cracked surface of the dried-up lake is dotted with moving stones. In fact, this is the biggest area in the world where stones can move independently. Most stones appeared from the bottom of the dolomite hill located in the southern part of the Racetrack Playa. People can see numerous trail stone through the entire area of the lake. Mainly, they move from south to north and from north to south. Sometimes, stones change their course in the opposite direction, and their trails can diverge and intersect. The length of trails is from 3-5 to several hundred meters (Miller & Wright, 2002). In fact, these stones have the ability to roll from side to side, maneuver, and sometimes even roll over. They show high activity in the center of the dried-up lake. Occasionally, these stones change their trajectory because of the intervention of people. In fact, each stone in Death Valley is numbered, and it even has a name.

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The Study of the Area

The study of this area and it natural phenomenon began in 1948 (Palazzo, 2008). The first researcher, who worked directly at the bottom of the Racetrack Playa, was a geologist Thomas Clement. He went to Death Valley to study sailing stones in 1952 (Palazzo, 2008). His general goal was to see firsthand how the stones moved. Thus, the geologist lived in the desert for a long time. One night, the weather was bad, which forced the scientist to hide in his tent. It rained all night, and wind was quite strong. In the morning, when Clement looked out of his tent, he saw that the stones had moved from the original location, as evidenced by the grooves in the sand (Palazzo, 2008). On that day, the geologist assumed that the water had caused slippery surface. He noticed that the rain had become the lubricant for the boulders and this process facilitated the sliding of stones. Clement also noticed that the stones had a different trajectory. Paula Messina, the geologist of the San Jose University of California, observed the unusual geological phenomenon in Death Valley during the period from 1993 to 1998 (Palazzo, 2008). She learned that they were composed of dolomite, and they fell into the lake from the mountain ridges. The smooth plain of the surface is composed of clay particles from the mountains. These parts make up the slippery clay that spreads on the bottom surface. Moreover, Messina found some colonies of microorganisms on the surface of the dried lake (Palazzo, 2008). After five years of work, the geologist did not form new theories about this phenomenon. She supported the opinion of other researchers who believed that the stones had moved owing to various natural factors. In 2010, NASA experts decided to reveal the secret of the mysterious phenomenon to stop the formation of fantastic hypotheses (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). The group of students and 17 researchers led by NASA went to the dried-up lakes and spent many days in the desert of Death Valley (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). During the observation, it had been found that one of the biggest “sailing” boulders, weighing 320 kg, covered the distance of 18 meters for 31 days (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). The US researchers also found that the shape, weight, and size of the stone did not play any role in his move. Thus, every stone is unique. Sometimes, the stones travel in pairs and leave parallel grooves. In the locations where the soil has a loose structure, boulders plow the surface.

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The Reasons for the Movement of Stones

There are several hypotheses about the mysterious phenomenon of moving stones. Scientists have speculated that earthquakes, high gravity, water flows, and magnetism could cause this process, but the experiments and measurements have denied all hypotheses (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). Moreover, scientists tested the theory of George Stanley who suggested that the stones moved along surfaces covered with ice. According to his hypothesis, night temperature covers the desert with the ice shell that allows boulders to slip (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). The researcher Gunther Kletechka conducted an experiment to test this assumption (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). In winter 2010, he placed sensors under some stones. Because of the received information, he was able to find out that in March, the desert was indeed covered with ice (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). This theory explains the fact that large rocks move to a greater distance than smaller ones because it is more difficult to slow down when they come in motion. The soil of the lake Racetrack Playa was also subjected to the research. Scientists have discovered a number of different data and confirmed some hypotheses. They noticed that clay soil, ice, algae, rain, and the wind could have an impact on the stones (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). The official version of this phenomenon considered the influence of wind and frozen water as the general reason of this process (Bryan & Tucker-Bryan, 2015). In fact, researches continue to study the phenomenon of the Racetrack Playa.

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The unique Racetrack Playa is located in the famous Death Valley in California, USA. The Racetrack Playa is the dried bottom of an ancient lake with the flat plain. This area covered with a crust of takyrs and solid rock in its central part. The phenomenon of this place is the sailing stones. In fact, the study of this area began in 1948. For many years, scientists around the world have tried to find it scientific evidence and put forward different hypotheses. The official reason of this process is the impact of the movement of frozen water and wind. However, scientists are still engaged in its research and they try to discover new causes of the movement of stones and the characteristics of the Racetrack Playa.