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Physics Girl explains the mystery of the Sailing Rocks

Written By | Apr 9, 2022
sailing rocks, death valley

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DEATH VALLEY: Sailing stones (also called sliding, walking, rolling, moving, and wandering, rocks/stones) have been a mystery for many years. Nobody had ever seen these rocks/stones in motion but yet they left long tracks or trails across the smooth desert valley floor. Scientists from around the world conducted research to try to determine what was making these rocks/stones move when nobody was around and many options were considered.

Even the thought that determined pranksters were somehow showing up late at night and moving things manually was considered.  After all, some of these moving marvels have weighed in at up to 700 pounds!

At a location in Death Valley in California known as Racetrack Playa, these tracks had been studied since 1915.

At that time a Joseph Crook was out looking for precious metals when he came upon the mysterious site where rocks had seemingly moved leaving tracks on the desert floor without human intervention. Speculation and multiple hypotheses remained where research was conducted to prove or disprove them. However, not until August 2014, did two scientists who also happen to be cousins come up with an experiment to determine what was happening in these phenomena.

Dr. Richard Norris, a Paleo biologist, and his cousin, James Norris, a research engineer conclusively solved the mystery in 2014. A young lady YouTuber that has the channel, “Physics Girl” just did an outstanding job of reporting on these two men and giving them the proper credit they deserve as some online sources (Wikipedia) have failed to do so.

Physics Girl is a young lady scientist who has millions of regular viewers on her YouTube channel. Her website,, tells us this about her:

“Hawaii born and raised, Dianna (Cowern) was inspired by physics as a girl. Thanks to encouragement by her teachers and family, she pursued a physics degree at MIT. She subsequently explored careers in scientific research (at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics), software engineering (at General Electric) and science outreach (at the Reuben H Fleet Science Center and the University of California San Diego) before committing to the Physics Girl YouTube channel full-time.”

Physics Girl does an outstanding job of explaining complex concepts in an understandable fashion in a brief amount of time.

On March 31 of 2022, she dropped a video on her YouTube channel titled “99 Years Later… We Solved It.” Physics Girl interviews the two Norris cousins as they give her a tour of Racetrack Playa.  The cousins then offer her a recap of their successful experiment to determine why these rocks are “making tracks”, as the old expression goes.

Physics Girl reports that the lakebed of the Racetrack Playa contains fairly level sediment that is said to run 1,000 feet deep.

Dr. Richard Norris does most of the talking but very complimentary gives credit to his cousin Jim. He explains that Jim came up with the idea of taking some of their own rocks to leave on the Racetrack Playa with electronic GPS tracking devices embedded inside them. The rocks were placed along with a remote weather station and video surveillance equipment. The movement of the rocks would trigger the GPS to turn on and the entire system to go live. Pretty genius!

The experiment was set up in 2011 and then just several years later something happened.

The Norris cousins give credit to and mention a previous experiment of 1976 titled “Sliding stones, Racetrack Playa, California” conducted by Robert D. Sharp and Dwight L. Carey referenced as the Sharp-Carey experiment. In that experiment, they put stakes in the ground surrounding a couple of rocks. In that experiment one rock moved while the other remained in the circle of stakes. These two scientists speculated that if sheets of ice were moving the rocks with the help of wind, both of the rocks would have left the circle.

The Norris cousins believed the results of this experiment ruled out ice and thought some force such as a hurricane must be moving these rocks instead.

Then, camping out in the desert in December of 2013 a snowstorm happened which was followed by melting causing a pond on the Racetrack Playa some 4 to 6 inches deep. During the cold nights, the pond would turn to ice some 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick. Then on December 21st, 2013, it happened!

A temperature warmup caused the ice to break up which was followed by a decent amount of warmer winds. The two cousins heard popping and cracking sounds coming from all over the Racetrack Playa surface”, and Dr. Norris said to his cousin, “This is it!'”

While the Norris cousins were in another part of the Racetrack Playa, their experiment’s equipment recorded rocks moving at another location when large ice sheets a few millimeters thick floating started to break up during a sunny period and then, with the help of a little wind, began moving the rocks. Thereafter their equipment captured time-lapse video footage of rocks moving with the help of the huge sheets of ice pushing them by the winds. Their video observations contradicted earlier hypotheses. The floating ice panels were then recorded pushing rocks at a speed of up to 5 m/min (0.3 km/h). Some of these events lasted up to 16 minutes.

The largest rock movement the Norris researchers recorded and documented was on December 20, 2013

This event involved more than 60 rocks. Some of those rocks moved up to 224 m between December 2013 and January 2014 in multiple movement events.

Thus the rocks moving are attributed to the scientific phenomena known as a “Seiche event”. A Seiche event is when consistent winds push a body of water, or ice, in one direction for a prolonged period of time. The parting of the Red Sea by Moses has been scientifically explained as a Seiche event. Roman chariot wheels have been found in one shallow area of the Red Sea proving this Biblical event really did happen.

A very good video of a Seiche event is shown in this video captured on the shore of Lake Superior.

Some that see this may try to mistakenly dismiss this as a low tide/high tide event but the Great Lakes do not have tides, as such.

In 2014 the cousins published their scientific paper along with 3 other men of science of their experiment; “Sliding Rocks on Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park: First Observation of Rocks in Motion”, Richard D. Norris, James M. Norris, Ralph D. Lorenz, Jib Ray, Brian Jackson.

Trails of moving rocks/stones have been observed and studied in various other locations around the world.

Some National Park Rangers and law enforcement personnel would rather people visit them as they are less remote than the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park, California. One offered in America is the Little Bonnie Claire Playa, in Nevada. It is easily accessible to observe the tracks of sliding rocks/stones just east of Scotty’s Castle between the park boundary and Highway 95. The south shore of this playa runs along the north side of Highway 72. The Little Bonnie Claire Playa falls under the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park Service.

For those who insist on following in the steps of Physics Girl and the Norris cousins, Death Valley National Park Service warns people that the Racetrack Playa is located in a remote area of the park. Road conditions are treacherous requiring high ground clearance vehicles with heavy-duty tires. They say you should not attempt a trip to the Racetrack Playa without plenty of fuel and water. There is no cell phone service in that area.

It is a good idea to let local law enforcement you are going there before you leave and tell them when you expect to return. They warn you should be prepared for the possibility of spending the night in your vehicle if it becomes disabled and the weather can be very hot (up to 135 degrees) and very cold (below freezing) depending on the time of year.


Read more from Mark Schwendau.

About the author:

Mark Schwendau is a conservative Christian patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development). He prides himself on his critical thinking ability  Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing. He used the byline, “bringing little known facts to people who want to see the truth. Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter. And shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting.

His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech

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Mark Schwendau

Mark Schwendau is a Christian conservative patriot and retired technology professor (CAD-CAM and web development) who prides himself on his critical thinking ability. Schwendau has had a long sideline of newspaper editorial writing where he used the byline, “- bringing little known facts to people who simply want to know the truth.” Mark is on alternative free speech social media platforms after lifetime bans from Facebook and Twitter and shadow bans from Instagram and Fox News commenting. His website is www.IDrawIWrite.Tech