The Racetrack Playa's unusual surface features known as sliding rocks have been the subject of an ongoing debate and several mapping projects for half a century, although the causative mechanism remains unresolved. Clasts ranging in volume from large pebbles to medium boulders have, unwitnessed, maneuvered around the nearly flat dry lake over considerable distances. The controversy has persisted partly because eyewitness accounts of the phenomenon continue to be lacking, and the earlier mapping missions were limited in method and geographic range. In July 1996, we generated the first complete map of all observed sliding rock trails by submeter differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) mapping technology. The resulting map shows 162 sliding rocks and associated trails to an accuracy of approximately 30 cm. Although anemometer data are not available in the Racetrack wilderness, wind is clearly a catalyst for sliding rock activity; an inferred wind rose was constructed from DGPS trail segment data. When the entire trail network is examined in plan, some patterns emerge, although other (perhaps expected relations) remain elusive: terrain analysis of the surrounding topography demonstrates that the length and morphology of trails are more closely related to where rocks rested at the onset of motion than to any physical attribute of the rocks themselves. Follow-up surveys in May 1998, May 1999, August 1999, and November 1999 revealed little modification of the July, 1996 sliding rock configuration. Only four rocks were repositioned during the El Nino winter of 1997-1998, suggesting that activity may not be restricted to winter storms. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Terrain analysis of the racetrack basin and the sliding rocks of Death Valley