The Moving Rocks are in a remote area of Death Valley on a dry lake bed that is not really always dry. When dry, the lake bed is incredibly picturesque on its own with a beautiful cracked pattern on a warm colored clay. The painted mountains in the back make for a beautiful panorama.
The location itself is terrible to get to and it is possibly the longest 20 miles in that we have ever traveled. High ride is not enough to get you there on some days. If it rains, it is unlikely one would make it.
It was a challenge to get information on the moving rocks at Death Valley. The reason that they move along the 10,000 year old dried up clay lake bed had been a mystery for many years. Many teams of scientists had tried to explain their movement, but in the end it is now known that it takes a 'perfect storm" of events to move the rocks. This is what must happen for movement:
- It rains
- It is cold (usually night)
- The water freezes into sheets of ice
- The temperature warms up (usually as the sun rises)
- The ice begins to melt and results in a combination of water and a sheet of ice only about 1/4" thick
- A wind picks up to about 10mph and the ice sheets move the rocks very slowly.
That is how the smaller rocks moved, but the bigger ones? Well, that is still a mystery.
Getting to the moving rocks is an adventure in itself. We went to the ranger's station to get information on the trip out there past the crater. An assistant to the rangers argued why we should not go out there - from voiding the car rental agreement to the possibility of rain and mud. We believe that he may not want people to go out there because some people steal or move the rocks and he does not want any more damage to the site. It is true, however, that this may void a rental agreement and rain would have resulted in a long stay out in the desert.
We figured that we had already voided any rental agreement when we drove to Death Valley via a gravel road with huge pits and drop-offs, so what could be worse? We were about to find out. We drove out along the 20 mile dirt road, and in an hour we were at the moving rocks.
The site itself was amazing. The battery to my best camera was dead and I was left with a spare camera my father had given me when he no longer wanted it due to his upgrade. I was devastated that the point of the trip was to take photos of one of the most unique things we would ever see. Surprisingly, even with the secondary camera, the photos I took ended up on greeting cards, a documentary for the Travel Chanel (something like 10 most unusual places?), and a few publications in technical journals. The rule of Never Blame Your Tools for Bad Work might be true. I had blamed the camera on failure before I even captured first image but I forgot to credit the subject, good lighting, good choice in composition, backdrop, sky vs. land ratio, and other elements that can allow for success. Let's face it, there have been some great photos taken with iPhones! Let your camera catch the story.
The Ranger was Right
On the drive back, which took three hours, we ran into someone who had their vehicle stuck in the road (as the ranger had warned about). We stopped to help, but it looked like they were going to be there for the night. The odd story about these people is that the husband wanted to show the wife where he had been lost in the desert for days before park rangers rescued him from near death. We interpreted this as a husband showing his wife that he still makes poor decisions related to desert visitations. Neither the husband nor the wife wished to hitch a ride back with us, so we spent the next 45 minutes trying to get around their van in a single track road. It was dark before we made it by and continued to civilization.
We hope what we share will help people to learn about the rocks and see their unique beauty without having to get out there themselves. It is probably a road we would not travel again as it is a whole day if nothing goes wrong and we think our luck was used up on our last trip out there. There is a lot on the internet now that the mystery has been solved. Prior to that, there was not much, and we are happy to see the Moving Rocks finally have their day on the front page.
We would like to extend a special thanks to the rangers at Death Valley who have dedicated decades to protecting this unique spot on our planet along with all of the other hidden gems in the park. Death Valley continues to be one of our most favorite spots on earth. It is a place we will hope to visit many more times to explore the other mysteries the park holds.