Sailing Stones 

Sailing Stones 

Friday’s Column: Supplemental Strength

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Brent Pollard

Death Valley. The very name is foreboding. Yet, Death Valley is the home to an extraordinary phenomenon known as “sailing rocks.” On the border of California and Nevada, there is a section of the Death Valley National Park called the Racetrack Playa. It is a dry riverbed. Why is it referred to as a “racetrack?” Dotting the Racetrack Playa are those sailing stones that seemingly move of their own accord. No human eye has observed one of the rocks move, and yet, it is evident that they do. Stones weighing even hundreds of pounds move across the dry riverbed, leaving evidence of their journey in a trail through the sand behind them.  One of the longest observed tracks was 1,500 feet long. And so, these rocks race across Death Valley.

First recorded in the early 1900s, scientists have endeavored to discover the truth behind the sailing stones. In 2014, scientists were finally able to capture the movement of the rocks using timelapse photography. As the National Parks website suggests, “The results strongly suggest that the sailing stones are the result of a perfect balance of ice, water, and wind.” 1 The National Park Service further detail the findings of cousins, Richard and James Norris:

Their observations show that moving the rocks requires a rare combination of events. First, the playa fills with water, which must be deep enough to allow formation of floating ice during cold winter nights but shallow enough to expose the rocks. As nighttime temperatures plummet, the pond freezes to form sheets of “windowpane” ice, which must be thin enough to move freely but thick enough to maintain strength. On sunny days, the ice begins to melt and break up into large floating panels, which light winds drive across the playa pool. The ice sheets shove rocks in front of them and the moving stones leave trails in the soft mud bed below the pool surface. 2

It is undoubtedly a remarkable sight. The wonder this phenomenon instills likewise reminds us of the majesty and power of the Invisible Intelligence (cf. Romans 1.20), creating the very physics making moving rocks possible.

As I read about the sailing stones, I could not help but recall the words of Jesus when asked by the Pharisees to rebuke His followers. The occasion was Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The people were crying out their “hosannas” to the Lord. Jesus told the Pharisees, quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, that “if these become silent, the stones will cry out!” (Luke 19.40 NASB; Habakkuk 2.11) Indeed!

If you ever question your worth to God, recall the sailing stones. Without the benefit of intelligence or purpose, they still point to their Creator. They appear to be immovable, and yet are pliable by the laws God put in place. As I take stock of what I can do, I note that even I can do more than the sailing stones, possessing locomotion and free will. How shameful, then, when I choose to sit silent as a boulder. May God use me like a rock so others can see my deeds and give God the glory (Matthew 5.13-16).

REFERENCES:

1 The Sailing Stones of Death Valley. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2020, from https://www.nationalparks.org/connect/blog/sailing-stones-death-valley

2 The Racetrack. (n.d.). Retrieved August 27, 2020, from https://www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/the-racetrack.htm

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