Mysterious Moving Rocks

At the Racetrack Playa, a dried up lakebed in Death Valley, CA- the rocks move! They even leave trails. No one has seen them move. They don’t move very often- maybe once every several years. Some serve left and right and one named “Karen” even made a sharp right angle turn.Moving Rock at Racetrack Playa

Death Valley is an area of desert that is below sea level. Let’s say you wanted to walk from the bottom of the valley on flat (level) land all the way to the coast. To do this a tunnel would have to be made through the earth. That would be the only way you could stay level with the bottom of the valley. Once you got to the coast, you would be underwater- 282 feet underwater. Death Valley is the eighth lowest dry land area in the world!

It is also famous for being the hottest place in North America. Temperatures can reach over 100oF for many days in a row. The ground temperature is at least 40% greater than the air temperature.

Rainfall has increased 50% in the last 30 years to approximately 2.5 inches per year…not a lot for an entire year. On average Massachusetts receives 45 inches of rain per year. One rainy day in Massachusetts could equal the total rainfall for one year in Death Valley.

At this point, no one is exactly sure why the rocks move.  Does it have something to do with:

  • The shallow lake that forms at one end of the basin due to flash flooding?
  • The wind? Can the wind blow fast enough to move a rock? How heavy are the rocks?
  • Temperatures reaching below freezing the during winter nights?
  • The rain events that only deliver between 0.04 to 0.35 inches of rain?

Search the web. Read the theories by scientists as to “why the rocks move”. Take a closer look at the weather data in that area. Study the geology of the lakebed. What is your explanation as to why the rocks move?

Groundhog Questions and Answers








What do groundhogs do to get ready for winter?

We usually eat a bit more in the fall since during the winter we will hibernate underground- that means we go into a deep sleep. Sometimes we even dig another burrow for our hibernation.  Burrows are usually dug below the frost line (or the depth at which the water in the ground will freeze) so that they will stay warmer.  We might go as deep as 5 feet underground when making a burrow.  And of course we add a little extra insulation, like grass or hay to keep warm too.

What happens when you hibernate?

Hibernation is kind of like sleeping without getting up until spring. Our body temperature drops and our heart rate, breathing, and metabolism (other chemical reactions in our body) all slow down.

How big is a typical burrow?

In a typical burrow, we might have as many as 5 to 7 openings to the ground surface.  Some of my friends have up to 46 feet of tunnels in their burrows.  One burrow might require the removal of 35 cubic feet of dirt or 710 pounds of dirt.

What do groundhogs do when out and about all day?

We like to eat. We are herbivores so we only eat plants. Next, we have to watch out for the foxes, coyotes, and hawks that might try to eat us. If we need to we will climb trees to take a look at the surroundings.  And believe it or not, we are excellent swimmers.

Do you really look for your shadow on Groundhog Day?

We leave the shadow spotting to the Ground Hogs at the zoos especially to Phil in Punxsutawney, PA.  That hole shadow business is too much of a mob scene for us that live in wild. Plus we are still hibernating at that time and really don’t want to leave our warm burrows!