Solving the Mystery of Death Valley’s Moving Rocks – The Science Behind the Strange Phenomenon

   Death Valley in the United States is located in the desert valley of southeastern California, which is part of the Mojave Desert. It is the lowest, hottest and driest place on the entire North American continent. In the 1970s, someone discovered that there is a strange natural phenomenon here: huge stones will move slowly by themselves, leaving long tracks on the dry lake bed.
   This phenomenon has troubled people for decades, during which various “theories” emerged in an endless stream. In 2022, Benjamin Lorenz, an American geologist who has worked in Death Valley for many years, finally found out the truth of this phenomenon: the movement of boulders is related to ice. But what makes people feel sleepy is that Death Valley is always high temperature, how can there be ice?
  Losing his comrades,
  stationed in Death Valley
   Benjamin Lorenz, 48, is an American geologist who works for the Los Angeles Geological Survey. His younger brother, Dougs Lorenz, who was five years younger, was also in the exploration bureau, but his job was different from that of Benjamin. He often went out for exploration, so they didn’t spend much time together. Field exploration is full of dangers, and Benjamin always calls his brother to remind him to protect himself.
   On Christmas Eve in 2006, Dougs was notified to go to work in Death Valley, California, where borax was found to be rich in exploration.
   The Death Valley mining field is 260 kilometers away from the nearest Harmony Railway Station. In order to transport a large amount of borax out of the valley, the owner of the mine had a whim and created a “20 mule team” – consisting of two horses and 18 mules. Two mules form a group and are connected with ropes to form a wonderful transportation line up to 30 meters long.
   The “20 mule team” has to drag 2 cargo compartments and 1 water compartment each time, with a total weight of more than 30 tons, starting from the bottom of the valley nearly 60 meters below sea level, crossing mountains and ridges to the railway station at an altitude of 600 meters, and going back and forth. The trip will take 20 days. In order to make it easier for the mule team to travel, workers used salt rock gravel left over from mining to pave a road out of the valley. In the sun, the white avenue is thrown like a gleaming silver ribbon from the bottom of the deep valley.
   After arriving in Death Valley, Dawgs did not mention the severe local natural conditions to his brother Benjamin, but told him the feat of the “20 Mule Team” in surprise. On Christmas Day, Benjamin called Dougs, but couldn’t get through. Benjamin comforted himself that his brother was in an inaccessible place, and it was normal for his mobile phone to have no signal. But that night and the next day, his brother was still unable to be contacted, and Benjamin began to worry.
   Three days later, Benjamin’s worry became a reality. He received a call from the director of the Exploration Bureau, saying that Dougs probably had an accident while he was out. They were contacting the local police for rescue, and they would tell him as soon as they had any news.
   Benjamin had already heard about Death Valley. At the end of the 1840s, gold mines were discovered in California, so speculators from all over the United States packed their bags and drove their wives and children in a caravan to gather in Salt Lake City from all directions.
   In 1849, a group of late gold prospectors arrived in Salt Lake City in the late autumn. If they went to the gold mines at this time, they would probably be trapped on the road and die in the snow. Despite this, the team of gold diggers decided to take a risk and headed for the desert.
   Seeing that winter is getting closer, men, women and children who are still struggling in the desert start to feel anxious. One day, a young guy who didn’t know where he came from broke into their camp, presented a map and told them that there was a mysterious shortcut that could lead directly to the gold mine.
   To the surprise of the gold diggers, the so-called shortcut is actually a hellish valley—the rock walls on both sides of the valley bottom are very high, and there is almost no vegetation in the valley, only yellow sand all over the sky, especially the puddles that can be found along the way. It’s all salt water. If it hadn’t been for a timely winter snow, this team would have died of thirst. When they finally found a source of fresh water, more than half of the casualties had already been lost.
   People tried to break out in all directions, but they couldn’t find a way out, so they could only retreat to the water source again and again. Fewer and fewer people survived, and most of the cattle and horses pulling the carts were slaughtered for food. So, they pinned their last ray of hope on the two young men and asked them to rush out to seek rescue.
   However, the people who stayed in the valley waited for a month. They went from anticipation to doubt, and finally to despair. When the two young men finally returned with supplies, only one family was left struggling in the valley, while the others were either dead or separated. The family finally escaped. They looked back at the valley where their friends and dreams were buried, and said goodbye sadly: “Goodbye, Death Valley!” Since then, this valley has been named “Death Valley”.
   Benjamin stayed up all night, thinking of the happy time when he was a child playing with his brother. After graduating from college, Dougs had a better place to go, but he persistently entered the Exploration Bureau to follow his dream, and even applied for the most difficult field exploration position. These memories brought Benjamin to tears.
   The next day, Benjamin flew to Death Valley by helicopter. After getting off the plane, Benjamin was stunned by the scenery in front of him.
   The mountains are continuous, the valleys are magnificent, and the exposed rock walls show colorful and delicate colors due to the different compounds in them. The “Red Church” cliff not far away is covered with iron-containing red rocks, and dense longitudinal grooves outline the delicate and complicated “spires” like Gothic churches. At sunset, light and shadow fluctuate in the valley, arbitrarily changing the color of every texture in the valley.
   Dougs’ life and death were unknown, and Benjamin was in no mood to appreciate the scenery in front of him. Cody, who was in charge of receiving him, said that Dougs lost the news after going out four days ago. In the past few days, they have conducted a carpet search in the surrounding 20 kilometers, and found no clues.
   At ten o’clock that night, the search team came back one after another. Seeing everyone’s serious expressions, Benjamin was also disappointed. He came outside the empty house and felt the cold wind slipping past his ears. Cody told him that the temperature here is high all year round, but the temperature varies greatly in winter. In the middle of the night, the temperature will drop to minus 5 degrees Celsius, and it will rise to 32 to 50 degrees Celsius during the day. Benjamin’s heart skipped a beat. Can my brother survive in such a cold night?
  Accidents again and again,
  the truth to be found
   On the afternoon of January 1, 2007, Cody came to look for Benjamin in a hurry and said: “Finally found Dougs. But unfortunately, when he was found, he had no vital signs.” Under great grief, Benjamin came to The place where Dougs was killed is 25 kilometers away from the station of the Exploration Bureau. After careful inspection, Dougs’s body did not have any external injuries, and the cause of death was high temperature and lack of water.
   When sorting out Dougs’s belongings, Benjamin discovered the notebook left by his younger brother. In addition to the work log, there were also many diaries, which recorded in detail his experience and mood when he came to work here. Benjamin could feel his brother’s love for this job between the lines. In order to fulfill Dawgs’ wish during his lifetime, Benjamin applied to the Exploration Bureau to take over Dawgs’ job. Soon, his application was approved.
   After staying at the station, Benjamin found that it was not only hot, but also very dry, which often made him out of breath. Looking through the data, he found that the formation of such a landform as Death Valley dates back to 3 million years ago. At that time, the gravity of the earth crushed the earth’s crust into huge rock blocks. The rock blocks were affected by various factors and collided with each other, causing some to protrude into mountains and some to tilt. Cheng Gu. One million years ago, during the Ice Age, overwhelming glaciers expanded their channels, hit low-lying areas, submerged the entire basin floor, and formed a huge salt lake. In the long years that followed, the salt lake finally gradually dried up due to the continuous wind and sun all day long, and became a flat valley covered with layers of mud and rock salt layers. During this process, Death Valley was also affected by many special geological activities, such as large-scale landslides, magma erosion, river erosion, etc., which made it form the unique desert landscape today.

   The main reason for the extreme climate in Death Valley is the Sierra Nevada, Panamin and Agas mountains. These three mountains form a rain barrier, which prevents the sea breeze from the Pacific Ocean from entering the valley. There is no humid air entering the huge valley, and the chance of rain is almost zero. Therefore, severe water shortage makes it difficult for plants and animals to survive in Death Valley, and it is impossible to form a good biological chain.
   After the initial adaptation period, Benjamin’s work gradually got on the right track. In 2009, he and his colleagues came to a place 30 kilometers away from the station to carry out exploration. At noon, everyone was resting in place after eating, when a strong wind suddenly blew up, and the sound of “wailing” echoed in the valley.
   “We must have alarmed the gods here, they are angry.” In panic, everyone scattered to avoid. Half an hour later, the strong wind finally receded. Benjamin counted the number of people and found that except for two people who were injured, everyone else was fine.
   Back at the station, Benjamin told Cody about the strange things that happened at noon. Cody couldn’t help feeling scared after hearing this, and told about an accident that happened a few years ago. At that time, an American expedition team came to Death Valley. Two people were responsible for setting up camp on the outside to receive data, and the rest went deep into the valley to explore. During this period, the signal is always interrupted, and people on the outside often cannot contact the people inside. A few days later, a team member ran out of the valley in a panic, saying that he heard the “wailing” of the god of death, and all the team members who entered died except himself. Soon, the surviving team member also died of an inexplicable illness. In this regard, the explanation given by scientists after research is that the human magnetic field collides with the natural magnetic field in Death Valley, causing changes in the human body structure and eventually death. The “wailing” sound heard by the expedition team should be an auditory hallucination in their fear, but it is just the whistling sound formed by the sand being blown.
   This experience made Benjamin more interested in Death Valley, eager to know more about the wonders here.
   In July 2014, when the exploration team passed the open riverbed of a saline lake, someone exclaimed: “Look, those stones can move by themselves.” Benjamin stopped the car and walked out of the car. He was stunned by the scene in front of him. There are large and small stones scattered on the dry and cracked river bed, but without exception, there are long traces behind these stones. These traces look like snowballs rolling across the snow, some are straight, some are curved, and they are facing in different directions. Benjamin looked around carefully, but found no human footprints.
   “These stones must be the masterpieces of the gods. They used this method to prevent us from disturbing their tranquility.” Someone began to get nervous. Cody was not surprised, saying that as early as the 1970s, someone had discovered the scene here, but he also gave a scientific explanation, “Perhaps, it is not an exaggeration to call it a miracle.”
   Some prospectors refused to move on, so Benjamin had to settle them down and drive on with Cody. Along the way, stones were lying on the river bed in a haphazard manner, more than ten kilometers before and after. Benjamin took a large number of photos and sent them to his college tutor, George Stanley.
   After receiving the letter, George also came to Death Valley.
  Cracking the mystery,
  magical nature
   George selected 30 stones of different shapes and sizes on the river bed, labeled them one by one, and laid a metal stake next to the original position as a mark. It was found that, except for two pieces that were slightly shifted, the rest were in their original positions.
   George made a comprehensive map that can better reflect the real terrain through GPS. The map shows that the stone movement in the east of the riverbed is a standard straight line, while the stone traces in the west are more complicated. According to the characteristics of these rocks moving, George deduced that the special topography of the river bed and the strong wind blowing from time to time in the canyon pushed the stones. Now the stones are not moving because the windy winter has not yet arrived.
   In the winter of that year, Benjamin conducted two experiments in the station according to George’s conclusion, but no matter how windy the canyon was, the stone did not move. For the next two or three years, Benjamin would continue to do experiments and tried various methods, but still found nothing. “Obviously, Professor George, there is a problem with your conclusion!” In the letter to George, Benjamin questioned it.
   In fact, after returning from Death Valley, George found that his inference was not valid, because the local wind direction is relatively fixed, so the direction of movement of these stones should also be the same, and there will never be a chaotic trajectory.
   George couldn’t figure it out, but because he had other scientific research tasks, the problem was temporarily shelved. He will not come to Death Valley again until early December 2022.
   The winds were blowing wildly in the valley, so Benjamin and George installed a high-resolution weather meter to measure wind speed and fitted the 15 stones with custom-made GPS positioning devices to monitor their “every move”.
   On the 19th, Benjamin and George drove to the riverbed, and they were shocked again: in just half a month, the stone moved ten centimeters.
   Looking at the brand-new dragging traces behind the stone, Benjamin suddenly said excitedly: “I think, I have found the truth about the movement of the stone! The movement of the stone requires the combination of many factors. First of all, there must be water in the dry barren basin, but not too much.” Deep enough to allow the stones to come out of the water. As temperatures drop during the winter nights, the pond freezes to form a layer of ‘window pane’ ice, which must be neither too thin nor too thick, but strong enough to allow the stones to move freely. Move. Under the action of the strong wind, the stone moves in the ‘runway basin’, and pushes the stone in front of it to move forward together, leaving moving marks on the soft muddy ground at the bottom of the water. Then, on a sunny day, The ice layer began to melt, the water evaporated rapidly, and the river bed dried up, and you could see the traces of movement.” In the next few days
   , Benjamin and George made further observations on the river bed, confirming Benjamin’s conjecture. Moreover, George also found that a wind force of 3 to 5 meters per second pushing the stones is sufficient, because the speed of these stones is not moving very fast. If observed from a distance, or without a fixed reference object, the speed of movement is almost imperceptible.
   Benjamin then published his findings in the journal Nature. Although some people have put forward various speculations about the strange phenomenon of Death Valley before, such as “hurricane theory”, “sandstorm theory” and “algae film theory”, but no key evidence can be produced. This time, a large amount of information issued by Benjamin confirmed the “theory of ice cube movement”, and has been widely recognized by the academic community.
   Wonderful nature, with mountains and waters, has shapes and colors, and changes in four seasons, each with its own style. Death Valley is located in the nature, has experienced tens of thousands of years of wind and frost, and now it is a “treasure” in its arms, shining brightly. I hope that there will continue to be wise and brave people like Benjamin to solve the unsolved mysteries there.