Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Stranger than Fiction

In Death Valley, there are rocks that move by themselves across the dry plains. They're called the Sliding Rocks of Racetrack Playa, or sometimes the Sailing Rocks. You think the website is an unauthenticated, unprofessional hoax? Here is the author's doctoral thesis on the subject.

The theories about what moves these rocks are all a little odd. Wind blows them? The mud flakes expand and contract moving the rocks? Magnetic fields under the surface?

And while we're on the topic of crazy desert features, have you heard of the Door to Hell, also known as the Burning Gates? Located in Turkmenistan, this cavern is full of burning gas and looks like a lake of fire.
The Soviets were mining for natural gas and found a rich pocket, but then the mine caved in. To prevent major gas leakage, some genius set it on fire, and it's been burning now for 35 years. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that Turkmenistan is the Next Big Thing when it comes to business of extraction.

The desert is full of mysteries. Like the Nazca lines in Peru, for example. Drawn by ancient people, these huge pictures in the ground are only visible from the sky.
Or the Devil's Hole pup fish, an ancient species that only exists in a cavern in the middle of Death Valley. This little guy has been around for 22,000 years but now is endangered. A desert fish.

Devil's Hole in Death Valley.


Ernie Branscomb said...

I didn't know that you were also interested in scientific phenomena. I have just spent the last hour googling Death Valley Pupfish, which are amazing critters. The species vary wildly from isolated spring, to isolated spring. Some live in hot water and others live in almost pure salt water. Amazing!

The moving rock thing is a very complicated set of circumstance that the scientists suspect is occurring when they move, but they have not quite put their finger on it yet and nobody has seem one move.

My theory, to simplify the long detail of the Doctors thesis, is that; it happens when there is a slick surface of fine clay, and a biological scum from a thin layer of standing water, then when conditions are just right, a strong wind blows and forces a wall of mud to flow across the surface, knocking the rock loose, from the mud surface, the rock is then caught in a strong gust of wind and simply hydroplanes across the flat, wet, slick surface, leaving a trail. The gust of wind subsides, the surface levels, and dries, and cracks in the sun, and people look at the rock and say “I wonder how that happened?”.

I don't have time to figgur' out the other scientific stuff, quittit!

Monica... That One Girl said...

These are amazing phenomena... if only the Nevada desert had so much to offer, I wouldnt look back at my family's 11 years there with such disdain.


Indie said...

Ernie, well you did much better than I did, you actually read the thesis! Now that I read what you have to say the explanation, "It's the wind" doesn't sound so outlandish.

I only posted things I could authenticate somewhat by finding authoritative sources. I almost couldn't find anything to authenticate the Lake of Fire, but that was the one I most wanted to share.

Monica, your desert was probably just as full of mysteries.

That's the thing with deserts: you have to look hard and deep to see what it has to offer. Even its beauty is something you have to open your mind to. I was never able to do that until I took geology classes and learned to appreciate naked earth.

The desert I grew up in was once ocean floor before the greatest extinction event in earth history. When I was a kid, I just thought it was cotton fields and tumbleweeds.

mycophile said...

I really like the desert too, most people look at me like I am strange. I guess I have an attraction to things many other people scorn. I also like bats and snakes. The desert has so many interesting plants and creatures that are adapted to the extreme weather. You always find interesting stuff.

Indie said...

Mycophile, once again, it was you who got me started on being interested in it. Unfortunately, I am not adaptive to the climate in the desert, so I have to appreciate it from afar.