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Mystery mudballs

Mystery mudballs

WE SPENT OUR LAST DEATH VALLEY DAYS AT MESQUITE SPRINGS campground, at the north end of DVNP. Just a few miles south of Ubehebe Crater, it is easy to walk the wash as far as your legs will last. On our first afternoon at Mesquite Springs, my friend Lynn and I walked south in the wash. The wash was caked with thick, cracked and dried mud. This was the third week of January, and we had not encountered any rain so far, so there was no telling when the last real rain event occurred.

Little meatball sized mudballs stuck in place

Little meatball sized mudballs stuck in place

About ten minutes into our walk, we started seeing little balls of mud, “stuck in the mud”! Very curious sight. As we walked farther south and downslope from the campground we found ever larger balls. It was thrilling to see them and then try to figure out their origins. Forty minutes on, we started seeing balls nearly the size and weight of bowling balls!

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This was our fourth winter trip to DVNP and we had never seen anything like this. We tried to imagine the force and volume of water needed to create and propelled these balls. And, how far had they traveled to gain such size? They sort of resemble dorodango dirt balls, without the smooth finish. These were brittle, with cobble embedded. We broke open some of the smaller ones, thinking that there might be a central pebble but found none.

Mudball in hand for scale

Mudball in hand for scale

A couple of days later the four of us took a wonderful hike above the wash to the west and south of the campground and ended up a little farther south than our initial discovery. Plus, Lynn and I had to show off our discovery. You can see from the photo how large some of the are. Amazing!

When we all parted ways, us home to the north and our friends continuing on south, they stopped in at the Furnace Creek visitor center and asked if anyone had seen this phenomenon previously. The rangers said they had not, but were excited to hear about them and see Lynn’s photos and planned to have someone go and take a look. So far, no word from the rangers. The mystery remains.

 

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