Road Trip to the Racetrack Playa - Death Valley

Feb 10, 2013
When I was in elementary school, every few weeks my teacher would hand out a brochure from Scholastic with paperback books that you could get your parents to buy for you. I'm sure that every other class in the country received the same or similar brochures regularly. Anyway, the brochures were packed with ads for books on all kinds of subjects. I favored sports and adventure books - football and baseball players, great adventures, mountain climbing, and war stories. But my favorite books were ones that had mysterious, macabre, or scary stories. I especially liked the ones about unsolved mysteries. Like, who really built the pyramids in Egypt? Or are the Nazca lines messages to ancient alien visitors? Or what happened to Flight 19 and all those vessels that disappear in the Bermuda Triangle? Or what supernatural force causes rocks to move across the face of an old lake bed in the California desert?

I've always wanted to go see the mysterious moving rocks on the Racetrack Playa and last May I finally got my chance. After missing out on the Wave lottery (big surprise- there were at least 100 people at the BLM office in Kanab), a free day opened up for us before we had to be in Las Vegas for a Cirque du Soleil show. So the last two days of the "adventure" part of our vacation turned into a road trip. First to Toroweap, then, after a night donating money to the casino in Mesquite, Nevada, out to Death Valley to visit the Racetrack.

Fortunately the weather was great. At least it wasn't rainy. It was, however, hot. One hundred thirteen degrees hot according to our rental "high clearance SUV" (Chevy Equinox). I had done some research on the Racetrack and knew that the road was about 26 miles of washboard gravel and that it was best to have a good spare tire. We had no problems on the road and enjoyed a couple hours at the Racetrack before it was time to get going. I will have to go back there to spend more time camping and hiking in the area.

The road to the Racetrack goes through a Joshua Tree forest. The first one I'd ever seen.1083 (1024x576).jpg 1080 (1024x576).jpg

The Racetrack is just over there.

When you get to Teakettle Junction, you are just a few miles away. The excitement level builds.

First view of the Racetrack. I must admit I became quite excited at this sight.

A closer look at the Grandstand, a volcanic formation that pierces the smooth plane of the Racetrack.

This is what I came for.
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Looking back at the Grandstand from the south.1123 (1024x576).jpg

View from the road on the way back.
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I found that the washboard road was less bouncy if you drove fast and drifted around the curves. Of course, we had a rental car so we weren't worried about the suspension, which was shot by the time we got back to blacktop. It rode like a water bed all the way back to Las Vegas. I expected a call from the car rental place, trying to charge me for new shocks, but I never heard from them after we dropped the car off.

Right at the top of the road was another treat - Ubehebe Crater. The 600 foot deep crater was formed just a few hundred years ago as the result of a volcanic steam explosion.
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There was a strong warm breeze blowing out of the crater. My wife tried to catch a thermal updraft and take flight.
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After leaving Death Valley we spent the night in Pahrump Nevada. It was an exceptional day.

I read that some scientists have learned what causes the rocks to move, and in my view the world is lesser for it. Some mysteries need to remain unsolved.

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Great report. I've been to DV quite a few times but have not yet made the Racetrack.

The first time I looked into the crater there was a hot wind blowing out that would roast a turkey. It was early August.

Another great destination in the area is Saline Hot Springs.
I read that some scientists have learned what causes the rocks to move, and in my view the world is lesser for it. Some mysteries need to remain unsolved.
I can understand the quest to know why but, like you, I appreciate the unsolved mystery. Great TR! Thanks for sharing.
A friend of mine found rocks doing the same thing on some of the flats just south of I 80 by Skull Valley Road.
He showed me some pictures of rocks with long trails that look the same as those on the "race track".
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