26 December 2014

Racetrack Valley

Death Valley National Park

Locate the trailhead.


The road into Racetrack from the north is best with high clearance although some were carefully making their way in passenger cars. We got to the parking by the Grandstand with the shadows getting long and walked out onto the dry mud of the playa (dry lake bed). The footprints of those who came when it was wet and ignored the sign warning against walking on it then are few, but well preserved. There are also tire tracks, both from when it was wet and dry, from those who really want to mess things up. The land is designated wilderness away from the road and the park does not allow off road travel. All these marks were fewer as we got further out.

The Grandstand
A single island in the middle of the lake bed is called the Grandstand.


We walked all the way to the far edge, which was the edge of shadows from the range to the west. Pebbles sit thickly at the edge and around the grandstand, but the interior surface of the lake is absolutely clean of them. The effect is curious as combined with the incredibly flat surface, this dry lake bed feels much more like a lake than a waterless stretch of land should. We commented on the facts to each other while not quite putting a finger on the feelings.

western side of Racetrack Playa
On the far side of the Racetrack Playa with the shadows growing onto the "shore" looking south.

We headed back to the car again around the other side of the Grandstand.

edge of the rising grandstand
Coming around the grandstand where the pebbles are also thick, but only at the edge of the playa.

looking north
The dry, cracked mud of the playa and the mountains to the north.

We continued along Racetrack to Homestake Campground for the night. This is another dry campground, but does not have tables and the fire rings are only of rocks. The one toilet is a fiberglass box tied to the ground over a hole and it leans a bit. It is rudimentary and we spent another very windy night in it before heading back to the south end of Racetrack Playa.

Locate the trailhead.

The south end of Racetrack is where most the famous moving rocks reside. A sign points out that the rocks are not special except when they are on the playa in hopes or persuading people not to take them. It has worked for the most part. We start out onto the dry mud surface only to find out that there is water here after all. A ditch around the edge is half full of water and frozen over, but not quite thick enough to walk over. We have to find a narrow spot where we can jump over instead. It is curious to see since the lake itself is quite dry.

raven by the ice
A raven sits on the edge of the ditch half full of frozen over water.

The wind is blowing fiercely still as we walk out over the cracked mud. More long lived footprints are here, but they quickly reduce in number. Some spots had remained muddy longer and show footprints starting up and vanishing for people who were not careful enough when it was partly dry. We find a rock at the end of a track that we would expect it given the current direction of the wind. Following the track along, we find another rock on the other side and it looks more like it has made this track.

perhaps someone placed it here
We find a rock occupying the south end of a long track in the dried mud.

this one seems to be moving along
We find another rock at the north end of the same track.

We find more and more rocks at the north end of long tracks even as we pull our jackets tight against the south going wind. As strong as it feels, this wind is not the force that moves these rocks.

pair of rocks with tracks copying one another
Rocks move in straight line pairs.

single rock at the end of a giant S shape
Rocks move in great curves.

tracks combine and continue
They collide and continue on their way.

We take note of the details of the tracks. They have spots where it looks like the rocks sat for a while before moving in a sudden burst along another section of smooth track. Outside of the tracks, there are more marks that we cannot make any sense of. Something seems to have cased depressions that slowly fill in again.

depressions in the mud
Numerous marks like these make us wonder.

far moving rock
One rock far ahead of most the others.

twisting and cornerd track
A twisting track with a few corners leads out to a very large rock.

rocks moving in the same way
Two rocks with plenty of space between them corner sharply in synchrony.

We finish up a little south of where we started and find ourselves climbing over a sand bar in the dry lake. Past it, we come again to the frozen ditch of water, only this is where it finishes and we are able to walk around the end back to the car.

sand bar in the foreground, the Grandstand in the background
It seems even dry lakes have sand bars. The Grandstand is in the background.

ice apparently flowing into the dry mud
The end of the iced over ditch is a muddy patch we avoid.




©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 9 January 2015

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