Death Valley: Racetrack Road

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Location: 

Visited:  April 12, 2014

Description: A vast playa where mysterious moving rocks reside

Length: 1 mile or more depending on how far you explore

Duration: 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy

Terrain: Dried mud

Wildlife: Moving rocks, does that count?

Parking: Lot

Best time to go: Anytime

Bring: Camera


Starting at Ubehebe Crater, we headed to Racetrack Valley. You’ll spot a bunch of Joshua Trees along the way. We highly recommend driving a high-clearance vehicle on the road because it can be really rough. We even spotted a Jeep Wrangler that had a boo boo.

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20 miles in, we noticed Teakettle Junction. The teakettles were left by visitors and some have messages on them. Visitors can still leave teakettles here so feel free to do so!

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Follow the road straight ahead to the Racetrack playa. The road to the left leads into Hidden Valley and connects with the Hunter Mountain road which usually requires 4WD to travel. We’ll have to go there next time.

Reaching the Racetrack, we were speechless. This place is remarkable and best known for its mysterious moving rocks.

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Over 10,000 years ago this region underwent climatic changes resulting in cycles of hot, cold and wet periods. As the climate changed, the lake evaporated and left behind beige colored mud, at least 1,000’ thick.

Dominating the vast playa is the Grandstand:

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The huge natural structure of quartz monzonite gives some great views of the Racetrack when you climb it.

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You can get great panos of the 3 mile long and 2 mile wide playa.

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Now where are those moving rocks? Moving rocks? Rocks don’t move… And you’re right. They don’t. At least not to the human eye. So how do these rocks move?

Erosional forces cause rocks from the surrounding mountains to tumble to the surface of the Racetrack. Once on the floor of the playa the rocks move across the level surface leaving trails as records of their movements. Some of the moving rocks are large and have traveled as far as 1,500’. Throughout the years many theories have been suggested to explain the mystery of these rock movements. A research project has suggested that a rare combination of rain and wind conditions enable the rocks to move. A rain of about ½”, will wet the surface of the playa, providing a firm but extremely slippery surface. Strong winds of 50mph or more, may skid the large boulders along the slick mud.

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Photo taken by National Park Service

Unfortunately, we could not find any 😦 But we did learn later that if you drive two miles south of the Grandstand parking lot and walk about .5 miles toward the SE corner of the playa, you should get some great views of the rocks and their tracks on the playa. And since HikeSnobs LOVE the desert, we will definitely be back to witness the trails ourselves.


@HikeSnobs Tips:

  • Bring a teakettle and rope to leave at teakettle junction!
  • Do not disturb the rocks or try to make your own rock tracks.

Comments? Questions? Suggestions? Leave us a message below!

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