Racetrack Playa in Death Valley – Where stones move

Racetrack Playa in Death Valley – Where stones move

One of the most remote locations in Death Valley National Park  is te Racetrack playa. Long tracks in the sand suggest mysterious motion, of the rocks that are found on this playa. Although nobody has actually seen the rocks move they must have moved to create the tracks. Did Mick Jagger visit the RaceTrack Playa in 1962 when they started the Rolling Stones band?  It could have been their inspiration for the band name (It was Muddy Waters with his Rollin’ Stone song what was the actual inspiration for the band name)

Photos of Sailing stones at RaceTrack Playa 
A photographers rule tells that the best photos are made at  the golden hours of sunrise and sunset. Because I didn’t want to drive the 28mile of unpaved road in the dark I decided to go for mid-day photos with a January sun low on te horizon. The texture of the playa and the shadows of the rocks came out pretty okay.

 

How to get to the RaceTrack Playa
From Furnace Creek take the 190 North and before the Sand Dunes go right at Scotty’s Castle road. (Scotty’s Castle is closed due to flooding damage) The first 55,6 miles to the Ubehebe Crater are paved. Different articles over the years talk about the road conditions of Racetrack road.  From the paved road that ends at the Ubehebe Crater it is another 28 mile one way on a dirt road. It takes you 1 hour to get from Furnace Creek to the Ubehebe Crater and another 1.5h on the Racetrack dirt road to the Racetrack Playa.

Road conditions change because they are heavily influenced by the weather and traffic. Because of the rough road conditions, I decided to rent a Jeep for one day at Farabee Jeeps at Furnace Creek. While driving I strongly believed that renting a jeep was the best decision I made.  The Jeep comes with a gps signalling device in case of an emergency, this is very useful because there is no cell phone coverage in this area. The best advice is to drive not faster than 20-25mph and to stay in the middle of the road and avoid the sharp stones at the edges.  Keep your eyes open for Joshua Trees and Tea Kettles! On your way to or from RaceTrack don’t forget to visit the Titus canyon and the Ubehebe crater

Video to give you an impression of road conditions in January 2018. This was the good part of the road where we were able to record for 30 seconds

When you arrive at the Playa you can stop at the first parking spot for the Grandstand. The Grandstand is a natural rock monolith at the northern end of Racetrack Playa. For the Sailing Stones you have to drive to the southern end of the playa. Park at the “wooden fence” and walk for half a mile to the southeastern corner where the stones rolled from the mountain range. 

Mystery Solved of Sailing Stones at RaceTrack Playa 
The tracks across Racetrack Playa  have been  studied since the early 1900s, but no one had ever seen the stones in motion. In August 2014, a group of researches from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, NASA and others announced they had solved the mystery. The researchers found that the motion comes from very thin  ice that sometimes covers the dry lake bed. When the ice begins to melt in late morning sun, it may break up under light winds. Floating ice panels may then push the rocks, causing them to move and leave tracks in the desert floor. The editor- and peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE published their study.

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