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The Racetrack - Sliding Rocks, Death Valley National Park, California

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

Experience natures marvel rolled in adventure and science on this journey

Racetrack in Death Valley National Park has been on the tribes adventure list for sometime now. In fact the tribe attempted it few years ago, but failure to get there as we were underprepared. The journey to the Racetrack takes you through one of the most dangerous roads in the USA. This is serious backcountry, rugged and the hottest places in the world. Knowing the risks, being extra prepared for it is extremely important to make it truly memorable.

Tribe's goal was to enjoy the no moon night on the racetrack which gives an incredible opportunity to witnessing the milky way. Racetrack, is a desolate lake bed which has rocks moving all by themselves and leaving behind a distinct trail. This is a true natural marvel and stays relatively undistributed given the difficult of getting there. The lakebed is about 3 miles long and 2 miles wide. With the climate changes and periods of hot, cold, wet the lakebed went dry and has an interesting hexagonal textured surface which is more than 1000 feet thick, called the Racetrack Playa. On this playa are the moving rocks. It was a mystery on how and why these rocks move. This was finally understood and explained with science. Series of events that involve filling of playa with water to a level that does not submerge these rock, formation of ice sheets as the temperatures fall in the night, followed by sun that melts the ice and wind that helps the slide, formed these distinct trail marks. The rocks would move only a few inches every year when the perfect environmental conditions are formed.

This journey to this remote location which has no cell phone coverage is to be attempted only on a high clearance 4WD vehicle, extra water, extra fuel and with someone who has experience on bumpy, rugged terrain. Washouts, big rocks to drive over and absolutely slow navigation is critical. The off road section of the drive to the Homestake Dry Camp is about 28 miles. Getting there is an adrenaline inducing adventure. It starts off to be not that bad, but as you head further from the Saline Valley floor up the mountain it surely gets gnarly. The last 10 miles via the Lippincott Mines Road is absolutely grueling. You'll need downloaded google maps to navigate, the routes are not marked and you will not come across many vehicles, tribe barely saw one other. Tribe took their time past this gnarly patch. Tribe decided to break the last 10 miles into sections, where we would carefully access the road ahead for clearance and cliff washouts before driving past the sections. Some places were so narrow that tribes vehicles was lifted at an angle to cross large rocks or prevent steep cliff drops. These sections are extremely intense and in event of a breakdown there is no towing services, so its critical to have your emergency kits in place and know how to use it. In event of a breakdown help may be hours away.

Some key tips to keep in mind when heading to Racetrack ::

  1. Offline google maps were a life saves. Its very easy to get lost in the desert for miles and run out of fuel. All paths look the same. Have an emergency call device in a SoS situation

  2. Extra Fuel and Water - Even if that means leaving behind a bag of your favorite shoes

  3. Tell someone where you are - if you cannot attempt this with another friend, make sure you have communicated with someone who can call for help in event its needed

  4. Vehicle Check - oils and fluids, battery and breaks, tires and tread should be checked. A full spare is a must and should also be checked

  5. Start early, drive slowly and carefully - allow for some extra time to get to camp before dark, drive slowly and enjoy the journey. There is no rush

The mystery of the magical Racetrack Playa rolling stones was finally solved by science in 2014.

Tribe was excited to have arrived at the camp for the night, after setting up camp we set off to the playa to witness the wonder of the sliding rocks. The soft, textured bed of the playa was a delight to walk on. The beauty the racing rocks with sometimes sharp turns was something else. You wonder how amazing natural phenomena's can be. After having spent few hours watching the sunset over the Racetrack playa, tribe headed back to camp. Time for dinner, marshmallows and mulling over the adventurous day ride. After dark the tribe decided to drive back to the playa to watch the stars - words cannot describe what the eyes could see, unbelievably clear skies, just the right nip in the air and the blanket of stars above! Total bliss!!!

Rocks are formed from dolomite and syenite and move for few inches when under the perfect play of environmental conditions. An absolutely marvel!!!!

Tribe decided to break camp early the next day and head back home. Of course on the way we stopped at the Grandstand and Racetrack Playa to soak in the beauty one more time. This time around we navigated out via the Teakettle junction. While the off-roading via Teakettle junction is not extremely gnarly, there are a couple of tricky spots which are extremely sandy and also some which have narrow passage.

Tribe's furry companion gave us company on this journey. While the access is restricted for dogs in National Parks, there is plenty of open space they have access too. Its also advisable to keep your furry companions on a call watch because of the arid climate, vegetation which may have harmful spikes.

Learning's from the tribe - Planning, preparing and accessing risks is crucial for safety. Also attempt to be overprepared rather than underprepared for backcountry adventure.

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