Racetrack Playa – Death Valley California

February 12, 2013 9:44 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

In the Eastern California lies the famous desert valley, The Death Valley. It is located in the Mojave Desert which is the driest land in North America and also the lowest. The area also holds record for highest air temperature i.e. 134 °F (56.7 °C) recorded on July 10, 1913 at Furnace Creek.

The valley has been inhabited by Timbisha tribe belonging to Native Americans for the past 1000 years. By that time the valley was also known as, “ Tümpisa” meaning “rock paint” in reference to the red ochre paint that is produced from clay found in that area.

In the year 1849, an English name, “Death Valley” was introduced during California Gold Rush. An amazing fact about the name of the valley is that prospectors and other people who crossed the valley in search of gold fields named it so, though only 1 death was recorded during the Gold Rush. Gold and silver were extracted during 1850s from the valley and later in 1880s borax was also discovered.

President Hoover in the year 1933 proclaimed Death Valley National monument as area under the Federal protection and this monument was designated as Death Valley National Park in year 1994, areas including Eureka and Saline Valley.

Sunset at Racetrack Playa, Death Valley

Sunset at Racetrack Playa, Death Valley

Nestled in the west of Death Valley National Park, between the Last Chance and Cottonwood ranges is the famous Racetrack Playa. Unlike any other racetrack this particular one contains a mystery within.

Why is it called Racetrack Playa? This area is famous for the scenic dry lakebed also called playa and sailing stones leaving track like imprints on the ground. It is a desert basin that temporarily serves as a lake that gets filled up with shallow water during rainy season and when the hot sun shines the water gets evaporated leaving behind a layer of soft smooth mud. Cracks appear as the mud dries out creating hexagonal mosaic patterns on the surface. These mosaics are almost an inch thick and 3 to 4 inches in diameter.

Racetrack playa lies 3608 feet above sea level. It is exceptionally flat as the northern and southern ends have only a difference of 1.5 inches in height. Ubhebe is the highest peak surrounding it which is 5,678 feet high. The playa is almost 2 miles in width and 3 miles long. The beige colored mud surrounding the area is believed to be at least 1000 feet thick.

The route to racetrack begins from Ubehebe Carter and high-clearance vehicles are suggested for drive as the road is rough and uneven. The desert is fragile and therefore it is prohibited to drive off-track; moreover tracks left by vehicles remain there for years. The only natural vegetation found on the way includes 30 feet tall, Joshua trees that are often confused to be cactus plants. It will take only 20 miles to reach Teakettle Junction from where a straight road leads to the Racetrack playa.

Racetrack Playa, Death Valley California

What fascinate tourists the most are the secretly moving rocks on the dry surface of the playa that leave a long trail behind them

What fascinate tourists the most are the secretly moving rocks on the dry surface of the playa that leave a long trail behind them, without any animal or human intervention. These rocks are believed to move once in every 2 to 3 years and tracks that are left behind last for at least 3 to 4 years. Some rocks are believed to travel more than 1500 feet far.

No one has ever been able to see the rocks in motion and neither has it been captured by camera. However, many assumptions have been drawn regarding the movements of these rocks.

Some researchers claim that rocks are moved by strong winds in winters reaching a speed of 90 mph. Also there is little rain in winters that moistens the clay, making it slippery and enabling the rocks to move. The winds are directed from southwest to northeast and thus helps support this hypothesis as most of the trails are parallel to this particular direction.

Another assumption involves accumulation of rain water in the lake bed and freezing at night time forming a thin sheet of ice. The rocks get embedded into these ice sheets and then strong winds drag them across the slippery surface of the playa.

The tracks formed by the moving rocks are either straight or curvy and sometimes two similar tracks are formed side by side, giving an impression as if they are made by racing cars. Most of the moving rocks are equal to the size of a loaf and weigh up to 25 to 30 pounds. The heaviest rocks among them weigh more than 700 pounds and require a wind with a speed of 150 mph to set it in motion.

There are still many commentators who claim that the photos of the moving rocks are nothing more but digital fakes. There are also some who associate it with supernatural powers.

The place also offers opportunities for hiking lovers; the old miner’s 6 miles long trail to Ubehebe Peak and having an elevation of 1800 feet is an option worthwhile. Also some spectacular views of Racetrack Playa can be observed a short walk away from Grandstand parking area.

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This post was written by Editorial Staff

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