The Racetrack

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Where I stayed
Homestake Dry Camp

Flag of United States  , California
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

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I checked out of my hotel, loaded up the car and headed for Death Valley National Park.

My first stop in the park was the Visitor Center. I got a better map of the backcountry roads, checked on the conditions and headed for the Racetrack. The Racetrack is a dry lake bed, or playa, where the stones leave behind trails in the mud. I've wanted to go see it on previous trips but the road to the Racetrack requires heavy-duty tires and this is the first time I've had them.

I got to the Racetrack quite a bit before sunset, which I thought would be a good time to photograph the rocks and their tracks. Unfortunately, the lake bed is fairly large. It took me a while to find where the stones with interesting trails are located and by the time I did the sun was dropping behind the mountains and casting shadows across the lake bed. Without the direct sun coming from a low angle the tracks don't show up well in photographs so I gave up on taking pictures and just spent some time wandering around the playa looking at the tracks and planning where I'll head in the morning.

It's even better in person than I expected. It's really interesting to look at the trails and try to figure out how they could have been formed. One theory is that when the lake gets wet the surface is slippery enough that the rocks can be moved by the wind. Another theory is that ice forming under the rocks lowers the friction enough so that wind can move them. Neither theory explains how you can have two rocks next to each other with trails going off in different directions. Or why some rocks have trails but other rocks seem to remain stationary.

I wandered the playa until it was nearly dark before I drove to the nearby campground for the night. I was the only person there on a moonless night.
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