Jan 16, 2021
Last night we were the only ones in the center of a 100 square mile valley and it was dead quiet. However, a car drove by about 6 am to break the silence.
After breakfast we drove from Teakettle Junction to the Racetrack. The Racetrack Playa is an almost perfectly round dry lake bed that resembles a racetrack. It is one of the flattest natural surfaces on earth with the north end only 2 inches higher than the south end, around 3 miles away.
The real reason we came to the Racetrack is to see the magic sliding rocks. I had heard of this place probably 10-15 years ago and wanted to visit here ever since. The south end of the Racetrack has rocks that slide across the playa. The rocks leave distinct weaving trails across the flat lake bed.
There have been many theories on how these rocks move. From magnetic forces, to wind or even aliens. Finally in 2013 and 2014 scientist used instruments to monitor the rocks and learned the truth. At times in the winter there is water in the lake bed. At night the water freezes into a sheet of ice, embedding the rocks. In the day the sun breaks up the ice sheets and the wind will blow the ice and rocks across the flat lake bed. When the ice melts the rocks are left in their new position with the tracks left in the mud. The rocks may not move again for many years until the conditions are right again.
We walked around and took pictures of the magic rocks. It was amazing how flat and hard the lake bed was. It looked like a cobblestone road and the mud seemed as hard as a rock.
There was another group of people there and two of them were chipping of pieces of one of the rocks and digging up the dirt. We didn’t confront them, but I took pictures and videos to give to the Park Service rangers. I also got a picture of their license plates. We never saw any rangers or got cell service the rest of the day, so we will let them know when we get to the Furnace Creek Ranger station.
We drove back to Teakettle Junction and turned west on Hidden Valley road to find our way out of this northern part of the park. It was a beautiful ride through canyons and valleys. The trail ends with a steep narrow road across a couple of mountain ranges. There were many switchbacks and steep areas, but the road surface was pretty smooth so it was a fun ride. Once over the mountains we descended into Saline Valley and back to the paved road. Our drive across the northern part of Death Valley was two days long and ~150 miles of driving with only 24 miles that were paved. We saw very few people and we saw a lot of beautiful desert valleys and mountains.
After crossing the national park we were out of the park for a few miles before entering back in on the paved road. We drove down to Panamint Springs and payed $3.86/gal to fill up the gas tank. However, we were in Death Valley in 2012 and the gas was over $6.00/gal.
We found a campsite in the Lake Hill area, just a couple of miles past Panamint Springs. It was just a flat desert area with a few other campers, but no one too close. The sun set just after 4:30 pm, just after we parked and raised the van top. We spent the rest of the evening at camp. Later in the night, after the moon set, we went out and looked at the Milky Way and all the stars. There was no light pollution in the area so the stars were very bright.