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Friday
Jun242011

Racetrack Playa at Death Valley National Park

On my first visit to Death Valley National Park last year, I wanted to visit the Racetrack Playa but was told that I would need a 4-wheel drive vehicle with high clearance to make it there since some 25 miles of the drive would be done on a rough dirt road. Rangers seemed very reluctant to send folks out that way without a Sherman Tank or a military-grade Hummer so we passed on it as I figured I'd have an opportunity to see it in the future.

On this latest visit two weeks ago, I drove out in a rental car that resembled a shoebox on bicycle wheels. Although I could barely fit inside it, I was happy to have it on a journey of some 3,500 miles in order to save a few dollars on the cost of gasoline.

The rental car actually provided me with some inspiration as well...inspiration to attempt the drive out to Racetrack Playa. Honestly, I didn't expect to make it. However, Hebe Crater was on the way and I had planned on visiting that so I figured I'd give the extra 25 mile dirt road to the Playa a go thinking that if it got a little too hairy I could always go back. To my surprise, I made it the whole way... in a rented Ford Fiesta :) No comment on the state of the car after this.

The road was actually quite good though and I'm surprised the rangers made such a fuss about it. If this little car could make it, I figure just about anything else could too. Now I was bummed that I hadn't attempted it on my first visit a year earlier.

Racetrack Playa is a unique dry lake bed in a valley between the Cottonwood Mountains and Last Chance Range. At slightly higher than 3,000 feet of elevation, this location is slightly cooler than other areas in Death Valley. Here, there are at least 4 notable features worth visiting for.

1) Moving Rocks - Shown in the first image is a rock that sits on the playa floor that has been moved along by wind and other meteorologic events disturbing the perfect crackleure with a snail trail-like effect. This has puzzled geologists for decades as some of the moving boulders there are quite large and heavy.

2) The Grandstand - In the middle of the playa is a dark monolith that is the only intrusion in the playa. This Quartz-Monzonite outcropping rises over 60 feet in the air and is marked by its stark color contrast to the much lighter playa floor.

3) Teakettle Junction - Approximately 3/4 of the way there, the dirt road splits and another road kicks off to the left taking visitors to Hunter Mountain. This Y in the road is called Teakettle Junction. I'm not sure if it was called this before people started leaving actual teakettles there.

4) Textures - The crackleure of the playa floor is sort of the crowning feature for me. The dryness and age of the area become prominent yet the delicacy is noticed when taking a stroll across it.

Here's a couple of images that I made there.

Moving Rock at Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park

Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park

Grandstand at Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park

Texture of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park

Teakettle Junction near Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park

The Grandstand and Cottonwood Mountains at Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park


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