The Racetrack Playa is 3,600 feet above sea level in one of the most remote area of Death Valley. It is 50 miles from Stovepipe Wells and 27 miles off the road near Ubehebe Crater on the roughest/longest road I have ever been on. This was one of those once-in-a-life-time events on which you go. I will probably never go there again because of how difficult it was to get there. The road is a rough wash-board, rock-strewn, gulley laden, narrow hill climb. You either go 5mph for five hours and hit every bump, or go 50mph and scoop along on the top of the wash-board bumps (and tear the shit out of your vehicle). We did both!
I have heard about the Racetrack Playa for years. It’s the place where the huge rocks move magically across the dry lake bed. Over the years I have seen many TV show attempting to solve the mystery of the moving rocks. Too many of the shows said it was aliens or supernatural occurrences. But not even top scientists could figure it out. Give me a break! As soon as you walk on the playa and see the rocks for yourself, you figure it all out.
The rocks move “magically” as a result of the weather. Rocks fall off the surrounding cliffs due to the expansion of ice during the winter. They fall on to the playa. The playa consists of a talc-like mud that is very slippery. Water runs onto the lake bed from the surrounding hills and flow on the mud under the rocks. The water freezes in a shallow crust on the slippery mud and lifts up the rocks a tiny bit. The wind blows on the rocks and scoots them across the lake bed dragging a small portion of the rock that was sticking down below the shallow ice layer. Simple observation. NO ALIENS!!!
This phenomenon is unlike no other in the world. It was difficult to get to, yet worth the journey.
Weather was about 75 during the day, but when the sun set, it got instantly very cold – almost freezing.
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Racetrack from several miles away.
Photo of Racetrack Play from space. (stolen from the web)
Another space photo.
This is how large some of the moving rocks are.
Trails in the mud.
This is the hatchery from where the rocks fall after ice pops them from the cliff.
Hatchery section as the rocks begin their journey across the playa.
Looking North towards the Grandstands.
This shows how the ice crystals gather around a rock as they begin their float across the mud.
This is one of the rocks digging a trail while the playa is still wet. At night the top would freeze and lift up the stone
above the underlying water surface thus lubricating the stone as the wind blew on it. (Yup, I stole this photo from the web.)