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The Racetrack

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley, California

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The Racetrack

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  • The Racetrack is a dried lakebed, also called a playa.- The Racetrack
  • Dried and cracked mud on the Racetrack.- The Racetrack
  • The trail of a "moving" rock on the Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park.- The Racetrack
  • Unique rock trail on the Racetrack.- The Racetrack
  • Rock trails on the dried mud of the Racetrack.- The Racetrack
  • Small lizard. - The Racetrack
  • The outcroping of rock at the north end of the Racetrack is known as the Grandstand.- The Racetrack
  • Interpretive sign at the Grandstand parking area. - The Racetrack
  • Walking out to the Grandstand across the playa. - The Racetrack
  • View from on top of the Grandstand. - The Racetrack
  • The Racetrack Playa.- The Racetrack
  • The Racktrack in Death Valley National Park.- The Racetrack
  • Trail from a "moving rock" on the Racetrack.- The Racetrack
  • Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera) on the way to the Racetrack.- The Racetrack
  • Tea Kettle Junction on the way to the Racetrack.- The Racetrack
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Big vistas. Unique geologic features.
Cons: 
Rough roads.
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Region:
Death Valley, CA
Congestion: 
Low
Pets allowed: 
Yes
Parking Pass: 
National Park Pass
Preferable Season(s):
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
Current Local Weather:
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Adventure Description

Adventure Description

Pro Contributor

The Racetrack is a dry lakebed playa that is known for its unique geologic features and "moving rocks" phenomenon. Ten thousand years ago this area was a large lake, but climate changed over time and the water dried up and left the cracked, muddy lakebed.

On the surface, trails from rocks (some weighing hundreds of pounds) can be seen in the dried, cracked mud. The moving rocks are unique to the Racetrack and were once a mystery. A longtime theory suggested it was a combination of rain and high winds that pushed the rocks. With just enough rain the surface could become slippery and strong winds could push the rocks across the mud.

In 2013 a researcher was lucky enough to actually observe the rocks moving! Observers found that overnight temperatures periodically drop low enough to cause rain water to freeze. On a sunny day, a thin ice sheet can heat up and start to break apart into large floating pieces that the wind pushes like a sail over the muddy terrain, leaving the trails. Mystery solved? Perhaps, but either way, this unusual and interesting site is worth the long (and rough!) drive to see in person.

The playa itself is about 2 miles wide and 3 miles long. In the middle is the Grandstand, an outcropping of rock that provides great views. Most of the rocks can be seen at the southern end of the playa. As you’re exploring the area, keep an eye out for wildlife tracks in the dried mud, and be sure to bring plenty of water and sunscreen.

Note that the road to reach the playa can be rough and requires high-clearance vehicles with four-wheel drive. Also, help protect the area by staying off of the mud when it’s wet and by leaving the rocks behind. 

 

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Nearby Camping + Lodging

(4 within a 30 mile radius)

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(9 within a 30 mile radius)

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