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The Racetrack

The Racetrack

See bizarre desert rocks take their own mysterious road trip

In northern Death Valley lies a wind-blown playa called the Racetrack, where rocks are on the move. Stones, some as big as basketballs, travel in straight lines, curves, and even circles, leaving tracks imprinted in the mud. Then they stop suddenly, as if commanded by an unseen referee.

The sight of their tracks is enough to make you rub your eyes and wonder if you should see your ophthalmologist. But even without the sliding rocks, the Racetrack’s ancient playa looks otherworldly, its blinding expanse of cracked mud stretching to the horizon. For the rocks to move, there must be weather: rain or sleet, followed by extreme winds racing across the playa. The wind pushes the rocks across the mud, scoring the surface with tracks up to 1,500 feet long that last for months, or until the next hard rain. Human footprints can do the same, so visitors are asked to view and photograph the playa from its edge.

A trip to the Racetrack requires most of the day if you’re starting from Furnace Creek. Follow State 190 north to Scotty’s Castle Road, then follow that for 32 miles. Stay left at the fork to take Ubehebe Crater Road for six miles, then the pavement ends. Only high-clearance vehicles should continue, as you’ll bump along on dirt for another 26 miles.