Death Valley NP, California – The secret of the moving rocks

It is best to take pictures from Racetrack Playa when the sun is low on the horizon, so we have to start early. It may well be the most peculiar place in Death Valley shrouded in mystery. Rocks move in a mysterious way, driven by an unknown power, and nobody ever watched it. And still, it is known to be true. The traces are unambiguous, and there are measurements.

Racetrack Playa is a dried lakebed between two mountain chains. Stones crumble from the Cottonwood Mountains at the south end of the perfect plain and then move along, leaving stress marks. The rocks weigh up to 100 pounds / 50 kg and do not roll, but rather slide or glide due to their squared shape. There seems to be a major direction of movement, but not all stones follow it, and not always. Some lean into the bend, double back, zigzag, draw a circle, or simply turn round. It seems to be undisputed among scientists that wind plays a crucial role as driving force behind – but probably with storm force and not as a sole factor. Many scientists believe that rain converts the ground into a soft soap-like slippery slope. The theory that ice and snow play a role as lubricant seems to be disproved. But it’s totally unsolved why, if the wind thesis is the case, some rocks move and others not respectively how they can shift in different directions.

The traces on the mostly hexagonally cracked lakebed are clearly visible. The highest amount of moving stones can be found from the second, southern parking lot, walking to the mountains on the opposite side of the plain. The clear desert air considerably deceives: It looks like only some steps, but then it’s a hike of two miles.

On our way back we stop at the Teakettle Junction. Humorous travellers hanged up most different teakettles at the intersection sign over the years – a real eye candy. Not long after leaving the washboard trail our speedometer doesn’t show anything anymore. Later we will realize that the shaft is broken. The infamous stretch didn’t harm our tires, but it was the final straw for a 24 years old speedometer shaft.

Right before Stovepipe Wells, the only settlement in the park with supermarket, gas station (highest prices we ever saw!), hotels and campground, are the yellow 30 m high Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes where you can climb up. Some miles to the west is Mosaic Canyon. Water fought its way through marble stone, polished it and created a winding gulch. The marble has mainly yellow, beige, white and grey patterns and is in some places light or dark grey with the typical stripy or chequered white inclusions. The most beautiful walls can be found in the lower part, it’s a nice two-mile-hike up though.

Aguereberry Point on 6000 ft / 2000 m elevation offers a less popular but much better view into Death Valley than Dantes View. The gravel road is narrow, one-lane and winding, but unproblematic. From up there you can see the sand dunes, Furnace Creek Oasis as well as Badwater Basin (Good for afternoon photos!). For the night we head to Wildrose Campground, which has drinking water and outhouses, and yet is free of charge.

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