Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Racetrack

Ever since I recently saw a photo of these rocks racing across a mud lake, I wanted to visit this place.  The road is really, really rough and the park ranger advised us not to drive our jeep with whimpy two ply tires.  I doubt he gets a cut but we ended up renting a full size Jeep Rincon with 10 ply tires. One of the most jolting rides I have ever experienced. An expensive day but unique and worth it. Read to the end for the punch line.

Halfway there at Teakettle Junction.
Actually one of few places you had cell service.
That's me talking to a colleague back at Ananda Village

The Racetrack Playa, or The Racetrack, is a a scenic dry lake  with "sailing stones" that inscribe linear "racetrack" imprints. It is located above the northwestern side of Death Valley.  
approaching the playa

The playa is exceptionally flat and level with the northern end being only 1.5 inches higher than the southern. This occurrence is due to major influx of fine-grained sediment that accumulates at the north end during wet season and then the clay mud dries out and cracks into a mosaic pattern,  easy to walk on when dry.
Sailing Stones

These sailing stones are a geological phenomenon found in the Racetrack. Slabs of dolomite and syenite ranging from a few hundred grams to hundreds of kilograms inscribe visible tracks as they slide across the playa surface, without human or animal intervention. The tracks have been observed and studied since the early 1900s, yet no one has seen the stones in motion.

The sailing stones are most likely moved by strong winter winds, in the upwards of 90 mph, once it has rained enough to fill the playa with just enough water to make the clay slippery.

Another alternate hypothesis builds upon the first. As rain water accumulates, strong winds blow thin sheets of water quickly over the relatively flat surface of the playa. Sheets of ice form on the surface as night temperatures fall below freezing. Wind then drives these floating ice floes, their aggregate inertia and large area providing the necessary force required to move both small and large stones.

Regardless of how, it is pretty amazing to see.

Is this? yes it is Oyster shells from an ancient seabed

That's me all right.  Another long shadow!

Photographing the rocks

And here is the photo

Sunset over Racetrack Playa.  
The drive took almost 3 hours in the rental jeep one way.  In hindsight we could have done it in with Mr. Toad in about 4.5 hours and saved a whole bunch of money.
- Blessings from the Road
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