The Racetrack is a scenic dry lake area in Death Valley that has “sailing stones” rocks that seem to glide across the flat ground. The road to get to this remote part of the park is really rough and you could easily blow out a tire or bottom out and crack your vehicle’s oil pan. We didn’t get to visit the Racetrack during our first stint in the park (early 2016) because we didn’t have access to a 4x4 vehicle. We never considered using our van as the road would have almost certainly destroyed it.
This year, we were tasked with shooting some photos of the sliding rocks on the playa. Our first trip out we used a park vehicle (pickup truck). We woke up around 3 a.m. to make sure we’d arrive at the Racetrack around 5 a.m. The first 53 miles of our drive, which are on pavement, would take about an hour and fifteen minutes. The second part of our drive, 27 miles on a washboard, dirt road took us roughly two and a half hours! You can see our math didn’t add up as we arrived around 7:30 a.m.
Enduring the constant and violent jarring of the washboard road is only half the battle. Navigating the large rocks and pot holes in the dark required me to be on a heightened level of alert which was just exhausting. At speeds above 25 mph our truck would "fish tail” so I would have to creep along at about 15 mph. At this point I’d like to mention that I was unaware of our truck’s 4x4 capability, so I was in two-wheel drive mode during the entire drive.
Once we arrived at the Racetrack we marveled at the beauty of the area and it all seemed to have been worth the trip. As we walked out onto the playa in search of the “sailing rocks” we stopped frequently to photograph the landscape. After about an hour and a half, we noticed dark clouds moving in from the south. Knowing that rain can trigger flash floods in the area, we decided that it might be best to start back. Not having seen or photographed any sliding rocks, we were contemplating waiting out the rain. Without radio contact or extra water and food we decided getting stranded by a flash flood wasn’t worth the risk. We left the Racetrack with a top speed of 20 mph down the jaw shattering road.
Two and a half hours later and with only a light sprinkling of rain on the windshield we reached the pavement. Begrudgingly, we’d have to return a week later (but more prepared) to get the shots we missed. That next week I figured out that the pick up truck had 4x4 capability, engaged it and improved our average speed on the hellish dirt road to about 25 mph. On that 2nd trip we arrived early enough to see the sunrise, found the sliding rocks, got some great photos and had a memorable time!