Death Valley National Park

The Sliding Rocks Mystery of Racetrack Playa

California – January 28, 2005

My second investigation of the Racetrack Playa, January 28, 2005 did much to add weight to the theory that ice sheets and wind moved the sliding rocks on the Racetrack. I hope the following collection of observations will be a useful addition to the literature.

At first the day seemed disappointing. We had driven all the way from Austin, Texas to Death Valley and then over 27 miles of rugged gravel washboard road to see what had happened since last Spring’s tracks of the sliding rocks on the desert playa lake bed. What did we find? An El Niño winter lake in the basin! Almost half and especially the southern end of the playa where the sliding rocks are found below the dolomite finger ridge was covered in water. We could barely see any tracks at all.

These photos depict (1) the Racetrack starting at the Northern end of the playa looking past the”grandstand,” toward the South; (2) the wet playa from along-side the vehicle barrier ditch on the western edge at about midpoint; (3) the playa nearer the southern end where it was a shallow lake.
Views of the normally dry lake bed at the southwestern end of the playa covered by shallow fresh water, the playa was too muddy to walk on. Photos shown from West to East.
Views of the southeastern end of the playa from below the dolomite ridge. The tracks in the lake are very faintly apparent from a shoreline standing elevation.
Ripples and reflections of the sky and mountains were such that hardly a track could be seen except near the shore line.

It should be emphasized that one would certainly not walk out into the lake or leave a footprint or tire track on the playa in any way to satisfy one’s curiosity. See previous galleries for that marring effect!

I resolved to come back the next day and climb the bluff with polarizing lenses on the cameras to photograph what I could through the surface of the lake to the tracks of the sliding rocks hidden in the shallow water.

Tim Jones

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