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Badwater to The Racetrack

Death Valley Trip 2013 | Day 4
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

As usual, I was up and taking down my campsite while it was still dark out. Thanks to the long nights this time of the year I still managed to get plenty of sleep and was wide awake. I drove back to Badwater and hiked out to the salt polygons before dawn.

The 11,049 foot Telescope Peak and the rest of the Panamint Range stand tall over Badwater Basin (282 feet below sea level) at dawn.

Telescope Peak Dawn by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Sunlight strikes the Panamint Range across Death Valley.

Badwater Sunrise by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

There were endless compositions with all the different, yet similar, shapes in the salt. This large polygon caught my eye as I hiked around the area.

Salt Polygons by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When the sun was up I hiked back to my Jeep and started driving further north into the park. Ever since I first saw a photo of and learned of the ‘sailing stones’ of The Racetrack, I knew I had to visit them for myself one day. Today would be that day. What interests me the most about these moving rocks is that no one has actually seen them move, as far as I can tell. There are a few theories on how these rocks move that involve a wet slippery surface, high winds, and possibly some ice- yet the actual cause hasn’t really been proven. It’s kind of cool that such a mysterious site still exists in this day and age. If you’d like to find out more, check out the Sailing stone Wikipedia page.

Before visiting The Racetrack, I setup my campsite at the primitive Homestake Campground nearby.

Homestake Camp by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Once my camp was setup, I drove back to The Racetrack and did a little scouting of the area for when the light would get better closer to sunset.

I thoroughly hiked and searched the area of the playa containing these strange moving rocks and them climbed to a higher vantage point. I made sure to include three hikers in this photo to show the scale of this place.

Racetrack Playa Scale by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

A few clouds drift over the ephemeral lakebed.

Racetrack Playa by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Since I still had plenty of time before sunset, I drove back over to check out The Grandstand. First I hiked all the way around it, and then I climbed part of the Ubehebe Peak trail so that I could get a better view from above. The Grandstand rises abruptly from the very flat dry lakebed.

The Grandstand by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Sunset was soon approaching, so I hiked back out to photograph the sailing stones of The Racetrack. Throughout the day there were plenty of other people checking out these rocks on the playa, but as soon as sunset came near most of them disappeared. Only one other person was out there with me, and even he left before the sun had finally set.

My shadow grows longer as the sun sinks lower into the sky. Moving rocks with their trails imprinted into the playa surround me.

Playa Shadow by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

I liked the way that the paths of these two rocks crossed, and I would revisit them a few times throughout the evening.

Crisscross by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

The sun strikes the playa for the last time of the day before it dips below the distant mountains.

Setting on the Playa by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Some of the paths were erratic…

Random by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

…others were straight or nicely curved.

Playa Sunset by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Of course, I stuck around for twilight and took a few photos.

Runaway by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Traveling Rock by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

Crossroads by IntrepidXJ, on Flickr

When the light was gone, I hiked across the playa to my Jeep and drove back to camp. It was a great day!

>> Badwater to The Racetrack Playa Photo Gallery


  1. Amanda
    Amanda March 4, 2013

    I stumbled across your blog a few weeks back. I love your work. You have a great eye and take some breath taking shots.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat March 5, 2013

      Thank you Amanda!

  2. Tom
    Tom March 5, 2013

    Like you I have been to DV many times but never the Racetrack. Heading out there for a camping / photography trip in a couple of weeks. Thanks for the help and great photos. T

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat March 5, 2013

      Tom, this was actually my very first trip out to Death Valley…though I’m sure I will be returning for more 😉

  3. Chris
    Chris March 8, 2013

    Enjoy following your adventures and photo logistics. Curious about your tent. Is the tent sitting on a cot? Or is the cot part of it? Is it off the ground for comfort, or to avoid things like scorpions. I’ve never seen a set up like that and wondered abou it. Thanks

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat March 8, 2013

      Thanks Chris. The tent and cot are all one unit….it’s called a Tent Cot. My main reason for using it is comfort…’s way more comfortable than sleeping on the ground. It’s also very quick and easy to setup which is another reason I use it….I can have it setup in under 2 minutes if I was in a real hurry.

      • Chris
        Chris March 8, 2013

        Thanks Randy.

  4. Bill in Oxnard
    Bill in Oxnard May 14, 2013

    hi Randy,
    What a great blog. I’ve travelled to many places through the Eastern Sierra and DV several times, but you have captured, with your photos, the grandeur and enigma and beauty of that area so well

    I hope to follow more of your adventures through your blog.

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