Racetrack Playa & the Mysterious Sliding Stones by Mark Sedenquist
After spending several hours walking around the playa and observing the errant patterns of the tracks, I am convinced that some of the tracks are caused by plants and sticks (whose remnants have long since been blown away), and the motive force is a combination of both straight-line and circular "dust devil" winds and a "sweet spot" condition of water and mud that is extremely slippery. The composition of the mud in the lake bed is similar to clays used as lubricants in drilling operations and is extremely slippery when wet. The composition of the mud in the southern end of the lake bed is different from the northern end, and this may account for the different behavior of the sliding stones in the two areas.
After a very windy night spent near the playa at the Homestake campground (our tent nearly launched into flight even with two heavy humans and about 250 pounds of rock ballast), we proceeded down into Saline Valley on the very scenic Lippincot Mine road. We drove through an extensive Joshua tree forest on the Darwin Plateau before reaching California State Route 190 just to the west of Father Crowley Point. We stopped for very tasty BLT sandwiches at the Panamint Springs Café before returning to Las Vegas. I wouldn't recommend ever attempting the Lippincot Mine Road in a passenger car and further suggest that anyone intending to travel this route have extensive four-wheel drive experience.
A trip from Las Vegas out to the Racetrack Playa and back can be accomplished in one day. Recently, I left the Strip about 7:00 a.m. and reached the playa at about 11:00 a.m. After wandering about the playa and marveling at the crazy and intricate patterns for four hours, I returned the way I had come and was back in my office before nightfall. Extra water is an absolute necessity -- for both humans and the vehicle. Maps are another must -- the two I use are the California Benchmark Atlas and the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Death Valley Map. Know how to change your tires and carry survival gear. Here are some desert travel tips.
A memorable journey of discovery to a remote region that's also remarkably accessible, a trip to visit the mysterious sliding stones is both baffling and enchanting.
April 23, 2006