It’s the quietest place I’ve ever been…the only apparent noise is the blood pushing through my veins. The irony of course being in the name: Racetrack. But there’s only one thing that races here…rocks.

Me not racing
Me not racing

In itself, getting to Death Valley National Park isn’t especially easy, and getting to the Racetrack isn’t especially easy once you get in the park. DVNP is among the largest national parks in the system. In fact, I believe it’s the largest in the contiguous 48. To use the worn clich√©: it’s a study of extremes…the hottest place, the lowest place and the driest place in America. And on the extreme end of these extremes is the Racetrack.

Take Scotty’s Castle Road until the pavement runs out…and then it’s just another 26 miles of unpaved, jagged rock road. That part of the drive alone took about an hour and a half. Yeah…90 minutes of teeth chattering, white knuckled bouncing and turning and sliding. The drive had me a bit stressed. My CRV was 4-wheel drive with some pretty robust tires, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was built on a car chassis. With every groan of the frame I was waiting for a snapped axle. In that 26 miles I didn’t see another car, truck, human or coyote. It was nothingness.

Beautiful, glorious, amazing nothingness.

I remember as a boy my grandparents had a bunch of encyclopedias from National Geographic showcasing the amazing sites of the world. I’d spend every holiday there leafing through the pages seeing all these amazing locales…and one that always stuck in my head was this place: the Racetrack.

What makes Racetrack so remarkable is the mysterious moving rocks. Boulders, rocks, pebbles somehow move across a dried ancient lakebed leaving a track of where they’ve been. There’s still no consensus on how this happens, although the prevailing opinion is that a combination of wind and intermittent rains push these rocks along. My prevailing opinion is what it is whenever things can’t quite be explained: Aliens.

This rock is MIA...abduction?
This rock is MIA…abduction?

Standing in the middle of this lake bed, I feel my heart beat. I am alone…completely, totally, absolutely alone. Initially such a feeling of isolation is overwhelming inciting a tinge of anxiety. But pressing through that barrier of anxiety, I find the feeling of liberty. Only natural forces can affect me at this particular moment…the same forces that move a two-hundred-pound boulder stuck in the mud.

In the middle of the lakebed is a massive rock, or rather a pile of rocks looking like a black haunted castle looming over its kingdom of smaller moving rocks. Perhaps there’s something to this rock, this Grandstand…a subterranean gravitational well, perhaps a trans-dimensional wormhole. Maybe that’s why the rocks move. I spent some time climbing around on the rock, watching for the stray rattlesnake sheltering from the hot sun.

After a little more walking around and taking pictures I got back in my car to head back. The sun was dropping and the last thing I wanted to do was drive on that road in the dark. On the way back I stopped at Teapot Junction…it’s a signpost leading to another off-road trail but it’s decorated with a dozen or so teapots with personalized messages. I didn’t have a teapot in my car, maybe next time.

An hour or so later I was back on Scotty’s Castle Road enjoying the luxury of pavement and racing the sun back to my campsite.



Tags : CaliforniaDeath Valley National ParkNational ParkRacetrackScotty's Castle
Kris Ankarlo

The author Kris Ankarlo


  1. We’re slightly obsessed with national parks so hope to go there one day. I read its easy to get lost there with no/ little road signs or landmarks. How did you figure out where to go and how to get back?

    1. You’re right…the roads aren’t marked as regularly as many places, but NPS does a good job of putting signs where needed. Still though have a good local map, a decent sense of direction, a fully charged phone, lots of extra water and a healthy sense of adventure. The key is paying attention to your map relative to landmarks, and if ever in doubt stop until you get your bearings. And the park rangers are always good to talk with before going off-road.

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