Visiting the Mysterious Sailing Stones in Death Valley
Jason Daniel Shaw
DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK
My favorite thing to do in Death Valley is to visit the sailing stones at the racetrack. These mysterious stones move across the dry lake bed (the playa) as if they are alive, leaving trails that are embedded in hard ground. For decades, nobody witnessed the stones move or even knew how they moved. Over the years, some really strange theories tried to explain it, such as hurricane force winds or even aliens. In 2014, a team from UC San Diego actually published a paper documenting their years of observations and explaining what causes the movement. I like to believe that it is still a mystery.
RACETRACK AT DEATH VALLEY
If it weren’t for the sailing stones, the racetrack, also called the playa, would be just another giant dry lake bed in the middle of the desert. However, these stones make it a must-visit for anyone visiting Death Valley. They are such a unique sight and something that only nature can produce. Also in the middle of the lake bed, what would be an island, is a giant rock outcropping that offers a great vantage point for viewing the vast flatness. A word of caution, everything looks closer than it actually is and remember, you are in the middle of one of the hottest places on the planet.
GETTING TO THE RACETRACK
As I said, the racetrack and sailing stones is my favorite place to visit in Death Valley. However, the drive out there is not for the faint of heart. It is also not advisable in anything less than an off-road vehicle. I have been twice now, the first time was in a rental truck (because I drove a BMW 335i at the time) and the latest was in my Jeep Wrangler. The road out can be washed out in places, sandy in others but the main issue is the sharp rocks that fill the trail and can easily puncture tires. Make sure your vehicle has heavy duty tires and carry a spare. While I have not had tire issues, I did have a rear shock mount break this last trip. The road is like a washboard for much of the 26 mile, each way, trip. There is also no cell phone coverage for most, if not all of it. You will, however, find quite a few Joshua Trees along the way. One of the most unique things that you will come across is Teakettle Junction. A spot that people have left old teakettles over the years – I am not sure why. We took our time and took photos along some of the more scenic spots on the trail. Go with caution, but go. It is an awesome place to see.
Ubehebe Crater is right near the dirt road that leads to the racetrackso it is worth the stop either on the way to or from the sailing stones. Standing on the rim of a volcanic crater created between 2,000 and 7,000 years ago is a pretty awesome thing. I have not personally walked to the bottom but I imagine that it would be like being an ant standing in the bottom of a bowl. If you haven’t already, I hope you get the chance to visit the mysterious sailing stones and all that Death Valley National Park has to offer. If you are looking for some other ideas on what to do while in Death Valley, check out my other posts.