Death Valley adventure – the Racetrack


Day 3, Our best day
March 10, 2014
(Part 1)

The trouble with the weather in Death Valley, CA is that you can never predict what it’s going to be. Hal and I certainly experienced that the last time we were there, and this time was no different.

We got up on Day 3, ate breakfast at the usual Denny’s. That slowed us down a little bit because our waitresss was one of those people who do not drink coffee, and do not know the urgency with which it must be served! I watched her do everything else after she took our order, and then finally, after serving several other people and getting them cold drinks, she brought us the coffee. I saw another couple sitting there waiting, and they were getting more and more agitated, too. I wanted to get up and start walking around with a coffee pot myself! I am one of those “get things done” girls. After that trauma, and the usual “gassing up” trauma (because of the fussy little fuel bottles), we were out on the road early (for us). Our plan for the day was to ride to The Racetrack. It would be our second attempt, and I was sure we’d make it this time.

The weather, as I mentioned, was sunny and warm. I could feel that it was even warmer than the day before. I was removing liners and layers all day, but I knew better than to leave them home. The air was still cool until we had descended Daylight Pass and hit Scotty’s Castle Rd. Remember, we still had to ride all the way back there again, hence the need for all the extra fuel bottles. My bike has a tiny gas tank, and until I invest in the bigger tank, I will be hauling either fuel cells or fuel bottles strapped to the top of my bags.

On Racetrack Rd., we went in a lot faster this time since we knew what to expect. However, by the time we’d climbed for a while, then descended for a while, the road flattened out and became corrugated and sandy. That is when I appreciated the suspension on my KLX. I have never been able to ride fast on that type of surface, but this time I did. Now I understand how to get up to speed and let the suspension “float” over the bumps. I could imagine how many suspension components I would have broken on my F650GS if I’d ridden it like I did the KLX. It was a great feeling.

My first glimpse: the Racetrack in the distance!

We passed Teakettle Junction, and then I got my first glimpse of the playa that is The Racetrack. It is named so for the rocks that are scattered in the dry lakebed and somehow, mysteriously, slide. No one has been able to explain the movement, nor has the actual movement been caught on video, but evidence of it is in the “skid marks” left by the rocks. The surface of the playa, a flat, dry lakebed, apparently gets a thin layer of water over it when it rains; that’s what makes it so flat and even. A theory about the movement of the rocks is that the wind is strong enough to push them over the slick surface made by the thin film of water over the slick soil. I could picture that, knowing how slimy clay can get when it is wet. And, at the south end there is a narrow opening between the mountains in the distance that you could imagine producing the venturi effect, forcing the wind through the narrow opening and letting it pick up speed and force. You never know what is possible with natural phenomena.

The park service has asked people not to walk out there if it is wet because the footprints stay there for years. We were fortunate that it was dry, and we hiked out to the far side where most of the rocks are. There were once some rocks closer to the small parking area, but people have stolen them. How inconsiderate. Once the rock is moved, it no longer has any meaning, and then no one else can enjoy it.

The unique surface of the playa:

We found the surface of the playa patterned and textured, although it seemed unaffected by people walking on it while dry. About 6-8 people were already over on the other side, taking photos and walking around looking at the rocks. The surface felt slightly “springy” to me, and I was disappointed that I had not brought my workout shoes. I was going to lash them to the top of my bags since I don’t really like hiking in my motorcycle boots, but I forgot at the last minute.

Hal and I spent a lot of time at the Racetrack, taking photos and looking around at yet another amazing place in Death Valley. Finally, after about an hour and a half, we thought we’d better head back home. When we got back to where the bikes were parked, to our surprise we saw a BMW R1200C, the cruiser bike! I was astonished that someone had made it down Racetrack Rd. on that bike, but there it was. While we geared up, we tried to guess which person it was who had ridden it. We would later get to meet him.

On the way out of Racetrack Rd., we flew along. We made super-good time because by then the road was mapped in our heads, and we could ride the open sections quickly. However, just as I was enjoying that we might actually get home early, Hal’s bike quit running. Fortunately, we were on the downhill side, about 8-10 miles or so from the end, so we coasted along, Hal trying to figure out what it could be. The bike would start, but as soon as he dropped it into first gear, it would quit, and sometimes backfire. Again, we were out in a remote area, far from any services or help, and most of the people who had been there with us had left earlier than we did.

What could it be?

(story continued tomorrow!)

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2 thoughts on “Death Valley adventure – the Racetrack

  1. Some questions. Do you mind if I promote your blog? I’d like to post a link to PNWRIDERS. Have you considered a helmet cam? I think you need one, there nice when things get ugly! Also, when you find a gate, you go around, that’s where the good stuff is.

    • Please do, Ron. I could use some promoting! 🙂 I do have a helmet cam, but I am using the chest harness now. I just got it because I don’t have the mount on my Shoei and no desire to put it there. Yeah, yeah, about that gate … 😉

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