Despite the name, Racetrack Valley sees far less action in Death Valley National Park because it’s so far remote. While only ~90 miles from Furnace Creek, 27 miles require driving down Racetrack Valley Road – a rough, washboard, off-road-only ordeal that makes visiting kind of tricky. However, that’s not the half of it. You need to drive a little further if you want to see those moving rocks, and further than that if you plan to camp legally in the area. The moving rocks on the Racetrack Playa are its claim to fame.
Because Racetrack Valley is tucked deep within the park, you can’t just go there on your way to something else. It’s an out-and-back journey that takes a bit of planning and knowing what to expect.
1. You must have a high clearance vehicle, preferably four wheel drive
Racetrack Valley Road is rocky, folks. Washboard road. 27 miles of it. Don’t assume your sedan will cut it. If you get stuck, you’re stuck. No cell service. No AAA. The ranger station is miles away. If this describes you, you can rent a jeep from Farabee’s Jeep Rentals in Furnace Creek.
2. Visiting Racetrack Valley is an overnight journey
Racetrack Valley is about 90 miles from Furnace Creek. However, these 90 miles will take you over 3 hours to complete! 2 of those 3 hours will be spent hobbling down Racetrack Valley Road at 10-15 mph for 27 miles.
Consequently, you could be driving up to 8 hours on a day trip. While that’s not entirely impossible, it’s a terrible idea. There are closer campgrounds you should consider.
3. Camp at Homestake Dry Camp or Mesquite Springs Campground
Homestake Dry Camp isn’t a real campground. It’s a generalized area at the very end of Racetrack Valley Road. There is no water, no bathroom, and no rocks or trees for bathroom shelter. Your only option is an outhouse with a pile of poop that rises almost as high as the seat. Dry and solidified, the petrified pile will indicate that the outhouse hasn’t been serviced in months. A helpful inscription on the inner door tells you that 10 pm is a good time to revisit for “manly love.” Homestake Dry Camp is 3 miles away from the Racetrack. This is your best option for camping.
If you’re not keen on that, Mesquite Springs Campground is 35 miles away. Though it does better on the amenity side, you’ll need to travel back through Racetrack Valley Road, which will be a 2-hour drive. Choose wisely.
3. Bring plenty of water, food, clothing and a full tank of gas
Fill up your gas tank in Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, or Beatty if you’re coming from Nevada. Pick up a 5-gallon water jug (or 3) at any of those locations. Oh, and don’t assume you can buy any of the above along the way, because once you leave Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells, there aren’t any stores or facilities! No ranger station either!
4. Take a picture of your vehicle at Teakettle Junction. Major street cred.
5. Tread lightly on Racetrack Playa
If the Playa is muddy or wet, traipsing around will damage it. How? Your footprints will remain for up to months. Everyone and their mother will know what kind of fancy footwear you were wearing that day, 7+ months ago. There are signs posted that explain this. Don’t be that person.
6. Don’t even think about driving/sitting on the Playa
Yeah, it’s called Racetrack Valley, but don’t take it literally. Once you arrive, it would seem like not driving on the Playa would be common sense. Nevertheless, you will see tire tracks from dirt bikes and cars which will make you hate humanity. On another note – in my moment of glee at witnessing nature’s splendor, I somehow decided to lay down on the Playa to gaze at the sky, like it was an actual beach or something. My shirt and pants had Playa on it for a week.
7. Take your time finding all the moving rocks.
However, don’t assume that there will be moving rocks all over the place. Or boulders, for that matter.
Some pictures make the rocks look enormous and noticeable. However, most range from softball to bowling ball sizes. I did see one or two the size of bean bag chairs. You can find the moving rocks by identifying which ones have long trails behind them.
8. Hike up Ubehebe Peak
Ubehebe Peak is the only established hike in the vicinity, but it’s a great one. It climbs 3 miles up to the summit, all the while providing conquistador-like views of the entire Racetrack which look increasingly impressive as you climb.
9. Take your time, notice your surroundings, and ponder your place in this world
If solitude is what you’re looking for, this is a good place to find it.
10. On the way back, allow plenty of time to hike along the rim of Ubehebe Crater
Ubehebe Crater is on the way to Racetrack Valley and is easily accessed. The turnoff for the crater is at the juncture with Racetrack Valley Road. It’s worth stopping by, like, for at least an hour or more.
People, this crater, is insane. Hiking along the rim with views of mountain ranges and varying landscapes will make you feel amazing! Or like Frodo about to cast the ring into Mount Doom.
Hiking along the rim is like walking through gravel.