Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam
Steven and Sean on the Polar Bear Cam

Friday, April 13, 2007

Ubehebe Craters, The Devil's Racetrack, Sand Dunes and Artist's Palette

In Death Valley, if you need to buy gas, you have two choices-- Chevron in Furnace Creek or you can drive 50 miles to Pahrump in Nevada. So if they decide to charge more than $1.00 per gallon over the price of the nearest gas station outside the park in California, there's not much a person can do besides complain.

I took this photo on April 13, on the 14th the price had risen another 15 cents a gallon but I couldn't bring myself to take another picture. A Ford Expedition isn't exactly a fuel-efficient vehicle, gas-guzzling hog would be a more apt description, but not really having a choice we closed our eyes and tried not to think about how close to three figures it cost to fill our tank which wasn't even completely empty.

We drove to the Ubehebe craters, formed about 2,000 years ago when rising magma created intense steam pressure, resulting in an explosion that spewed shattered rock over a 6-mile square area, to depths of up to 150 feet. Ubehebe is the largest of several craters in the area, half a mile across with a depth of 500 feet.

For the first time I decided to go to the bottom of the crater, temperatures of over 100 degrees on previous trips have prevented me from being willing to brave the steep climb out over the slippery volcanic sand.

Steven, Sean and I went all the way to the bottom this time and the kids posed next to the stake marking the bottom of the crater.

We headed out across jarring washboard toward the Devil's Racetrack and made our obligatory stop at Teakettle Junction.

Every year in February or March the rangers go out and cut down all the teakettles attached to the sign and the cycle begins anew, with passers-by who've braved the 20+ mile trek on dirt roads to the junction attaching teakettles or sifters or other kitchen utensils. The teakettle Doug is holding was our favorite, painted all the way around with scenes from Death Valley. The last time we were there, our favorite kettle was decorated for Easter, with marshmallow bunnies melted all over the outside of the pot.

We arrived at the Devil's Racetrack, an ancient dry lake bed and parked at the edge of the playa so we could walk to the Grandstand, as the rock formation in the center is called.

The Racetrack is one of my favorite places in Death Valley, it's like entering an alien landscape. The kids staged elaborate battles on the rocks of the Grandstand.

The rocks on the racetrack playa move. You can walk around and see the tracks left by the movement of rocks on the playa. It's a mystery, there are many theories on how the rocks move involving specific combinations of winds and rain and ice, but it's all theory as nobody has ever seen them move, only the tracks they leave behind.

We didn't see any this time, but some of the rocks that move are huge, weighing over 100 lbs.

We left the Racetrack and drove to the dunes.

The winds that cause us so much discomfort at night have their purpose, it is the winds that shape the dunes.

We drove back toward our campsite, passing the lowest point in the California Highway system at 242 feet below sea level.

Our sunset excursion was to the Artist's Palette, not far from Furnace Creek. It is a place of colored mineral deposits that have the appearance of paints splashed over the rocks.

The night was calm, clear and beautiful and the next day we drove home.

72% of visitors to Death Valley come from foreign countries, primarily France, Germany and Switzerland. 21% are from California and the remaining 7% are from other states in the US, primarily Nevada.

It never ceases to amaze me that people travel from far places to visit Death Valley, but there are few people in California who have ever been there.

It is a place of great beauty and wide open spaces. Maybe its better that it remains a relatively undiscovered place, it will be that much easier for us to find a campsite when we decide to go.

- Kathleen



Blogger disco-legend-zeke said...

We visited the racetrack last fall (2007) and took over a hundred pictures.

I finally got them posted they are at

Hope you enjoy thhe pictures.

Disco Legend Zeke and the RETROROAMER

April 14, 2008 5:12 AM  

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