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National park tips: Rocks mysteriously slide around Death Valley’s Racetrack. That’s one reason to go

The Racetrack, in the outback of Death Valley, is where a unique combination of cold, wind and water causes some rocks to gradually slide across the usually dry old lake bed.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

The challenge of getting to the Racetrack in Death Valley National Park is part of the payoff. This back-country outpost is where breadbox-sized rocks mysteriously make tracks across a pale, flat, dry lake bed. (It’s actually a trick of ice and wind.)

Photographers and conspiracy theorists love the place, especially when the sun is low. But it’s 27 miles beyond the pavement’s end. You need a vehicle with high clearance and heavy-duty tires and tolerance for a bumpy ride. Unless you’ve competed in the Baja 1000, give the drive 90 minutes to two hours each way from Ubehebe Crater.

And don’t be surprised if you see some damage on the lake bed. An off-road vandal at Racetrack cut about 10 miles of ruts into the delicate playa surface on an illegal joyride in early August 2016, prompting a federal investigation. James Norris, a research engineer who has worked extensively in the area, called the vandalism “terribly damaging” and “inexcusable.”

In honor of this year’s National Park Service centennial, the Travel section is posting 100 park travel ideas and tips based on trips staff travel writer Christopher Reynolds has taken, along with photo-op advice from Times photographer Mark Boster. We’ll post one per day through Dec. 31.

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Follow Reynolds on Twitter: @MrCSReynolds

See travel videos by Reynolds from around the world.

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