Nick Carver Photography Blog

Photography Tips, Tutorials, & Videos

CONTACT
 

Trip to The Racetrack in Death Valley

Well I just can't seem to keep myself at home. Not long after my trip to the Sierras to capture the fall color, I decided to head back up in that part of California for a camping trip. But this time, it was off to the desert.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

A buddy of mine and I set our sights squarely on The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park. For those of you who haven't heard of it before, The Racetrack is an expansive playa of dry, cracked dirt upon which boulders sit, dotting the landscape in no particular pattern. These fairly large rocks are peculiar in that they sit in the middle of this endless expanse, far away from any logical source. They leave one wondering how they could have gotten so far out in the middle of nowhere.

But the even more peculiar thing about them is that many of these boulders have definite trails scraped into the dirt, very clearly indicating a track the rocks once took to reach their current resting spots. It's like they just slid across the dirt all by themselves, driven by nothing more than their own will. Hence the name "The Racetrack."

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The trails don't appear to follow any slope, especially since the playa is about as level as level gets. In fact, trails seems to go in all different directions. You can find one boulder with a clear trail coming from the north, and another rock not 20 feet away with a trail coming from the south. It's truly bizarre. From what I understand, the movement of these rocks has never been seen or filmed in action. There are only hypotheses as to what causes them to move - all revolving around strong winter winds.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

Some of the tracks even change direction, creating sharp angles in their trajectory.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

This rock (below) in particular baffled me. It has 2 trails going off in opposite directions. One is to the southwest and another to the northwest. It seems like this rock must have been heading northeast, stopped, turned sharply to the northwest, stopped, and then turned right back around and started heading southeast on its own previously laid track. Really interesting.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

Here the rocks are "racing" away from their source at the edge of the playa.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

But it wasn't only about the rocks and their trails. The cracked dirt of this playa was interesting enough in itself to warrant a picture or two. It looked like cobblestone. Almost mesmerizing as you walked over it.

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park, CA

Overall, The Racetrack was a great place to shoot and I was lucky to have a decent sunrise. But the real adventure was in getting there. There are no paved roads to the playa and it's really best visited in a 4x4. We opted to get there via Saline Valley Rd to the south, which eventually connects you up to Racetrack Valley Rd.

Old Rusted Truck in Death Valley National Park, CA

All the way up to Racetrack Valley Rd at Teakettle Junction was an absolute blasty. It was a great, fun off-road trail with gorgeous scenery, tons of variety and a good chunk of elevation change. But the best part was the weather. A storm was passing through, which dumped rain and snow on us. Here's a couple short video clips from the drive in:


So that part of the drive was fun. But what nearly made me lose my mind was the 30+ miles of brutal washboards on Racetrack Valley Rd. It was like driving on corrugated steel with your head in a paint can shaker. Mind-numbing. You can't drive much faster than 10 mph without every bolt and screw in your car rattling free. Here we are taking a break from it. Don't let the smiles fool you...

Nick Carver on Racetrack Valley Rd

I didn't get much in the way of landscapes after sunrise on The Racetrack, but I did manage to snap some shots of a couple of ravens perched on a park sign. They were brave, allowing us to get just a few feet away.

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

^ Here they perch right above a notice that says "Do Not Feed Wild Animals." Not the best place to beg for food...

Ravens in Death Valley National Park, CA

For the second night of the trip, we camped in Death Valley proper in a secluded spot, did some nighttime off-roading to an abandoned mine and then set off for home the next morning. Excellent trip overall.

Videos from the Autumn Sierras Trip

I recently got myself a much-needed iPhone 4s, and given the amazing video capabilities it has, I thought I'd start shooting some footage at the locations I visit so you can see what the scenery was like. Keep in mind that since I can't control the exposure, white balance or any other settings on the video, they aren't super high quality, but they get the job done.

For instance, here is some footage from North Lake at sunrise:

And here is the resulting picture:

North Lake at Sunrise near Bishop, CA

Here's one along South Lake Rd:

With the resulting picture:

Fall Color in the Eastern Sierra near Bishop, CA

And lastly, this is just a video showing the amazing color on display:

Expect many more of these in the future. Hopefully I can do something to work out the image quality a bit.

Autumn in the Sierras: Part 3

North Lake in Autumn at sunrise - Near Bishop, CA

- Autumn in the Sierras: Part 1
- Autumn in the Sierras: Part 2

On my third and final day in the Sierras, my top priority was to photograph North Lake at sunrise. The original plan was to hit Convict Lake, but I luckily ran into another photographer the day before who told me Convict Lake was nothing special and that North Lake was the place to be. So with his advice in mind, I set my alarm (nice and loud this time) for an hour and a half before sunrise.

Boy, am I glad I took his advice! North Lake was absolutely gorgeous at sunrise! So picturesque it was almost ridiculous.

The light started off as a deep orange that just barely kissed the peaks in the background and eventually grew into a warm yellow side-lighting that illuminated the entire mountainside blanketed in yellow aspens. Pair that with some great foreground rocks and a mirror-like reflection, and the result is some of my favorite photos from the whole trip. There were also a couple of American Coots swimming around the lake - sometimes ruining my reflections with ripples and other times adding a nice little bit of flair to the scene with their silhouettes on the shore.

North Lake in Autumn at sunrise - Near Bishop, CA

North Lake in Autumn at sunrise - Near Bishop, CA

North Lake in Autumn at sunrise - Near Bishop, CA

After a successful morning shoot, it was back to the hotel to pack up and check out. But before I started the journey home, I visited a couple previous spots to capture these last 2 pictures. The second shot below was taken atop my car so as to get a higher vantage point on this road.

Aspens in fall - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bishop, CA

Aspens in fall - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bishop, CA

And, of course, I had to get the customary picture of my truck out in the wild...

My 4Runner in the Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bishop, CA in fall

And lastly, here are a few pictures from the previous evening in which I went down to the creek to get the fall color on the banks of this beautiful stream.

Creek and fall color - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bishop, CA

Creek and fall color - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bishop, CA

Creek and fall color - Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains near Bishop, CA

Well, that's all from this trip, folks! Now it's time to plan the next adventure 🙂