Is Visiting the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley Worth It?

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I probably won’t ever go again. That’s how bad it’s gotten. Not unless something changes.

If you’re into travel and landscape photography you’ve likely either been to or have on your bucket list the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park. I’ve been twice now, which is really a lot harder than it sounds if you haven’t been before. In this article, I want to go over my current thoughts on this peculiar and incredible place and the impact that tourists and photographers are having on it. I think it’s an important dialogue to open up, so I hope you’ll join in the conversation once you’ve read the article.

What is the Racetrack Playa?

Perhaps you’ve never heard of the Racetrack Playa, or maybe you’ve heard of it but just don’t know much about it? The Racetrack Playa is a remote location deep within Death Valley National Park. It is a massive playa (dry lake bed) that measures 2.8 miles long by 1.3 miles (4.5 km by 2.1 km) wide. The playa is famous amongst tourists and photographers because of its mysterious “sailing rocks” that leave trails behind them on the playa. It’s said that nobody has ever witnessed the rocks moving. Because of that, there is no shortage of theories about how they move about the playa. While the Racetrack Playa is incredibly remote, in reality it’s really not all that far away from the main attractions at the park like the Mesquite Sand Dunes. The problem is that a mountain range sits in-between the two (so you have to drive all the way around).

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Getting there

Once you’ve driven the two hours on Scotty’s Castle Road and stopped at Ubehebe Crater, you still have a daunting 27 mile washboard gravel road to contend with. From Furnace Creek to Racetrack Playa, you’ll be driving uphill the entire way and will gain around 3,500 feet in altitude. The gravel road is fine in a few areas, but absolutely frustrating most of the way. The entire time you’re dodging large rocks and boulders in the middle of the road, pulling over to let oncoming traffic pass by and trying to ride that balance between going safe and slow to avoid a flat tire, and fast and dangerous to avoid the washboard style road and all the bumps and vibrations.

Both of my trips into the Racetrack Playa had potentially horrendous outcomes but both also produced some great images for my portfolio. The first trip in was with my buddy Cliff Baise in his VW Toureg. We made it in just fine, but on the way out the road just proved too much for the SUV. His drive train got damaged at some point and we had to limp into Las Vegas for three days while the car got repaired. The second trip was during the first of two photography workshops I led inside the park with Mike Mezeul II back in February of this year. During that workshop, we took another SUV in and got a flat tire when we pulled into Tea Kettle Junction. Luckily we had a spare tire and got out fine (but it could have ended a lot worse if we had gotten another flat on the way out).

All of this to say that by the time we actually got to the playa parking lot–after 3 hours of driving and a flat tire–I wasn’t in the best of moods, and I was doing my best to stay calm and happy for my workshop students. After all, this place is a bucket list item for most photographers and just being here is a huge blessing. So if just getting to the Racetrack isn’t bad enough, here’s what we were greeted with as we walked out onto the playa…

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We anticipated this, but had no idea the extent of how bad it was. The Death Valley National Park Facebook page had shared a similar photo at the beginning of the month but we had heard rumors that the photo was taken well off the beaten path of the playa. Here’s that photo:

Image originally posted on the Death Valley National Park Facebook page. Used with permission.

Image originally posted on the Death Valley National Park Facebook page. Used with permission.

This is what happens when logic flies out the window. This is pure stupidity and selfishness at it’s worst. Matt Kloskowski wrote an article that somewhat defended the actions of whoever did this. He wasn’t by any means saying it was ok, just that they didn’t know any better and that it’s just dirt. I respectfully disagree. When I took my workshop group out onto that playa, it was plenty dry enough to walk on without leaving any trace. If it was still damp or muddy, we would have turned right around and left (the group knew that going in). As we explored the Racetrack during sunset, it was virtually impossible to find a good composition that didn’t have footprints littering the scene. It was far, far worse than I had expected. Nobody could have done this without at least thinking to themselves that maybe they shouldn’t be doing it. I refuse to believe otherwise.

But it’s just dirt – who cares?

It matters because the playa, and the park as a whole, only get around one to two inches of rain per year. That means that these footprints will likely be on the playa for years and years. Unfortunately, that’s not where the problem ends.

Childish playa mischief

Another thing that becomes painfully obvious while exploring the Racetrack Playa is the increasingly high amount of mischief going on. The very first rock trail that I came to on the playa had no rock at either end. The next trail I came to was around 15-20 inches wide (quite large for the playa) but only had a tiny rock (maybe 6 inches) at the end. Yet another rock trail I found was just the opposite; around 6 inches wide but with a much larger rock at the end. There were trails with no rocks, trails with rocks at both ends, rocks with far too extravagant trails behind them and so on.

It’s quite clear that people tamper with the rocks at Racetrack Playa. Unfortunately, the likely source of this mischief is other photographers. It takes a LOT of walking and a LOT of patience to find the perfect rock, with a perfect trail behind it, with a perfect backdrop behind that. The problem is, some people don’t have the amount of patience it requires to get a shot like that. My guess is that photographers are finding good trails and good backdrops, and then replacing the rocks in front of them with larger rocks from somewhere else. I talked to one photographer out there who heard a rumor that another photographer took a picture of a rock and then move it as far away as he could, ensuring that nobody else would ever get the same photo.

There have also been tire tracks both times I visited the playa, leading out toward the rocks. So who’s responsible for that? Is it tourists, or photographers who just don’t want to make the hike out to good rocks? Is it people who take their trucks out on the playa to drag the rocks around? Who knows. Either way, there are plenty of signs prohibiting driving onto the playa.

So what can we do?

I think the most important thing we can do is just get the word out. I’m convinced that the overwhelming majority of photographers are good people and respect the things they photograph. It’s just unfortunate that the small percentage of people who don’t fall into that category can completely ruin a good thing like the Racetrack Playa.

I hate to say it, but at this point I think I would totally support Death Valley National Park changing the Racetrack Playa to a permit only destination and even making it a lottery system much like Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Those who get accepted to go in will be educated on the playa, how to take care of it and precautions to take when going out. The footprints would disappear, the mischief would go away and photographers everywhere would rejoice.

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Conclusion

My experience with the Racetrack Playa has been a frustrating one to say the least. That’s why I really want to get the word out about the shape that it’s in and get people talking about it. What do you think about all this? What’s your opinion? How should we fix it? Let me know in the comments below!


Editor’s note: I think this is an important topic for discussion. Some photographers like Ansel Adams were key in the conservation of National Parks in the US and he was a big advocate for leaving nature natural. So how have we gotten so off track since Ansel Adam’s time? If photographers of his era were as careless and selfish there might not even be parks for today for us to enjoy. So what legacy will be leave our future generation? How can we make a stand and make a difference? I just used this quote on someone else and thought it appropriate to share here also:

I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

Edward Everett Hale (often wrongly attributed to Helen Keller as she has used it in her writing as well)

So what will you do?

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James Brandon is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

  • Truly heartbreaking. The appalling result of human selfishness and indifference. James, if you set up a petition at change.org, I’ll be the first to sign, and I’ll surely encourage all my friends and fellow photographers to do the same. Do you think we’ll have a chance?

  • p mueller

    13 (or insert whatever # here) megapixel smartphone cameras, mixed with the most self-absorbed generation ever produced (think “selfies”) doesn’t equal “Photographer.” Regardless of how many pictures they post on Facebook, Flickr, Twitter etc. it’s all quite apparent.

    Sad and disgusted. Not my people…

  • Colin

    This is sad but it is happening the world over. Local to me rare orchids have been trampled to death by photographers who won’t keep to the paths in conversation areas.

  • keepntch

    In this current political climate, I don’t know that any of our treasures have a chance. Selfishness and greed play a big part, willful ignorance dished out as entitlement fuel the players. I fear that as long as there is denial of any sense of responsibility and acknowledgement of the finite quality of our environment we are in for an uphill battle. It seems like every discussion I participate in ends with me exhorting every single person eligible to get out and vote for supportive representatives. Education and speaking out for those who live in countries that don’t vote.

  • Burt Johnson

    I wasn’t aware of the problem here. I have also been there twice, but the most recent was maybe three years ago. I didn’t see any indication of damage then. I figured it was mostly protected by being hard to reach at the time.

  • I totally agree that this area should be closed to public! Sometimes it’s more important to save the nature then giving everyone the possibility to see it. I don’t care that everyone should be able to see it! We don’t have to photograph everything and think we can do with nature what we want.

    I’ve been in the valley of fire a month ago and was getting angry when I saw that some people wrote their names into the petroglyphes you can see there at some places. That are not “people who don’t know better”! That are just stupid people. Perhaps there are some people who don’t know better, but imho that’s the smaller part of the people.

    Makes me angry to see what humanity is doing to nature! I don’t care about if they destroyed my picture, but destroying history should be punished.

  • echomrg

    a few weeks ago i was in jerusalem at the church of the holy sepulcher and i this strange revelation: i was appalled, as you are, at the idea that someone would deface one of the holiest places on earth writing their name on the wall.
    but the i realized that people were basically doing it since forever, you could see layers and layers of graffiti that were made maybe hundreds of years ago (if not, definitely more that a few decades).

    and the petroglyphes you’re talking about are exactly the same thing.
    graffiti someone made for the heck of it on stones in the middle of the desert.
    what make the original graffiti petroglyphes special?
    why are they special and the modern equivalents are not?
    will the names scribbed onto the petroglyphes be considered archeologically valuable 4 or 500 years from now? will they be considered history?

    i’m not saying that defacing prehistorical sites is a smart thing to do.
    but i do think there’s some interesting question going on here.

    (destroying nature is a different thing, clearly)

  • It’s been over 7 years since I twice visited the beautiful and mystical Racetrack and it wasn’t nearly as bad as you describe now. I got my wonderful shots and left no trace, and I’m saddened to hear that others are having a much more difficult time than I had. I agree with making it a permit only area, and if I can do anything to help with your proposal to do this, please let me know.

  • bretedge

    I’ve been out to the Racetrack Playa twice but not in a few years. A good friend is a LE ranger in Death Valley and he’s complained to me about the absurd actions committed by tourists and photographers to the area. It is truly unfortunate. I live in Moab and I’m constantly amazed at the antics of tourists in this area, too. I believe the common missing link is simple common sense. Whether or not these people have it at home is unknown but it certainly seems that if they do have any common sense at home, it flies out the window the moment their vacation begins.

  • Diana Powell

    Not on my bucket list any more. I will just enjoy the ever increasing rare pristine photo of the playa. Sometimes I have to remind myself to look around where I am and not be such a predator when it comes to hunting down the iconic shots. By all means close it off to the public if all the public is going to do is deface it. However; eventually the mess will be washed away – nature always wins.

  • debbie

    Wow. That’s a real shame. I’m Canadian but I had never heard of this place and enjoyed reading your article and learning about this. I agree it should be closed off and protected from further damage. I love national parks and exploring them with my kids but always with respect for the area. Good luck on your mission to help preserve this park.

  • Annette Berglund

    We have been there a few times. The second time we were so disappointed with the shape it was in. There was plane tracks and all the rocks were missing! Nobody know anything about what happened? We later heard it was used for drug deals. We went back this last year, There were a lot more rocks, it was fun to see. All the rocks are on the far end opposite the grandstand. I do hope people will respect this beautiful place

  • I saw this problem first hand in Arches National Park last week. The place was overcrowded and many people were violating the “stay on the trails” signs and demolishing the Cryptobiotic Soil. General morons ignoring rules is one thing but the majority of the people doing it were doing it to take pictures. And not the selfies with a cell phone (they’re satisfied with a shot from the trail), the people going 20ft through the soil were knowledgeable photogs with highend full frame DSLRs and tripods.

    When I shouted at one to stay on the trail his only response was “I’m a professional photographer”. Instead of asking his name so I could post my own pic of his violation at his blog and favorite places to post I left it at, “A professional would know better.” and went back to chasing the 3 kids I was with. I had my hands full keeping 3 teens from following his lead to babysit another person destroying what they were there to photograph.

  • Gallopingphotog

    Petroglyphs and pictographs are not just graffiti. They are specific communications and recordings by ancestral First People. They still have meaning to Native Americans today. To compare them with mindless scribbling of Mary Lou + Bobby Ray 4ever is just ridiculous.

  • LB

    Ok, it’s just mud and stones here, and in the long run it will make no difference, but some people’s lack of knowledge, consideration and any real interest in the place they’re visiting is all too obvious. This is probably why I tend to avoid the places on most people’s bucket lists.
    The very term “bucket list” points to part of the problem, IMO – for many people it’s about bagging an experience, some image trophies, one crossed-off entry among others, time is precious, cos we’re all soon going to die.
    I certainly don’t know what the answer is, especially not considering the surge in mass-tourism, but raising awareness is essential, so many thanks for the article.

  • grok2

    I’ve enjoyed the ride, no flats, and the final destination as well having gone off season before the crowds. However where the native american petroglyphs were I saw people jumping over the barrier to take photos in the protected cliff areas. When I got to a ranger station they sadly stated they know it happens but just dont have the manpower to enforce the protection. So next to the petroglyphs were tags of previous visitors. No question cell phone photos have changed the game for those wanting to show off where they are with out also having respect for where they are. Only two solutions, increase funding to allow better protection , an unlikely events in these current political times or as stated above start restricting access and perhaps add cameras to monitor for destructive behaviors. It would change the landscape but better to change it slightly than allow this kind of destructive behavior to go unchecked.

  • Edmond Keshishyan

    I just returned from my trip to Racetrack Playa. This was my first trip. I also noticed the footprints and was disapointed to see the pristine surface ruined. The scars affected the mysterious spirit of the place. However, overall I enjoyed the trip. As far as going back there, once is enough for a while.

  • Number 09 (Tony)

    This a a truly a sad state of affairs. I live in the UK and haven’t been to the Racetrack since 2004, but it was pristine as I remember it and well worth the drive out, not that any of my photographs did it any justice, but enjoyed my visit there.

  • Gary

    Wasn’t it Galen Rowell or some such famous photog that nearly got all cameras banned from Yellowstone a few years back? When asked by a ranger why he was off the trail beyond the signs and nearly standing in one of the pools, he replied -I’m Galen Rowell! The park considered banning all cameras that could be considered used by a pro. What’s the matter with these guys?

  • LNovak

    I have found this to be going on in so many locations. Disrespect for the location and the people who are there to truly appreciate it. A prime example of today’s culture. No respect for anything not nature, other people or themselves. So very sad.

  • YAUNa

    This is sadder than you can imagine. This is (was) one of our fav places in DV which we visit anytime we are there. Several years ago we noticed that the pristine character of the playa was being marred more and more. We took a number of pictures documenting the problems: holes being dug, footprints everywhere, etc. (and the fact that any signage had long since collapsed) and submitted them (yes, good old fashioned 8x10s) with a comprehensive written statement to NPS. We were told it “addressed”. The only thing I know that happened was the head honcho got promoted to DC for drawing up some kind of “comprehensive” plan for DV. I realize the next part of this will probably get some blood roiling, but it is a fact that national character is determined by what goes on at the highest echelons and when actions at that level become arbitrary, i.e. not following rule of law, then average Joe and Jill citizen have every “right” to say: if they can do it, so can I. Racetrack is simply a microcosm of the general breakdown of moral character. P.S. I thoroughly disagree with closing the area; that is no solution and, if followed to its obviously logical conclusion, you’ll be staying home sitting in your backyard. The real solution is obvious but requires a will act that I doubt this country has the capability of accomplishing.

  • Louwiza

    I completely agree it is terrible that people have no respect for such places, but there is no need to stereotype young people. I doubt many teenagers have even visited this location, and even if they have they aren’t necessarily the cause of this problem.

  • M

    Here’s an endangered Fairy Slipper Orchid. Easy to get to, paved roads the entire way, a short hike.
    But danged if I’m going to broadcast its location.

  • David King

    I took a class there this past May (2014). This was about my 6th or 7th visit to the Racetrack but always in Fall or Spring, before or after the rains. The footprints were gone, eroded by mostly wind and some moisture… so awful as they are they have not lasted “years.” I’ve spent a lot of time in various vehicles in places of all types and roads; I once worked for the Cantonlands Natural History Association to photograph and map every road and trail in Canyonlands National Park so I do know how to drive in and on precious terrain using serious vehicles without leaving marks. Our accompanying Ranger was amazed that none of us ever “touched down” on the sandstone. I tell that only to illustrate that driving in the rough is not new to me. Comparative to many old roads in the Rockies the Racetrack road is a super highway. Sadly, often the rougher the road the finer the filter is to keep out the ones who seem not to care about a place.

    Of all the times I’ve been to the Racetrack, I’ve never had ANY trouble on the Racetrack road BUT I drive slowly and carefully pick my way through the rocks which are often sharply pointed and wonderfully designed tire killers. Even when running 8-ply serious tires I carefully thread my way. Since first going in 2001 I’ve only had one student who had a flat and he admitted he was going too fast when he hit one of the sharp rocks square on.

    I will most certainly go back. I find the place magical and refuse to let the morons who desecrate it “win” by diminishing my appreciation for it or my desire to photograph it or, sometimes, just “BE” there. One of the hardest things serious landscape photographers have to learn is that sometimes the shot just doesn’t appear and you have to walk away. Frustrating to be sure. But our presence doesn;t guarantee the perfect light, weather, or lack of distractions and issues. Some shots have taken multiple trips to find everything so it corresponded to my vision for the shot.

    I completely understand the response to want to regulate the problem in the hopes it will solve the issue. I now live and teach in southern California, the land of endless regulation, often so absurd that they encourage people not to take them seriously. I think the better solution is education, perhaps requiring a “lesson” on the place and showing such things as how to drive the road safely, issues of preservation, and the effects of careless activities. I would bet that serious photographers and video/film shooters would provide images to be used in such a program, perhaps even to put it together, and at least try to find a way to solve the issue without one more closure or restrained access to those who could go over and over and never leave a mark.

  • James Brandon

    Actually it had nothing to do with wind of rain. I saw an updated post from the DV Facebook page and they have been sending workers out on a regular basis to repair the damage since it was so bad this time around.

  • James Brandon

    Great write up! I’m not totally convinced that making it a lottery system is the right way to go either it’s a slippery slope for sure. Education is expensive though and some people just can’t /won’t be educated to take care of our parks.

  • David King

    I do not doubt the Park Service has worked to repair some of the damage. However, unless the workers marvelously re-sculpted the cracked earth to blend in with the area around it leaving not a trace of man-made efforrts such as rake marks and which perfrectly matched the contours of the original furrows with a skill many artists would envy, I stand by my comment, We were on the southern end of the playa and there were quiite a few rocks with trails there. What we saw was natural. I cannot speak, as apparently you feel you can, for the entire Playa — it is huge. PErhaps something other than wind and rain was at play, but it was not a cadre of park service employees with rakes and brooms.

  • James Brandon

    Ha, OK David. Like you said, you could have been at a different area than we were. There are other people who have left comments here saying the damage was still there just recently. It’s certainly not at every rock…

  • Steve

    It is a shame that some people choose to ruin great sites by their selfish actions, many great sites are now closed off or ruined because of these selfish people.

    However, the claims that the original photographers didn’t do this is false.

    When Ansel Adams and others photographed Yosemite there were no trails to follow. They found a way to the site and now most follow the same path. Someone has to blaze the trail for others to follow.

    Simply closing or limiting access to sites isn’t the best answer either. This is basically the same logic that the people who are destroying a site are using. They want a unique photo so they move items or go off the beaten path. By closing a site or limiting access you are once again creating unique photos for only the chosen people.

    Unfortunately no rule or law will stop people from doing stupid things and eventually ruining it for all of us that do obey the rules.

  • Steve

    Closing is never a good answer. That only leaves a place to the vandals.

    So many people want to close everything, but then all we have are photographs and that doesn’t tell the same story as seeing it with your eyes.

    If no one was ever allowed to visit the Valley of Fire again, what would be the point if it survived or not? Who would even know if it in fact survived or not?

    People need to see these places. No picture will ever do them justice.

    Now I am not saying that anyone has the right to destroy these places and I believe that anyone caught destroying it should be punished, but remember that we have these places because someone got off the trail to find them.

  • James Brandon

    I never said to just close it down though, just to limit access. The Racetrack is incredibly remote, so vandals sneaking out there would take be a big problem. It doesn’t even need to be a lottery system, just a permit.

    You go to the visitor center, get a permit, watch a short video or read some rules, sign some documents saying that you will respect the place and leave no trace and then you can go. That would cut back a lot…

  • Don Stark

    Sad fact is that this didn’t happen until folks started promoting the location and the road was improved. The permit system won’t work because the road in is a route to other popular areas. The only option that will work, other than stationing a ranger there, is to stop improving the road. You will immediately cut down on the volume of visitors and greatly reduce the problem.

  • James Brandon

    That’s a great point/idea Don. I think we know they won’t ever be stationing a ranger there so letting the road just get worse and worse might be the best option. Make it to where you have to rent a jeep to go out

  • A.J.

    I was in DVNP in Dec. 2013 and decided not to attempt heading to the racetrack due to the very reasons you’ve highlighted here. Absolute shame that such a spectacular location is subject to this type of misuse.

    Thanks for raising a greater awareness of this issue.

  • socal_dave

    Great compromise! A nice big fat ticket if you get caught without the permit!

  • Lynners1966

    There was a similar problem with the Broken Hill sculptures at the Symposium, which stands in top of a mountain, not far from the inland city. The tourist bureau now takes tours, or you can hire the gate key, where it has to be returned within a certain time.
    It’s so sad to see the behaviour of people doing the damage to the Playa. It loons like a great bucket list destination, but what are/were the visitors thinking?
    I hope something can be done to stop the damage and tomfoolery.

  • Eric Bowles

    I agree. The disregard for preserving nature by 1% of the people is appalling. But 99% of people are very good about doing the right thing.

    Yesterday I made a canoe trip to a popular cliff. One person out of the thousands that visit painted a large penis and obscene words on a rock face. It’s been there for four years.

    In the Smokies, the historic log cabins are so covered with graffiti that I don’t bother to photograph them up close. The marks that a man made 120 years ago when he cut timber to build the cabin have been covered with Sharpie market and crude scrawl.

    Perhaps the thing to keep in mind is that it’s okay to calmly confront someone who does the wrong thing or does not know better. Photo bomb the person who walks in prohibited areas or throws away trash. And set a good example.

  • Jim Holmes

    As one who visited and photographed there in the late 1970’s and 80’s, this is nothing new. Rocks disappeared then. Coming in from Saline Valley was preferrable to the Park entrance. The Eureka Dunes were not part of the Park.
    We did not see a lot of visitors. Winter was great. Skiing on the Racetrack was a real kick,
    The rocks move with water sheets freezing, lifting them and high winds exerting enough pressure on the surface to make them slide across the playa. You can see the rough texture from the ice sheets if you are there not too long after it happens.

  • Ray Reinhard

    If it was “a few years back,” I doubt it was Galen Rowell. Rowell, his wife Barbara Cushman Rowell, pilot Tom Reid, and Reid’s friend Carol McAffee were all killed in a plane crash Aug 11, 2002, near Bishop, CA while they were returning from a photo workshop in Alaska.

  • Gene M.

    I go outdoors to experience nature. For me photography is a means of recording that experience. It’s good to allow as much access as possible to an area that can be restored, but when people, even just a few, cause destruction of the natural beauty, then it’s time to limit access. In the case of the racetrack, it may return to its pristine condition after a decade or two. There are many other national treasures that can be irreversibly harmed by selfish actions. Unfortunately, it takes money and manpower to enforce the restrictions.

  • RoadTrip

    I have no bucket list, I would never be able to empty it. Besides it can be an unattainable goal. The Racetrack was a primary destination for me during a road trip in July of this year. Yup, July was a deliberate plan. And I definitely feel it was worth it. It was pretty disgusting to see the tire tracks on the playa, and did make it quite difficult to get a decent photo of the rocks without them. And I saw foot tracks in a couple pots where there had been mud. One thing I couldn’t figure out was several small holes around, like someone poked the ground with a ski pole. Anyone have any idea what may have caused that? I may be naïve, but I just don’t understand how people could act so childish and immature, and destructive just for the sake of their own pleasure. I don’t buy they don’t know any better, that’s just an excuse to accept their behavior. Two-year olds don’t know better. That someone may have moved a rock just to prevent someone else from taking a photo of the same spot is insane and acting like that 2-year old. Vandalism is unacceptable. A Navajo guide at Monument Valley said the petroglyps and pictographs are the graffiti of the ancients, part of their cultures, religions, ceremonies, lives, not a public platform for today’s so-called expressionism. A climbing canyon in Joshua Tree was shut down because of graffiti. A permit system won’t solve anything and closing it to the public is even worse. People would still drive out there no matter what federal law is initiated. It happens all the time at the Wave in southern Utah. Would surveys to DV, the park service, the dept. of the Interior make a difference? It’s frustrating when there are those of us who are fierce about protecting our public lands just get a pat on our heads and told to go out and play. It’s difficult to have to patrol that area on a daily basis, although I would volunteer in a heart beat. Just deputize me. The road was perfect for me, very minimal washboard The drive one way for me was 4-6 hours, I definitely was not going to get a flat tire, and I didn’t, and I stopped to take photos along the way. I saw just two other vehicles the day I drove out, and compared to how slow I was going to avoid rocks that would want to grab my tires, they seemed to be going the speed of sound. The road seems to be maintained on a regular basis, maybe at least after weather events. But there is no money for the park service to do too much more than that and rescue the same idiots who have no intelligence. I don’t see very many park vehicles patrolling anymore, and I visit several parks a year. There’s so much more I could say, but let’s leave it that I will be going back; there are a couple of things I didn’t do this year, and with luck it will be next year.

  • Jay Shultis

    This is one of my favorite places I have ever been to on Earth. Beautiful, remote and mysterious. I went about 10 years ago and stones had had started. There were plenty of stolen/damaged/moved stones and trails near the road. A further walk could get you back to pristine playa. It is my hope that this is still the case. In my mind the only logical way to protect the place would be education and closing the road. If you have to walk in you will respect the place a lot more! I know it is a ‘through road’ with a lot of back country off-roading types, but closing the road 5 miles out would make people think a lot harder about trying to carry an 80 lb stone to their car to take home as a lawn ornament.

  • susanna_p

    I noticed this kind of destructive behavior towards nature in Europe, as well. Wherever you go, there are silly grafitti, trash, etc. “Mary and Pete” wrote their names inside the image of a heart on a rock by a beautiful waterfall located in a natural park, etc, etc. The they photographed themselves. This is happening in many places. It is a total lack of education and responsibility of the vast majority of people (so called tourists). People think it is OK to destroy nature because if governments can destroy nature by letting businesses make money off of once pristine lands, cutting the trees, drilling for oil and so on, then the average Joe should be free to act as selfish and irresponsible as the ones in charge. There is always an excuse for destroying nature… We need this, we need that, therefore we must get what we need. So, it is a major problem that starts from the top down.

  • j vezzani

    I agree at the shock and insensitivity of the abuse here. I went out to Racetrack Playa for the first (and possibly only) time in July 2014. It was on my bucket list and I must say I hadn’t thought much about the temperatures or time of year, only my excitement to go. I took my six children and husband with me “on our way” to Vegas to catch a red eye flight. We had a 4WD GMC Yukon Denali. I thought for sure we would have no trouble. After traveling for several hours in 123 degree F heat (that was the high that day), we arrived at the playa only to see tire marks and the holes poked in the ground as mentioned in another comment. I must say I was disappointed, but was determined nonetheless to see the rocks and take some photos. I walked a good distance out to find some that were free from vandalism. My kids helped me scout out good ones. By the time I got a few shots in, I laid down on the ground to get a low angle shot. The sun was so hot, my camera started malfunctioning and stopped working right (Canon 5D Mark ii). I was so hot and a little disoriented that all I could think about was taking a nap right there on the spot. Thankfully my teenage son ran out with some water and forced me to get back in the car. If only our journey ended there… After one mile of driving (out of 27 off road miles), our car broke down. We said a prayer, started the car, and went another mile only to have it break down again. Long story short, it was nothing short of a miracle that we got out. Our prayers changed from “help us catch our flight” to “help us not die in the desert.” It broke down every mile for 27 miles and I think took us about 4 hours. Thankfully we made it to the paved road and saw a solitary person on the road by Ubehebe Crater who was able to help us. When we finally brought the car into the shop, we found out that the car had shook so bad that the grounds to our engine had completely been stripped and unattached. Every time the car jostled, the grounds would disconnect and the car would cut out. Then we would start it again and the whole thing happened again. What started out as a fun journey ended in tears and gratitude. Our tires were completely mottled because it was so hot that every rock we drove over took nicks out of the tire. IF I ever go again it will be in February, March, or October and I would only go with a minimum of two cars in the group. I would also not bring my children and bring plenty of water and food as well as emergency camping supplies… Life lesson learned:) I did get some nice photos, but was sad that people moved some of the rocks. I was there for the photos, however, I was also there to see a natural phenomenon. Thankfully some of the rocks looked unmoved the further out I walked and I was able to get some nice photos. It is a memory I never want to repeat but also will never forget.

  • John Carmichael

    I’ve been to the Racetrack, it’s a fascinating mystical place and I’m horrified to see the damage that morons are wreaking on the playa. It was bone dry when I went and safe to walk around on the playa but I can’t imagine why anyone would think it was OK to walk on it when it was wet. I agree that access should be limited through a permit system and users should educated on preserving this special place, the road in should be closed when the playa is wet.

  • Mike

    I was just here and you could tell that someone had moved rocks from one or more of the trails.
    Its still worth it to visit. The road is bad but that is what keeps the masses from swarming there.
    I have seen people in other parks going off trails, walking right past signs that say keep out or keep off. Not sure why people think they don’t have to obey the rules

  • justinkeiththomas

    We drove to Racetrack Playa coming from California, the road up the mountain is nearly impossible. Do not even think about taking a car. It is so washed out that visiting in anything but a Jeep is treacherous. We used an Audi Q5, and if it wasn’t for our experienced driver, we might have gone off the side of the mountain trying to get over largish rocks and potholes. Is the Las Vegas trek any better?

  • Annette

    Death Valley is a beautiful park with so many great treasures. We have been there many times. Racetrack Playa was a well worth trip the first time we were there! The rock trails were great and there were so many rocks. We went back a few years ago and were so disappointed. A lot of the rocks were missing and no one seemed to know why? Park Service didn’t have any answers. We were back this last year, there were a few more rocks, but not many! You could see where someone had driven on the Playa?

    I do not understand why it is not protected, When we talked to the park service, it seemed like they never go there. We did find an article about drug trafficking there, you can see tracks running down the center of the Playa and there were no rocks in a lot of that area. Sad

    http://framework.latimes.com/2011/07/27/flight-of-a-drug-cartel-smuggler/

  • Ed Madej

    I have been the campground host at Mesquite Springs Campground near the start of the Racetrack Road in Death Valley national Park for several years now, and the crowds visiting the Racetrack are enormous. On some of the popular weekends, hundreds of vehicles of all types (and many that should not be driven off pavement) are roaring out and back along the 27 mile long road, making driving responsibly slower quite dangerous. There are a lot of vehicle break downs, shreded tires and the occasional rollover. Better education helps, especially if it discourages unprepared people from driving out there, but more law enforcement is desperately needed to protect both people and the resource. The National Park Service is stretched way too thin to do more than a couple of patrols per week out to the Racetrack. What is needed is a much bigger budget for Death Valley National Park, and a ranger or two stationed out there overnight during popular weekends. A lottery system or a volunteer permit system should be considered as well to control visitor impacts.

  • Brenda Priddy

    From the Facebook page of Teakettle Junction: Teakettle Junction The footprints happened about 2 years ago after heavy rains. Unfortunately, park rangers were telling visitors not to go out there – that there wasn’t anything to see. But they should have been educating the public about the wet playa and how to visit the area without damaging the surface.

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