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* Death Valley Trip - Part 3 - Ubehebe Crater & The Racetrack Playa

Published by Barry in On Location · 3/1/2015 00:22:58
Tags: death_valleynationalparkCAUSUSACalifornianaturelandscape

After deciding that I had played around in the sand dunes at Mesquite for long enough, I jumped back into the hire car and headed a couple of miles deeper into Death Valley until I reached the T-junction with Scotty's Castle Road, wherein I turned left and pointed the car Northwards towards Ubehebe Crater, which lay around 40 miles of tarmac away, and was next up on my "to do" list for this visit to Death Valley.

Upon reaching the car park for Ubehebe Crater, there were no free spaces, and that coupled with the fact that cars were already lining the roadside in and out of the car park, helped me to re-jig my plans for the day, swapping the order of my visits to Ubehebe Crater and The Racetrack Playa around.

Pretty much as soon as you leave Ubehebe Crater and contemplate the drive to the Racetrack you're greeted with signs making it more than abundantly clear that the road should only be tackled by high clearance 4x4 vehicles.  Now, my hirecar was a fairly new Toyota Camry, and even a sleepy 3 year old kid could have pointed out that it lacked (1) high ground clearance, and (2) 4x4.  

Somehow, however, the Camry urged me to give it a go anyway, explaining that it would be a piece of cake, a lumpy piece of cake, but a piece of cake none the less.  The road starts out as a roughish dirt track, which quickly deteriorates into a pit-covered, rock laden infestation of a road, and that's me still being nice about it!

Within the first 2-3 miles of the 26 mile
back-country drive, I encountered 4 cars which held within their confines a driver who was already at their wits end with the road, and were trying all manner of options to do a U-turn, which is easier said than done on a road which is only as wide as the cars were long, and with both sides of the road around 1-2 feet higher than the road surface.

I contemplated stopping to give the first car a hand with their change in direction, but upon watching them ram one side of the road, then the other, before repeating the song and dance multiple times, I determined that the safest option was to simply sit in the car and watch until the cartoon ended.  The next 3 cars were treated with a similar level of sympathy, albeit their drivers weren't taking such frustration out on their front and rear bumpers.

For the next 15 miles or so I had the road (if I can call it that) to myself, being able to dictate my speed to a level where the constant bumping, thumping and bouncing over the holes, bumps and rocks decreased to a level wherein my internal organs were able to remain exactly that, internal.  Funnily enough, this level of comfort was normally reached by driving at a speed where normally your brain would be punching it's ticket and heading home for a relaxed evening on the couch, any slower and you would quite simply be rattled inside out.

During the last few miles I had to deal with passing a few cars heading in the opposite direction (which were mostly high clearance 4x4's funnily enough), this was particularly fun on the narrow winding dirt track road, as it meant having to bank the Camry at angles fast approaching 45 degrees up onto the side walls of the road and hoping that the 4x4 heading straight for me with a huge rooster tail of dust behind it would be able to do the same, earning us a perfect 6.0 across the board for artistic impression from all onwatching judges.

After what seemed like an hour (actually it was around an hour), I had arrived at the Racetrack and after exiting the car I spent the next 5 minutes re-calibrating my eyesight and legs to stay still, as they had by this stage grown fond of the continual bouncing which went before and obviously didn't want it to come to an end.

The Racetrack, a dry lake bed hidden up in the mountains of Death Valley, made famous by it's "sailing stones" which are moved around the surface of the mud by the wind, leaving behind them linear tracks showing from whence they came.  

That's what I was expecting to find upon arriving at the famous location, but it would appear I visited during a pitstop day as all the racing rocks were switched off and giving no indication that they were infact fitted with racing engines, huge spoilers and go faster stripes.


Nonetheless, it was a pretty place up there in the mountains, with the strong winds whipping through, picking up as much dust from the surface of the mud as it could and depositing it as far away from the playa as it could.  After snapping a few photos of the large rock formation in the centre of the lake and scouring pretty much the entire surface for a non-findable "racing rock" for around 2 hours, I determined that the odds were stacked against me and that it was time to once again jump into the car and partake in another roller coaster drive back to Ubehebe Crater.

By now it was mid afternoon in Death Valley, and with the temperature hovering around 24C, which is a very nice temperature compared to how mentally hot it can get there on a mid-summers day, with Death Valley holding the record for the hottest atmospheric temperature ever recorded on earth with a whopping 57C (134F).  With it being later in the day, those "normal" tourists who only roll out of bed at 9-10am to head to Death Valley were now exploring the park in horde after horde, so the drive back to Ubehebe Crater was much slower than the outward journey, due to multiple stops, 45 degree banked passes and random games of "dodge the tumbleweed" which I had by then decided was becoming quite fun.

Thankfully I arrived back at Ubehebe Crater car park just at the right time to swap parking spaces with a family who were just leaving.  After a relatively quick wander up, down and around the crater to grab some touristy photos, it was time to check off the final item on my to-do list for this visit to Death Valley.  

It may have been a few years later than originally planned, but I had finally got to see everything which I has planned to see during that first visit, and with a few hours of daylight left I took the opportunity to re-visit one of my favourite locations from my first visit, Zabriskie Point.

Something tells me it won't be my last visit to Death Valley though, but for now it's time to file this one away and try to forget about the 8 hour drive back to Sunnyvale that followed my stop-off at Zabriskie Point.

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