Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa Brutally Vandalized

The above image is courtesy of the National Park Service.  There are people in this world that are just jerks.  One or more of these people visited Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park recently and brutally vandalized it.  Miles and miles of tire tracks are visible on the playa’s surface.  The playa was dry when the vandal drove on it.  The fragile crust cracked, exposing silt and a depression that will remain for years.  Authorities have identified the person they think did this.  Hopefully he (I’m assuming it’s a “he”) will be criminally charged and convicted.  The punishment should be 20 years of repairing vandalism in our national parks.  Then he should go to prison.  A lesson needs to be taught that this type of behavior will not be tolerated.

What is it with certain people that makes them do this?  It’s an all to common event unfortunately.  Read on for more on the Racetrack and its mysterious moving rocks and other examples of terrible vandalism on our iconic landmarks.

GPS record of the path the vandal drove. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.
GPS record of the path the vandal drove. Image courtesy of the National Park Service.


















The Racetrack in Death Valley National Park (Doug Oglesby)

The Racetrack is a favorite place for landscape photographers, including yours truly.  It is famous for its “moving rocks,” which were a mystery until recently.  The rocks move very slowly, occasionally zigging and zagging while they carve their path into the playa’s surface.  It takes a unique set of circumstances for the rocks to move – a combination of rain, freezing temperatures and wind.  Sometimes these events don’t occur for years.  But when they do, it’s magic.  Well, almost.  For a detailed explanation of this event, see the graphic below (courtesy of the Los Angeles Times) and click here for a story from the Los Angeles Times.

The road to the Racetrack is long and not for the faint of heart.  It’s 26 miles of heavily wash-boarded road, which limits driving speeds to about 10 to 15 miles per hour.  You’ll feel like you’re in a washing machine.  The vibration of your vehicle is nasty!  The road is littered with jagged rocks and flat tires are common.  A high clearance vehicle is a necessity, as well as emergency gear (you aren’t going to get cell phone service out there).  As a result, it’s an infrequently visited place.  I’ve been there once (when I photographed the image above).  I have plans to go again in early 2017 but now I don’t know if it’s worth it.

How Death Valley's rocks move on Racetrack Playa. Graphic courtesy of Javier Zarracina / @latimesgraphics

What is it that makes certain people vandalize our national parks and other things?  It happens all too frequently.  Just recently a group of punks knocked down iconic Duckbill Rock in Oregon (warning, the video below contains graphic language).  This rock formation was believed to be millions of years old.  Fortunately the punks were caught on video and apprehended.

Here’s a clip of a few idiots walking up to Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone, damaging the surface (not to mention risking their lives):


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