Death Valley National Park is place of amazing scenery. Its reputation as an inhospitable place is captured in the name given to it by 19th century adventurers on their way to the gold fields of California. From stark sand dunes, to the lowest, driest spot in the Western Hemisphere, to towering mountains, Death Valley presents a phantasmagorical (I've always wanted to use that word) landscape with breathtaking views around every corner.
One of the oddest places in Death Valley is known as the Racetrack. This dry lake bed, or playa, is nestled between two mountain ranges on the western side of Death Valley. As a lake bed, it is truly as flat and level as you can imagine. I have been fortunate to have seen it with my own eyes and will swear that it is flat and level. But in spite of the flatness, something makes the rocks move! As you can see in today's photo, the rocks leave clear trails in the dry sediment on the lake bottom, but no one has come up with a plausible explanation of how they move. It is only clear that the movement happens when the lake sediments are wet. And it isn't that it is all the matter of a slight slope that is not apparent to the eye. The tracks turn and curve, and indicate movement in every conceivable direction. Some even double-back on themselves. And we aren't talking about small pebbles. Many of the stones are at least as large as basketballs, and weigh tens of pounds.
In stark contrast to the tan flatness of the lake bed sediments, a strange igneous rock formation protrudes through the sediment near the northern end of the Racetrack. Known as the Grandstand, these two very dark grey mounds of rock are made of quartz-monzonite. Similar in many respects to granite, it has a lower quartz content than does granite. The color contrast between the dark rocks and light sediment makes the highly visible, even from altitudes of 40,000 feet.
This photo was taken with a Canon 10D dSLR w/ a Canon 17-40mm EF lens. Shutter speed was 1/125 sec at f/8 and ISO 100.