Death Valley Disappointment

Before the Bryce Canyon video comes out tomorrow, I wanted to share a little blog post- my mom always complains that there are too many videos and not enough pictures and journal-type posts, so this one’s for you, mom!

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 Here’s a picture of me getting excited about the Badwater-

despite the heat I was able to get excited about a lot of things in Death Valley.

Death Valley Disappointment

a blog post by DA McQuaid

One of my attributes that I’m most proud of is my ability to roll with the punches (sometimes literally, whenever I’m lucky enough to be able to train in martial arts.) This comes in handy a lot while traveling: delays, setbacks, and disappointments are almost as common as pleasant surprises on the road.

“The Racetrack” is one of the only parts of Death Valley National Park that I had heard of prior to my visit to the park. While we do research the parks before showing up at their gates, normally it’s a quick overview and “okay, we’ll need three days to cover the main sights at this park.” The Racetrack is a mysterious site where rocks scoot along the desert floor, leaving trails. They don’t just magically move by themselves at 50mph while you’re watching, of course, but the trails show that they definitely travel without human or animal interference (though they do sometimes get stolen. Do thieves think the rocks will scoot around their backyards?) The interesting thing is that nobody knows exactly why they move. One of many theories is that small amounts of condensation form thin layers of ice on the bottoms of the rocks, allowing them to slide when the wind blows. The rocks are monitored by GPS but because it’s in a National Park, people who study the rocks can’t set up cameras for extended amounts of time. Of course, when I read about this I was interested in seeing it. We also read that the road to get there was unpaved, but a friend managed to get to the Racetrack in her Prius with regular tires, so we weren’t too worried about our Escape, with its high clearance and four-wheel drive.

Unfortunately, despite our excitement about the Racetrack, when we talked to a park ranger we realized the journey would be longer and more dangerous than expected. The road was much rougher than we had envisioned it, and the ranger showed us a picture of a Jeep tire that had blown apart completely. The issue with the road to the Racetrack isn’t that you need a four-wheel drive or high clearance vehicle, but that the rocks along the road are sharp and will stab the sidewalls of the tires, so regular passenger-grade tires don’t cut it. The park newsletter specifically says, “If you plan on going off the paved roads, plan on changing a tire at least once.” Furthermore, one of the rangers told us a horror story about a brand-new F-150 pickup (that came from the dealership with passenger-grade tires instead of truck-grade heavy-duty tires) that had been taken out on the road to the Racetrack and gotten not one, not two, but three flat tires. Luckily it was traveling with other luckier (or hardier) cars that had spares, but we didn’t relish the idea of going on a road that had decimated a brand new pickup truck’s tires that badly. The final nail in the coffin was when we read that it would take at least two and a half hours to get out to the Racetrack. Dedicate five hours of the day and severely risk having to change a tire and turn back in 103 degree heat with no chance of towing or AAA assistance (since there was no cell phone service)? I don’t think so.

Was I disappointed? Yeah. Aside from Scotty’s Castle and the Badwater Basin, the Racetrack was the thing in Death Valley I was most excited about seeing. But as we were driving out of the park, I realized that even if we had taken the drive, the chances were split between actually seeing the rocks and their mysterious trails and having to change a tire in the sweltering heat and then limp out of the park on our spare to a mechanic at least 45 minutes outside of the park.

So next time I’m near Death Valley, I’ll go with someone over 25 and get them to rent a Jeep. There’s an outfitter that’s closer to the park than any towing or repair service. But until then, I’ll just read about the mysterious rocks making their way across the desert, and be vaguely jealous that they don’t have to worry about breaking down or changing tires. Hats off to Mary for doing it fearlessly in her Prius, but at the end of the day, I’m okay with the fact that we missed out on this one.

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One thought on “Death Valley Disappointment

  1. Thank you for writing! I always enjoy reading what you write. I like to see the visuals in the videos, but often it’s hard to hear what is being said. So thanks again for writing! Write more! (Some people are never satisfied, am I right?)

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