Death Valley’s Mysterious Moving Rocks

SOTA summit: Ubehebe Peak, W6/CD-014

Activation Date: Feb 9, 2018

Portable operation: Yes

Radio: Elecraft KX2 operating at 10 watts SSB

Antenna: LNR End Fed

Bands used: 20m and 40m

Hike:  ~4.5 miles and ~2,200ft ascent.  (<–click left for GaiaPro track etc)

Solo operation: No, with Rico M

Recommend: Yes

ATT Coverage: Yes

Photos: Copyright Paul Gacek 2018

It hasn’t changed one bit in two years. It’s still a two thousand foot vertical wall of rock looking equally intimidating from the Racetrack as from the Saline valley to the west. It’s not entirely obvious how you can hike to the peak but this time I’ve set my mind to reaching it and I come armed with a route.

The Racetrack, one of only two known globally, is home to the mysterious moving rocks that seem to glide unaided across the playa. Playas are natures flattest surfaces and it turned out a combination of night time frozen water under a rock accompanied by strong winds had been nudging them fractions of inches at a time that over years leaves graceful trails behind the rock.

One of two places globally where the wind pushes rocks leaving a trail

We head up the trail that leads slightly north of Ubehebe’s sister peak. As we gain ground the switchbacks become shorter and more pronounced. After one and quarter miles we start on the trek south, around the sister peak and eventually up Ubehebe. We seem to gain too much elevation on the sister peak and look closely at the thin narrow ridge we need to descend before tackling the final ascent to Ubehebe peak. The trail has diminished considerably an we lose it at points. Prior adventurers, possibly including NPS rangers have left cairns, piles of rocks to guide us up the peak. These are very welcome aids to picking our way over what is essentially a “trail-less” last mile.

An example of a “cairn”. Invaluable pile of rocks (center image) from prior hikers to us.

The final four hundred feet of ascent is punctuated with frequent places where hands and legs are needed to progress vertically which in the hiking/climbing world is defined as class three.

Yours truly….bundled up from the sun

The peak is a welcome destination and despite the mountains sinister pointy nature is quite broad and easily home to us and temporary radio station.

Looking down at the Racetrack Playa and the Grandstand 2,000 ft below
Operating location looking into Saline Valley west of Ubehebe. Radio is an Elecraft KX2
Flying my new SOTA flag from my antenna mast

Logs are common on named peaks and people use anything from a jam jar to an ammo box to house the. After logging into the log, I found Mike P’s (W6AH) entry for when he christened the peak with a SOTA activation.

The log box
Mike W6AH SOTA entry from Feb 6, 2016
Playa survivalist
From our camp site looking north over the Racetrack
My home for the night

Sadly in 2016 the pristine playa was vandalized by an SUV/truck that left 10 miles worth of tracks across it. To add insult to injury, rocks that have gracefully moved across the playa over decades leaving timeless trails were plucked, moved and stolen.

After an eternity of pristine state, the playa was vandalized in 2016 by a truck/SUV.


  1. Thank you for real starting to a lonely Valentine’s Day with some fun, my Hazel is in Spain, i join her sunday, as can only get Archie (dog) housed two weeks. Love to you both C. Felix


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