Rendezvous on the Racetrack

During my week in Death Valley last month, we saw so many wonderful landscapes, but the Racetrack stands alone as my favorite. For those unfamiliar with the Racetrack, it is a dry lakebed (otherwise known as a "playa") located in a remote part of Death Valley, and is most known for the mysterious "sailing stones." Rocks from the surrounding mountains fall onto the playa and under the right conditions, the rocks slide across the surface leaving a trail.

The Racetrack is not the easiest place to get to, but it's also not terribly difficult with the right vehicle. It was a good 3 hour drive each way from where we stayed in Stovepipe Wells, and most of that is 28 miles of a narrow washboard road with lots of sharp rocks. You don't necessarily need a high-clearance or 4x4, but you really should have some decent all-terrain tires and a full size spare, meaning I cannot recommend taking a rental car out there. There is also zero cell service. Along the way, you will also see a few different forests of Joshua Trees which are also worth stopping and checking out. If you happen to make the journey it is so incredibly worth it just be smart and bring plenty of water and snacks.

Now on to the photo.

We arrived at the Racetrack at around 3-330am to photograph the galactic core of the Milky Way. In spring, the core only visible 2-3 hours before sunrise, and with the mountains so close they blocked the view of the core leaving us less time to photograph. Arriving at 330 in the morning meant that it was pitch dark out, and trying to find a composition in the dark is extremely difficult especially to a location you've only been to once and was a few days prior. So our small group split up and everyone faded off into the dark looking for their shot. I walked for a good 1/2 mile to a mile before I started seeing any seeing any sailing stones, and after taking some photos and walking more and more, I stumbled upon these two stones that appear to be "meeting", and I knew right then that this was going to be "the shot". The Milky Way arching over the mountains with the galactic core shining bright, the trails from the stones mirroring that arch, and of course the two stones and their secret meeting. 

There are so many things that make me happy about this photo, and I hope you will enjoy it too.

Below the photo is an annotated version highlighting some features in the night sky.




Full spectrum Canon 6D

Astronomik L2 IR/UV cut filter

Rokinon 24mm 1.4

Nodal Ninja 6 panoramic head

Benro TMA48CXL tripod


Two-row panorama 7 frames per row

15-second exposures at F2

ISO 8000


Sailing stones under the night sky. CLICK TO ENLARGE

Below is an annotated version highlighting some features in the night sky.

Annotated version. CLICK TO ENLARGE

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