The rims are made of volcanic ashes. They have been submitted to water erosion which has carved deep crevices. The good thing of being in Ubehebe crater in the late afternoon is that the sun beam make a very dramatic aspect. A series of lawyers of orange ashes has been covered by a thick mantle of darker ashes.
From Mesquite Junction we are soon at Ubehebe crater. It is a volcanic crater and not a meteor crater. The photo shows here the center of the crater but unfortunately, we arrived a bit too late and most of the inside is already in the shade. It is about 700 meters wide and 250 meters deep.
The Ubehebe Crater is situated in the north of the Valley and it's quite a drive to get there. But if you plan to see Scotty's Castle then Ubehebe is only 8 miles away from the castle. The crater was formed by a massive vulcanic steam explosion a few thousand years ago. There is a trail to the bottom of the cone.
The Ubehebe Crater is a 770-foot deep and 3000-foot wide crater that was formed when groundwater heated by magma exploded over 3000 years ago. The area for miles around the crater is covered with cinders from the explosion. There is a road to the rim of the crater which allows you to walk to its edge and peer inside.
The late afternoon sun offers a spectacular view Ubehebe Crater. This volcanic crater lies just a few miles from Scotty's Castle. A road leads up to its rim for easy viewing. I thought this was well worth the drive. A one half mile trial leads to nearby Little Hebe Crater.
Ubehebe Crater is thought to be the result of a relatively recent cryptovolcanic eruption. It formed probably a few thousand years ago when magma rose close to the earths surface and caused ground water to flash into steam. It must have been quite an explosion as the crater is 2,000 feet across and 750 feet deep. It's possible to hike down into the crater.
Just 10 minutes or so west of Scotty's Castle lies the Ubehebe Crater. The crater is 500 feet deep, left after a volcanic explosion 3,000 years ago. As you can see, much of the area is covered in a dark volcanic ash.
You have two hiking choices - up or down. Depends on whether you want your pain upfront or later, I guess. Going down takes you into the crater itself, going up gives you a better view of the crater, the surrounding area, and the Little Hebe Crater. The climb up to the little craters is on loose rock, so be prepared to take it slow coming back down (and please, don't fall into the crater!)
I found the stark landscape to be worth the side trip. Going uphill takes roughly 15 minutes and is worth the rewarding views.
For those who havent seen a crater you must visit the Ubehebe crater. For us, who have done a bit of mountain climbing, we are used to a "First Climb Up, then Climb down" rule. But here is a CRATER. In a crater you first "climb" (if you can call it that) down then you climb up/out. OK. Enough of that.
When you reach the Ubehebe, make sure you have some protective clothing because the wind is pretty heavy around here. Take a few minutes and enjoy the view. Thats what we did. Then we climbed up to slope to see the Little Hebe. This is just a small crater. After that we started the descent down the Ubehebe. The descent takes about 20 minutes (if you do it slowly). At the bottom you get a good panoramic view of the crater. After a lot of photographs and "Ohs" and "Ahs" we started the climb up. This takes about 30 minutes. It was great fun to be in a crater.
The drive is about an hour from the core stops and worth it. Experiencing such dramatic changes in landscape is always a thrill, and this was odd as well. The ground turns into what looks like crushed charcoal all around. The black volcanic rock is widespread from the crater (6 miles), allowing a prelude of what is to come.
The crater itself is awesome with formations along the sides to keep it interesting. Wildflowers were blooming along the trail down into the crater and I stopped to capture what I could. We did not go all the way to the bottom for lack of time and travelling on volcanic rock is not easy, especially uphill.
The wind blew rather fiercely and lent to the atmosphere of desolate, raw, and everchanging.
Ubehebe Crater turned out to be the hightlight of my visit to Death Valley. The landscape was one of a kind, and the hike was interesting. The attached is an aerial photo of the Ubehebe Crater, reproduced from an interpretive display at the parking lot. You can clearly see Ubehebe and the smaller craters next to it. Also all the rim trails are in your line of sight.
The photo shows Ubehebe Crater as seen from the parking lot. It's a volcanic crater, not an impact crater. It measures half a mile wide, and about 750 feet deep from the deepest part. The explosion was estimated to have happened about 1,000 years ago, making it very young in geological time.
The hike along the Ubehebe Crater rim trail was great fun. The trail was mild, about 1.5 miles long, with a great view throughout. The whole time you trek on black lava surface.
The photo was taken from the highest part of the rim, the south rim. This is also the steepest part of the crater, so watch your footings. In the left of the photo is the parking area. You can also see the trail to the bottom of the crater. That would be another interesting hike but I didn't try.
Next to Ubehebe Crater's west rim you'll find Little Crater. It's the smallest in the crater group, but has a complete round rim and beautiful volcanic shape. It also has a short rim trail. You can walk around it in a few minutes. Enlarge the photo and my fellow hikers at the rim (in the right of photo) can provide a scale to the size of the crater.
Thousands of years ago (no one knows just when), underground molten rock moved so close to the surface that it superheated the water above it. This caused the water to burst out of the ground, making this huge crater. From the size and depth of it (it's about a half a mile in diameter), the force must have been comparable to that of a nuclear detonation. One of the many curiosities in Death Valley.
With a circumference of 1.5 miles, Ubehebe Crater sits in the Northern third of the Park. Although the hike around the rim is a good because you can look back at all the fools who never leave the parking lot, the hike to bottom of the crater altogether different. Again devoid of people, I set out for the bottom of the crater 500 feet below the rim after hiking around the massive crater. With the sound of Crystal Method's "Vegas" blaring in my headphones, I scrambled down lose volcanic rock that gave way under foot.
The heat of the day was on me as I reached the crater floor and complete silence came over me as track three ended. I felt absolute peace, absolute quiet and then a slight breeze swept over me as the oscillating sounds of a keyboard on the next track (Higher Roller) started to play...then the words..."this transmission is coming to you"..."this transmission is coming to you"..."we've got it"..."this transmission is coming to you"...."we've got it"....."we've got it"..."alright you are go"...."alright you are go"...."alright you are go"...."ah, we see the Earth now"..."we've got it"....."ah, we see the Earth now"
As track five continued, I started having that out-of-body experience sort of feeling, like I was on another planet. My second thought was, man, I wish I had some weed. That moment at the bottom of Ubehebe Crater was one of the most peaceful and inspirational moments in my life. A natural high induced by the combination of music and sight of the landscape before me, standing at the bottom of this massive crater, formed thousands of years ago, the warm November sun light on my face, the music resonating in my headphones, the timing of track four, the sense of accomplishment hiking to the bottom, the emptiness of Death Valley, the absence of other people; all of that combined to make a moment in my life that defines the feeling one gets about travel to remote places. It makes you feel like you're the only the person on Earth...and you are small, very small...