Ubehebe Crater: Death Valley National Park

One of the many roadside attractions in Death Valley National Park is a crater-laden cinder field. Or is that a cinder-laden crater field.

california; camping. desert; death valley national park; desert 2-7 thousand year old volcanic crater in Death Valley.

2-7 thousand year old volcanic crater in Death Valley.

Ubehebe and the surrounding craters are maar volcanoes, meaning that they were created when hot magma warmed ground water and the pressure created by the resulting steam was too great. Then BOOM! Cinder all around; up to 150 feet deep on the rim.

Leaving the parking area, we hiked to Little Hebe, the youngest crater, a 0.5 mile from the pavement. Most people stop at the top of the hill to look at a crater. We wondered if they thought this is Little Hebe. It is not. We continued to the youngster and then back tracked to Ubehebester’s rim trail. The trail along the rim is 1.5 miles and easy.

california; camping. desert; death valley national park; desert The colors from the bottom of the crater were even more intense. So was the way up.

The colors from the bottom of the crater were even more intense. So was the way up.

The hard part came after we descended the 600 feet to the bottom of the 0.5 mile wide cater. 2 trails lead to the bottom and both are very sandy, but the rewards at the bottom are great. We closely investigated the fanglomerate (alluvial fan deposit hardened into rock) at the eastern edge and took a short reprieve in the shade. Then we began the arduous, 1 step forward, 2 steps back, trek to the top (the right hand trail would have been a better choice).

california; camping. desert; death valley national park; desert The layers formed as steam explosions formed the crater.

The layers formed as steam explosions formed the crater.

california; camping. desert; death valley national park; desert The picture example of a crater, Little Ubehebe is the youngest volcanic feature in Death Valley.

The picture example of a crater, Little Ubehebe is the youngest volcanic feature in Death Valley.

The crater and surrounding cinder fields are currently being studied by a scientist from the SETI Institute, Dr. Rosalba Bonaccorsi. She is trying to discern any similarities between Ubehebe Crater and Mars! Her studies help to identify landing sites with the highest probability of life on Mars. Very cool stuff! We went to her talk “Mars on Earth” and you should as well! She is very passionate about her work plus extremely willing to share her knowledge.

From here you can head to the Racetrack or to Eureka Valley

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For more national park adventures, visit our National Park Service Guide.