Friday, August 17, 2012

A Little Volcano in a Big Desert: Ubehebe Crater.

Place: Ubehebe crater, Death Valley National Park, California
Coordinates: 37.01420, -117.45356
Date: October 12, 2011
Level: easy. 

Death Valley National Park is one of my favorite places in California and if it hadn't been a full day's drive away from my home, I'd probably visit it more often. Ubehebe crater is located at the north region of the park, a bit removed from the more visited parts of Death Valley. I don't know how many people would drive all day just to see Ubehebe, but if you do travel to Death Valley National Park, it is definitely worth visiting. I have visited Death Valley National Park three times already, and Ubehebe twice. The photos presented here are from our latest visit, in October 2011.
Ubehebe is a large crater in a volcanic field. Its age is unknown but estimated to be no older than 8000 years. There are several adjacent, smaller craters, but Ubehebe is the largest of them, about half a mile in diameter.
There is a 2-miles loop trail that goes all around the crater's rim, with and option to go down to the bottom of the crater. 

Ubehebe - an almost full view
Despite the barren appearance, the area does get some precipitation. Little salt flats are what left when collected water evaporate.

A small salt flat on the slope of Ubehebe
Desert weathering creates a jarred-looking scenery. The big crack on the valley floor is a deep wash. Normally it is dry, but when rain comes it can flash-flood. 
I just love to see the colorful rocks and the light-shadow patterns of the cracked landscape.
A dry wash jarring the arid valley floor.
The top part of the crater wall, beautifully patterned with little run-offs, like an artistic knit-work hem.
A close-up of the crater wall.
Ubehebe is deep in the desert and we visited there in October, after a long summer and before the rains. We didn't expect to see much greenery there, and sure enough, there wasn't a lot. But there was some.

A brave desert survivor.

The dark soil was dotted with small, leathery leaf rosettes.The reddish-pink color is that of carotenoids and flavanoids that protect the plants from excess radiation. Naturally, desert plants would have more of these pigments. Enough to override the chlorophyll's green.

Hairy leaves

These leaves are also pretty hairy. The white hair cover serves to reflect back excess sunlight and also to limit transpiration and conserve the plant's precious water.
It being October, we didn't expect to see any flowers, but we did! Here is a pretty composite bush - a velvet turtleback. It is small and its flowers are tiny. Still, it added a jolly splash of color to the dark volcanic soil.

Velvet turtleback (Psathyrotes ramosissima)

As did this pretty pink: 

Bigelow's monkeyflower (Mimulus bigelovi)

Animals are found there year-round but what we've seen mostly were shy lizards, too quick to photograph. We were lucky to come across a red-tail hawk lurking in the bushes. This is the darkest form of this species that I've seen. 

Soon enough it got tired of our attention and took off. 
Taking flight
There are several craters in the area of Ubehebe. Here is a smaller one.

One of Ubehebe's neighbors
The walk was easy. There are no major height changes on this trail and the circular path allows a wonderful view of every corner of the crater. There is a trail that leads inside but the chicas were already tired so we didn't get to the bottom of it.
If, no. When you go there - make sure to bring lots of water and sun protection.  I will also add that although our visit was in mid-October, it was still (not very surprising) very hot. The best time to visit Death Valley is in late February - early March, when the temperatures are more welcoming and, if it is a rainy year, the desert will be carpeted with wildflowers.
So don't forget your camera! 


  1. OK, I'm convinced.
    I'll try to visit there sometime at the spring.

    And Your blog looks really good!


    1. Thanks! You're gonna love this place, I guarantee it!