Ubehebe Crater: Death Valley’s North End

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Ubehebe Crater is an essential stop on your tour of the north end of Death Valley National Park.  This large volcanic crater, 600 feet deep, will give you some idea of the awesome powers that were once at work here.  You can either stand on the rim and enjoy the view, hike around the rim, or venture down into the crater.

Location

Ubehebe Crater is located at the north end of Death Valley.  From California Highway 190, take Scotty’s Castle Road northbound for 33 miles, then turn onto Ubehebe Crater Road for another 5 miles.

Note: as of 2016, Scotty’s Castle Road, beyond the Ubehebe Crater turnoff, was closed due to severe flood damage.  There was no access to Scotty’s Castle.  Check with the NPS for current road conditions.

My Visit

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I must admit, every time I’ve visited Ubehebe Crater, the experience has been somewhat unpleasant.  I don’t know if the wind is constantly blowing at tropical-storm speeds here, or if it just happens on the days that I visit, but this time was no exception.

After pushing my car door open against the breeze, I got out and briefly enjoyed the view.  Ubehebe Crater is 600 feet deep, and a half-mile across.  It was formed by an explosion of steam, when magma came in contact with ground water.  All of this happened somewhat recently, possibly as little as 300 years ago.

As you can see, it’s a long way down, to the bottom of the crater.  While I imagine that the hike down there wouldn’t be awful, the uphill trek certainly would be unpleasant.  Maybe, though, the strong breeze doesn’t reach into the crater — so that might be a plus.

 

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The hike around Ubehebe Crater’s rim is another option, although it’s not especially easy, either.  The rim isn’t level, so there’s some up-and-down hiking involved — and some of the surface is loose volcanic gravel.  Oh, and there’s also the wind. You’ll get tired of it quickly.

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I decided to simply enjoy the view from my spot near the parking area.

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The eroded walls of Ubehebe Crater are quite beautiful, especially later in the day, when the setting sun brings out the shadows and illuminates the surrounding mountains.

There are numerous other craters in the area, including one called Little Hebe.  Scientists believe it’s even newer than Ubehebe, based on the lack of erosion around its rim.  You can get a good look at Little Hebe on the hike around Ubehebe’s rim.

The Bottom Line

If Ubehebe Crater is your only reason to drive up to the north end of the park, it might not be worth it.  It’s a long way up here from the center of the park, and there isn’t much else to see along the way.  If you can add a trip out to the Racetrack, then it’s definitely worth the drive.  Or, of Scotty’s Castle is open to the public, then you’ll want to head up here.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive up to Ubehebe Crater via Scotty’s Castle Road:

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