Death Valley National Park, Part 2: Desolation Canyon and Ubehebe and Little Hebe Craters
On the afternoon of our arrival in Death Valley we headed out to Desolation Canyon for a short hike before sunset. Near the mouth, the canyon resembled piles of sediment washed down from the mountains, but farther in we came upon the defined, more-characteristic canyon walls and a few dry falls that required some climbing. Still, there was a ton of loose rock, piled up and collected in the wash – both unique and interesting. One of the reasons we had decided to start with Desolation Canyon was that the wind had been gusting past 30mph as we dropped down into the valley but as we hiked the wind intensified, whipping dust and larger particles into our faces. Somewhat foolishly we decided to climb up onto a ridge for a view at one point whereupon I was literally almost blown off. Gusts now well over 50mph and with eyes and mouths full of dirt, we decided to retreat.
Our first stop the next morning were the awesome Ubehebe and Little Hebe Craters. These recently-formed craters (possibly as young as 300 years old) were created by explosions of super-heated magma encountering ground water. In the larger Ubehebe Crater, the intense pressure of the gas produced by the sudden meeting of hot magma and cool water was channeled along the hardened orange-ish conglomerate on the eastern side, blowing large amounts of material off the vent and forming the 600-foot deep crater. We began at the trailhead, hiking along the western side of the larger Ubehebe Crater, climbing steadily over a half mile until we reached a stunning overlook of Little Hebe Crater. Here we took a couple side trips in order to see different angles of the cinder fields, marveling at the ridges and definition of the crater rims and cinder cones as well as the dried lake beds. The latter, shimmering white, were a marked contrast to the deep black of the volcanic pumice that blanketed the area. We then hiked a mile or so to the trailhead via the east side of the crater, which provided impressive views of the channels formed by water erosion.