Add volcanism to the list of cataclysms such as earthquakes and flash floods that caused high-speed changes to Death Valley.
Little Hebe and Ubehebe are sometimes called explosion craters. One look and you know why. Hot magma rose from the depths of the Earth to meet the ground water, the resultant steam blasting out a crater and scattering cinders.
To the native Shoshone of Death Valley, the crater was known as \o7 Temp-pin-tta wo'-sah\f7 , "basket in the rock"--an apt description indeed. Half a mile in diameter, Ubehebe is not the only basket around; to the south is Little Hebe Crater, and some smaller craters.
Although many visitors are drawn to the rim of the Ubehebe, few descend to the bottom of the crater. If you do, watch your footing; the crater wall is a loose mixture of gravel and cinders.
The more interesting walk is along the half-mile rim-to-rim route from Ubehebe to Little Hebe Crater. Walk the perimeter of Little Hebe Crater and enjoy the views of the valley.
To visit Ubehebe, make your way toward Scotty's Castle at the northern end of the park. From the Grapevine Ranger Station, continue north (don't take the right fork to Scotty's Castle) 2.8 miles to the signed turnoff for Ubehebe Crater and continue another 2 1/2 miles to the crater parking area.
Continue your Ubehebe-area tour with a drive out to the mudflat called the Racetrack and/or a hike up Ubehebe Peak, located about 25 miles southwest of Ubehebe Crater.
The Grandstand, a rock outcropping located at the northern end of the Racetrack, is an easy half-mile walk from the pullout off Racetrack Valley Road. This pullout is also the trail head for the hike to Ubehebe Peak.
The old miners' trail that leads to the crest is in fairly good condition. To reach the very top of Ubehebe Peak requires some rock scrambling; however, traveling only as far as the crest delivers equally good views.
From the turnoff to the Ubehebe Crater parking lot, you continue south about 20 miles on the washboard-surfaced, occasionally quite rough Racetrack Valley Road to Tea Kettle Junction, colorfully decorated with real teakettles. Bear right, traveling another 5.7 miles to a turnout on the right (west) side of the road opposite the Grandstand and the Racetrack.
Ubehebe Peak Trail begins a moderate ascent through a creosote-dotted alluvial fan, then soon steepens as it begins climbing higher over the desert-varnished shoulder of the peak. Many a switchback brings you to the crest of the range, 1 1/2 miles from the trail head.
If you want to bag the peak, follow the trail as it climbs steeply along the crest, switchbacks some more and reaches a rocky shoulder, whereupon the trail fades away. You continue along the crest, dipping briefly then rock scrambling up to the small summit area atop Ubehebe Peak.
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Little Hebe Crater, Ubehebe Peak Trails
WHERE: Death Valley National Park.
DISTANCE: From Ubehebe Crater to Little Hebe Crater is 1 mile round trip with 200-foot elevation gain; from racetrack parking area to Ubehebe Peak is 5 miles round trip with 2,000-foot elevation gain.
TERRAIN: Cinder-covered rims of volcanic craters; remote Last Chance Range.
HIGHLIGHTS: Magnificent examples of valcanism, great vistas.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Easy to crater, strenuous to peak.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Death Valley National Park, Death Valley, CA 92328; tel. (619) 786-2331.