Winter is the sustainably green time of year to visit Death Valley because the extreme heat of the long summer is so taxing on both people and vehicles. It may be difficult to believe, but it actually does snow in this arid environment and when the mountain peaks are capped with snow, the visual experience is guaranteed to be memorable. During winter there is no better place to experience fire and ice effects in this National Park than Ubehebe Crater, which is located in the volcanic cinder field at the north end of Death Valley.
Ubehebe Crater can be found a few miles north of the road to Scotty's Castle, which is currently closed due to major flash flood reconstruction, but a reopening is planned soon. All is not lost in this end of the park as far as attractions go because a paved road goes to Ubehebe Crater, so this point of interest is easy to access with a passenger car. The long dirt roads to Big Pine and Racetrack Playa also start near Ubehebe Crater, but these back country trips are limited to high ground clearance 4x4 vehicles. For most visitors, Ubehebe Crater is the end of the line and this ancient cinder cone simply is a must to experience in person.
This gigantic volcanic crater is about one half mile wide, so the first glance will likely result in an awestruck moment. The crater has a classic bowl shape with a colorful blast pattern on the bottom that resembles a woven basket, which lends to the translation of the Paiute language name. Eons of erosion have exposed the earthen colors inside this crater, which makes this big bowl a captivating sight to gaze upon. The foot trails go completely around this big hole in the ground, so there are plenty of good vantage points for taking it all in. By following the trails uphill to Little Ubehebe Crater, even better views can be found.
Trekking over the barren volcanic cinders to get a closer look is easy to do, but care must be taken around the edge because it is a long abrasive slide downhill into the crater. The contrast of endless gray color cinders covering this end of the valley certainly is mood altering and the views are quite memorable. For those who have nothing better to do at 3:00AM in the morning, this is an interesting place to do some moonlight photography. The gray cinders create an other worldly effect, which can be seen in this Destination West Digital Gallery example of a late night moonset over the volcanic field. No matter whether you seek bright colors by day or mysterious somber tones at night, Ubehebe Crater is a visual experience like no other!
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