Ubehebe Crater is a large volcanic crater 600 feet deep and half a mile across. We often hear mistakenly that "Ubehebe" means "big basket," but the Paiute name Ubehebe was first applied to the 5,678 ft. Ubehebe Peak, 24 miles southwest of the crater. How the name Ubehebe became associated with the crater is not known. To the Timbisha Shoshone Indians, the crater has been known as "Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah" has produced a great deal of confusion, but comparing the crater to a basket is appropriate.
How did these craters originate? They are known as Maar volcanoes, created by steam and gas explosions when hot magma rising up from the depths reached ground water. The intense heat flashed the water into steam which expanded until the pressure was released as a tremendous explosion. The western cluster of maar volcanoes was the first to form, then the southern cluster, followed by Ubehebe—the largest of them all—possibly as recently as 2,100 years ago.
Cinders from these explosions cover much of the surrounding area. This material is very evident as you drive up the hill to the parking area. Some cinders can even be seen on the dry bed of ancient Lake Rogers on the valley floor north of the craters. The cinders covering most of the area came from Ubehebe and are as much as 150 feet thick at the crater rim, decreasing in depth outward from that point. The colorful layers in the crater’s eastern wall are radially through which the explosion occurred. Fanglomerate is an alluvial fan deposit which has hardened into rock. Sandstone and older conglomerate deposits, loosely cemented together by calcite make up this conglomerate and most of the pieces of rock are either volcanic or metamorphic.
Fanglomerate is not the only crater found in this part of Death Valley. There are clusters of craters to the south and west of Ubehebe. You can walk from the sign at Ubehebe Crater, around the rim to the west and over to Little Ubehebe Crater, observing various smaller craters along the way. Though smaller, Little Hebe appears to be even younger than Ubehebe. You can return to the parking lot the way you came or make it a loop hike.
Ubehebe Crater is easily viewed from the parking area on its rim, but further exploration will reveal smaller craters and interesting erosion.
Last updated: January 3, 2022