Feb 22

Day 7: Ubehebe Crater

Category: Death Valley

When the annual rains arrive, Death Valley’s mars-like landscapes explode with a profusion of flowers. These plants know how to jump and make use of the slim opportunity they’ve been given – their entire life cycle takes place with the urgency of a cardiac resuscitation. The fields of gently swaying plants look peaceful, but in the plant world this pretty view is a mad stampede to beat a terminal deadline. The penalty for tardiness is death. Water falls from the sky briefly and drains away instantly. In mid-late February it is pleasantly cool, but all too soon, the sun will be become a merciless executioner. Sprout – bloom – germinate – ASAP!

death valley flowers

We timed our visit carefully; we wanted to arrive a little after the rain had started, but earlier than the hordes of tourists that show up (just like us) to see the desert bloom. It was a success in both regards. The desert was already flowering and quite beautiful. I’m sure that there would be more flowers a little later in the season, but when we arrived most of the flowers were found on the broad plateaus through which the park’s paved road runs as it heads north from the Titus canyon road.

Of course, we were on the last two hours of daylight on the last day of our trip and trying to make it to Ubehebe crater when we discovered this. Between the need for haste, the setting sun, and my feeling like crap, I almost didn’t get out of the car to take any pictures. Like everything else here, I could have spent all week in just this one place. We were rushed by human events, but the valley just kept dealing out these unbelievable views that made me stop and set up the camera again and again. With each stop the margin of error grew smaller and smaller – the possibility of seeing the crater grew more unlikely. But what had to be done had to be done – you can’t just pass views like this by and live with yourself. So time and again I pulled the car over in a cloud of dust, jumped out, nervously fumbled with filter, tripod and whatnot, then jumped back into the car and zoomed off again, gnawing my arm off in a frenzy of need to make it to the crater before the sun set. If I didn’t make it, then the flu would have won, would have caused me to go home wondering what all the fuss was about.

driving north in death valley

As we neared the crater I cold see exactly how long it would be until the sun set; it was only a finger’s width from the razor edge of the panamint range. Then I saw the ranger station – we might make it! And then a desperate drive through the remaining mile – and we made it! The crater opened up in all its glory, revealed to us in the final 15 minutes of daylight. The highly slanted rays of the sun were constantly interrupted by clouds, and once again there was a frantic fumbling with camera equipment.

Ubehebe crater

Done with pictures, I enjoyed the silence and stared at the bands of multicolored stone of the crater wall in amazement; it really was worth the rush up here. In the background a storm cloud pressed down on the grapevine range, looking like a giant tornado, but all I could hear were gentle scraps of sunset wind gathering strength. The chill of the sunset began to make itself felt, and a fog began to condense over the little ubehebe crater that sits just above the main crater. I had achieved my goal, viruses be damned.

ubehebe crater

ubehebe crater

ubehebe crater

We stayed at the crater area until the sun was completely hidden by the mountains, watching the weather change in the prevailing silence of Death Valley.

Just before the sun settled below the summit of telescope peak, a break in the clouds allowed it to blaze forth, as if delivering one last blast.


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