Hot Creek Geologic Site

Hot Creek Geologic Site is located near Mammoth, Lake just off the 395 Highway in Mono County, California. The stream originates from Twin Lakes in Mammoth and continues on to Lake Crowley. The site is located near and a beautiful cold water stream which is located over a geothermal vent. Warm water is heated from a magma chamber located about three miles below the earths surface and bubbles up into the steam warming the water.

Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California
Hot Creek located off the 395 highway near Mammoth in Mono County, California

The Hot Creek does offer excellent fishing opportunities and popular among fly fisherman. Fishing used to be limited to barbless hooks.

No Swimming

The stream is now closed to swimming becuase “Earthquakes can cause sudden geyser eruptions and overnight appearances of new hot springs at Hot Creek.  Water temperatures can change rapidly, and so entering the water is prohibited. ” Reports of hot water geysers up to 6 feet tall in 2006 and rapidly fluctuating temperatures apparently caused the closure of the stream to swimming.

My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life the hot springs area has become too dangerous to swim.

J Rathbun

As a child and young adult, the stream was open to swimming and my family did this routinely on almost every trip. I recall active conversations about the possibility of an geyser eruption which would kill us and we understood the risk of swimming. However, we also understood the possibility of an such an event was very remote when one considers the geologic time tables. My grandfather used to point out that some hot water vents where not in the same locations as when he was a child. Perhaps, within my life, the area has become too dangerous to swim.

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Ubehebe Crater

Ubehebe Crater is a volcanic crater located near Grapevine Canyon in Death Valley National Park in California. The crater is approximately 600 deep and one half mile across and a popular spot for visitors in the park. The crater is created by a Maar Volcano, which is a shallow volcano caused when groundwater comes in contact with volcanic magma.

Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park, California
Ubehebe Crater, Death Valley National Park, California

The crater was originally known as “Tem-pin-tta- Wo’sah” from the Timbisha Shoshone Indian phrase for Coyote’s Basket. At some point, the crater was renamed to “Ubehebe” which is the name of a near by mountain and comes from the Paiute Indian name for “Big Basket”. Regardless of the name, the crater does remind one of a basket in the earth.

A Panorama looking from Ubehebe Crater overlooking the cinder fields, Death Valley National Park
A Panorama looking from Ubehebe Crater overlooking the cinder fields, Death Valley National Park

The road into Ubehebe serves as the starting points to the Race Track Valley Road, Teakettle Junction and Hunter Mountain Road.

Hiking

There are a few separate hiking opportunities while exploring the crater.

The crater rim trail, which is about 1.5 miles long, circumnavigates the crater and allows access to Little Hebe crater. The trail has some slight elevation gain, however could be more difficult to hikes with balance issue due to the unstable soil.

There is also a trail down the the bottom of the crater. This is a short trail and very easy going down. The difficulty is hiking back up the 600 feet elevation lost on the way down, in loose volcanic soil.

Ubehebe Crater Trail Map

References

Racetrack Valley

TeaKettle Junction lets you know you are starting to get close to the Racetrack.
TeaKettle Junction lets you know you are starting to get close to the Racetrack.

Racetrack valley is a rough graded road which departs the Ubehebe Crater site and heads south into the desert. The road is rough, but easily passable in a regular car. However, when entering back country areas such as this it is always a good idea to have the insurance of a reliable vehicle, high clearance, four wheel drive, etc…  Do yourself a huge favor and air down your tires if you are properly equipped to air up when the trip is over.

Looking north from the Lippincott Mine towards the Racetrack off in the distance.
Looking north from the Lippincott Mine towards the Racetrack off in the distance.

The racetrack valley road is a 25 miles one way trip to the playa. The road is grated, but can be heavily wash-boarded depending on the time of year, rain fall, etc…

Along the way, there are many side trips and alternate trails to help expand your visit.

As you leave Ubehebe Crater, you will be driving south and gradually gaining elevation. Take your time and enjoy the drive, if you are lucky you may see a big horn sheep herd. The road gradually gains in elevation and climbs through a Joshua Tree Forest.

Once you reach the pass, the road continues to drop in elevation all the way down to the playa. Continue straight through tea kettle junction, and bear left down the valley past the side road to the Lippincott mine, which is a great side trail.

The Racetrack Playa of Death Valley.
The Racetrack Playa of Death Valley.

As you continue past the road to the Lippincott mine the road drops down to the Racetrack Playa itself. The first stop is ‘The Grandstand’ which is an outcropping of rock located in the north west corner of the racetrack. The second stop is the parking area to hike towards the stones. Don’t try to hike to the stones from the first Grandstand parking lot, or you will be hiking significantly further.

The highlight of the trip, is a short hike to the sailing or racing stones. The start of the hike is the parking area at the southern end of the racetrack playa.

Jeeps and Labradors are not allowed on the playa!

To reach the stones hike east from the parking lot across the playa towards the dark stone hillside. It is short FLAT, meaning really FLAT hike towards the stones. Be sure the check the temperatures before you leave, and bring lots of water. This is true with anything you might want to do in Death Valley. Don’t walk on the playa if it is wet or muddy.

The Racing stones.
The Racing stones.

At the end of the 30 miles road there is a small primitive campground for overnight visits. Be sure to check with the National Park Service for regulations of back country camping within the park.

Every racetrack needs a grandstand.
Every racetrack needs a grandstand.
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Goblin Valley Utah

A Goblin formed from a soft limestone, water and time offer a unique hiking experience. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Goblin Valley is located in Utah is a state park and campground which is adjacent to eroded flood plain. Formed by water, time and a soft sandstone, erosion sculpted the limestone into unique rock formations which some have stated appears to be goblins.  The Goblin Valley itself is a day use hiking area which allows one to get lost in the maze of spires and rock formations.

Valley Queen, Goblin Valley, Utah Photography by James L Rathbun
Valley Queen, Goblin Valley Utah. Photograph by James L Rathbun

Each rock spire ranges in height from 3 feet to about 20 feet tall.  The fragile structures litter the landscape and sadly on occasion have been felled by people who do not have respect for nature.  There are three established self, however the Valley of the Goblins is a open trail flat mud plane after a easy and short trail down from the parking area.

Goblin Valley State Park does offer an established campground of 22 campsites just over a hill from the Valley of the Goblins.  The campground features, paved sites, bathrooms, showers, water and dump stations. The campground is very popular destination due to location next to Goblin Valley and is also a wonderful centralized base camp location for exploring the San Rafael Swell.

A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah
A solitary Pronghorn ( Antilocapra americana ) found near Golbin Valley, Utah

We stated in Goblin Valley in the off season several years ago. We were greeted with lots of camp sites available, privacy and a minor wind and rain storm. Despite the less then desirable conditions, we enjoyed our stay and will try to make it back again in the future.

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Lower Antelope Canyon

Lower Antelope Canyon one of two slot canyons located off the highway 98 just outside of Page, Arizona near the Utah border.

Entering Lower Antelope Canyon
Entering Lower Antelope Canyon

Slot Canyons are formed in usually arid regions, where a little bit of rain falls, and fulls the dry rivers of the desert southwest.  The water can flash flood, which picks up speed and debris and scours the landscape.  Overtime, the water forces itself into cracks in the rock and widens the deepens the crack into a deep narrow canyon.   Lower Antelope is a commonly overlooked when compared the Upper Antelope Canyon, although does seem to be gaining in popularity.

Hasdestwazi, or “spiral rock arches ” as it is known to the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation, Lower Antelope slowly exposes itself to you as a small crack in the rock which grows slightly in width, and dramatically  in depth as you climb down into the slot canyon.

Unlike Upper Antelope Canyon which is an easy walk, Lower Antelope Canyon is a steep and deep trail as the passage plunges deeper into the rock.  The Navajo Nation is kind enough to maintain metal stairs to aid the trek, however on my last visit the stars where covered in mud, silt and debris from a recent storm which further sculpts the rock.   Upper Antelope pulls you eyes up into the colorful light above, however there is no real sense of depth.  Lower Antelope Canyon constantly reminds you how deep you really are beneath the surface.

The stairs inside of lower Antelope Canyon show signs of a recent flood.
The stairs inside of lower Antelope Canyon show signs of a recent flood.

Just like Upper Antelope Canyon, a narrow opening at the top of the canyon only allows a little light the enter the canyon.  This light bounces off the canyon walls, and throughout the day, a light show of glowing rock, shadows and textured water sculpted rock offer a wonderful visuals to the visitors.

The sculpted rock and light offer beauty, texture and scenic photographic opportunities, however this beauty hides a danger.  An August 12, 1997 a group of eleven tourists where killed inside the canyon when a flash flood filled the canyon in seconds.  A sole tour guide survived the tragedy.

As I follow the canyon down towards Lake Powell in the distance, I would constantly find my self touching the smooth canyon rock walls, all the while knowing that a summer monsoon miles aware could end my time on this planet.  However, although always a bit uneasy, it is an amazing place and well worth the trip and the remote risk.