The Ubehebe Colors Loop is a challenging scenic loop hike through some very colorful canyons, unique hillsides with formations, and an area containing the largest concentration of mud natural bridges in Death Valley. Difficulties encountered on the hike include having extremely good route-finding abilities to navigate through mazes of canyons and dealing with continuous obstacles including impassable dry falls and advanced bypasses. Topographical maps of the hiking route can be found by clicking on the buttons above. GPS coordinates for the parking area along Racetrack Road are 36.976150, -117.470062. GPS coordinates for colors canyon #1 are 36.970904, -117.465709. GPS coordinates for the mud bridges area are 36.953307, -117.447444. GPS coordinates for colors canyon #2 are 36.973268, -117.451810.
One of the benefits of having a Death Valley National Park hiking web site which shares my personal hiking reports with others is that other hikers will write to me and share their own experiences. It's always nice to hear from fellow hikers, especially when they write in and tell me about intriguing areas they have found. That's kind of the origin of where the Ubehebe Colors Loop came from. While studying the northern Cottonwoods on satellite imagery, I had long noticed what looked like an interesting area in between the base of Tin Mountain and Ubehebe Crater. There looked to be several canyons that cut through the area which appeared to be very colorful in appearance. However, because I had so many other planned destinations in Death Valley, I set aside the idea of carrying out a hike in this area. That changed when a couple of fellow hikers told me they had explored portions of the area and come across some very nice scenery. Following up on their information, I came up with a loop route which would allow us to see as much as possible in one day while passing through spots that had been recommended. In creating this loop, my focus was not on taking the most obvious routes to expedite the hike as quickly as possible. Rather, I wanted to take a meandering route which would pass through side canyons and isolated areas which few park visitors had ever seen. There were various spots of colorful terrain visible from satellite imagery, so I made a route which would stop by as many of these locations as possible. Because the focus was on colorful terrain and the route was a loop located about 3 air miles south of Ubehebe Crater, I informally named this the Ubehebe Colors Loop. When it came time to do the hike, I was privileged to be joined by Death Valley Superintendent Mike Reynolds. Hiking along with Mike into an area neither of us had ever seen within Death Valley made for a very special day. Before I get into sharing details about the colorful scenery we got to see, I should share an important word of caution. This is not a hiking route that I am recommending to the general public. It is extremely challenging as we faced one obstacle after another in the form of impassable dry falls and advanced bypasses. In comparison to other hiking reports shared here on this site, this would be one of the hardest. Even so, I decided to go ahead and share a report on this area to enable others to see the beautiful scenery found here. I figured even if others can't do this hike in person, surely they would enjoy following along with us and seeing what we found.
The Ubehebe Colors Loop starts out by parking along Racetrack Valley Road about 3 miles south of the turn-off from near Ubehebe Crater. After hiking to the southeast for about 1/2 mile, we entered into a side canyon. This first side canyon (colors canyon #1 on the map) had a mixture of red, purple, and tan rock colors. We were surprised that the hike had gotten off to a such a good start so quickly. After climbing a dry fall and hiking all the way through, we turned off to the right and continued southeast along the base of some white foothills. This was another neat area with white and pink patches of rock and dirt all over. We then crossed over and dropped into the main canyon in the area, which was trending south and ultimately heads up the steep slopes of Tin Mountain. However, we turned out of this main canyon and headed east rather quickly. We entered into one side canyon and then another side canyon as we climbed up into a large basin (colorful cliffs area #1 on the map). This basin was quite fascinating with waves of uplifted, rounded white rock (see logo image above for an example). The next part of the hike was tricky, as we had to connect this area with a saddle we were trying to reach. By gaining some elevation, side-hilling, and then scrambling down a very steep slope, we managed to reach the saddle. This was where we came across one of the most surprising and interesting things we found all day. The drainage we followed down contained a series of mud natural bridges and drainage tunnels. These mud bridges grew in height the farther down canyon we progressed. Mud bridges are different from regular natural bridges because they are made of a softer substance which is less stable and always changing. Mud bridges are prone to collapse. That is one reason that hikers should climb over or around mud bridges and not try to pass through them. It is also the reason that mud bridges do not qualify for the semi-official database of Death Valley's Natural Bridges contained on this site. I would estimate that we worked our way around ten or more significant mud bridges in total. Adding to the beauty of the area, there were some incredible erosional features lining the hillsides all around. We then continued down the canyon once it returned to a normal wash for about 1 1/2 miles before turning off to the northwest in order to attain the ridge. This was a bit of a climb and we had to overcome a couple of obstacles, but we eventually made it up. Our original plan was to drop into the next major drainage to the north, but that did not work out. The canyon below was filled with major dry falls, so we had to abandon that plan and climb back up to the ridge. Along the ridge, we had outstanding views of Grapevine Peak, Wahguyhe Peak, and Mount Palmer in the Grapevines. We stayed on the ridge heading west up toward the peak labeled as 4120T, and then dropped down to the north onto a saddle. From there, we followed the drainage to the west into a fascinating rock amphitheater area (colorful cliffs area #2 on the map). There were more impassable dry falls, but we successfully bypassed them all. The final target area in our loop hike was a fairly large canyon (colors canyon #2 on the map). This canyon delivered some great scenery with a very unique rock type that resembled stacks of flat rocks (or rock shelves). After getting past one more dry fall, we exited the canyon and hiked back to our vehicle, thus completing the loop hike. It had been a challenging but outstanding day in the far northern Cottonwoods. The Ubehebe Colors Loop hike had been about 12 miles round-trip with a cumulative elevation gain of 3,200 feet. Our hike took place on March 18, 2018.
This hike contains sections of climbing, exposed bypasses and/or high dry falls and may require safety ropes and equipment in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, and safety gear should completely avoid this hike. Anyone who attempts to hike in this area should use extreme caution when climbing dry falls, using advanced bypasses, and walking around the unstable area containing the mud natural bridges.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT