Devils Hole

At the Devils Hole, wilderness warnings are taken seriously....

At the Devils Hole, wilderness warnings are taken seriously....

Not only is there water in the desert at Ash Meadows, there’s also a bottomless pit as well. Even more importantly, this bottomless pit isn’t just any bottomless pit: it’s full of water – fossil water – that’s fed from an underground aquifer. If a bottomless pit that happens to be full of water isn’t quite interesting enough for you, I’ve got another fact about this geologic feature that might sweeten the deal for you: it contains a species of fish –pupfish - that has been isolated from the rest of the world for over 10,000 years, and only lives in this one specific spot. If that isn’t enough to make you want to visit the Devils Hole, I learned first-hand that the whole area has more security than some jails. That’s right: the Devils Hole has so much security and protection, it makes one wonder if what’s in the hole is really being protected; or if we, the denizens of the planet are being protected from what’s in the Devils Hole.

I learned about the Devils Hole many years ago while I was taking a geology class back in college. Back then, the Professor told my class all of the above facts, and politely suggested that if we were in the area, it would be an amazing thing to see. Like many things, I filed it away for future reference, and when I got to Ash Meadows, I was interested to see what the infamous Devils Hole looked like. In the interests of full disclosure, let me confess the following: I had no idea what the Devils Hole would look like, except for some hazy memories of slides I might have seen a long time ago. I assumed that it would be like parts of Ash Meadows: meaning, an area with a pool of water that I could stare into and maybe see some of the descendants of the original pupfish. I imagined it would look more or less like the picture HERE that the National Park Service provides in describing the area.

While my assumption was actually quite reasonable, and the area no doubt looked that way at some point, the area now resembles a super-max prison, or perhaps the entrance to Area 51 or some other hardened secret government lab. I can only assume that in order to protect the site – and the pupfish within it, the National Park Service decided to surround the area with a fifteen foot high fence that is topped with razor wire. Similarly, I can only assume that the National Park Service also decided to construct the bunker/tunnel viewing area out of a similar desire to protect: a) park visitors; and b) the ecosystem within the Devils Hole. As a big proponent of conservation and wilderness protection, I get the reasons: the Devils Hole is an area with a unique and endangered species that exists nowhere else on the planet. I completely understand that. It is, however, a bit odd to travel through the complex to peer into a darkened cave/hole where you can only glimpse a small amount of water.

Moreover, if you’re like me, and have an overactive imagination, the whole setup seems strange. Picture this: you’re in the middle of the desert. You’re miles away from any other person. You have no cell service. In fact, as far as you know it, all other life on this planet might have ended for whatever reason. Then, you see it. A small hill with ringed with a black chain link fence, forming some sort of compound. The only way into that compound? A single entrance made out of strong steel on both sides that curves up and around. Would you enter the steel mesh tunnel? Are those voices you hear coming out of the nearby cave/pool of water? Is the Devils Hole called the Devils Hole not because of the extreme 110 degree heat, but because, in reality it is one of the seven gates to Hell on Earth, and the Government/Secret Agency has it locked down, not to protect the “pupfish” but to protect us, the inhabitants of the planet from doom, gloom and endless torment? Or, is this an area that isn’t something supernatural, but something….alien? Doesn’t this strange installation with its strange signs and lack of visitors sound exactly like something from any B-Grade movie that has been released ever?

Real chuckwalla, or fake chuckwalla?

Real chuckwalla, or fake chuckwalla?

I don’t know about you, but to me, all of this seems/sounds like something that could happen. Or maybe I’ve seen too many movies. Even though it was hot when I was there, I did not see or hear anything out of the ordinary, and I even clambered about on the surrounding mountain slopes just because I could. The only thing that was super odd was the chuckwalla that was too lazy to run off. On second thought, maybe that is evidence in itself of a secret government lab: it was a robot chuckwalla that was surveiling me. In any case, if you’re going to visit the Devils Hole, you should know that you’re not going to be able to see much, if anything at all. There are much better things to see in Ash Meadows, but if you’re there, it’s worth a side trip because even if it’s not something surreal, it’s worth seeing.

Directions: Follow the directions in my article about Ash Meadows; from Ash Meadows, the area is well signed, and from the parking area, it is a .25 mile walk to the Devils Hole itself over flat terrain.

Interesting Facts: The Devils Hole is spelled with no apostrophe. Also, the hole is considered “bottomless” because when it was being surveyed, the study surveyed down to 500 feet and stopped, so as not to damage the environment. In all likelihood, it has a bottom…or does it? The Hole is also home to the Devils Hole Pupfish; and is part of Death Valley National Park – even though it is not connected to the park!