The Hidden Saline Pools of the Devil’s Golf Course

Saline Pools at Devil's Golf Course

There are places on Earth where the boundary between what is real and what is not real disappears. Nowhere is this more evident than Death Valley. The terrain in the park ranges from standard desert dunes to phantasmagorical displays of geologic strength and energy. In many corners of the park, hidden oddities lurk off of dusty dirt roads. These oddities, however, are not confined to remote and unknown areas – in many places, they are hidden in plain sight, visible to all of the park’s visitors that can see that they are indeed real.

The Devil’s Golf Course is located in the middle of Death Valley. Bold, brown National Park Service signs proclaim its existence on both sides of Badwater Road, and it is on every park map. Its existence is undisputed. If you venture down the dirt road that connects it to the Badwater Road, you’ll find yourself in a parking area surrounded by a landscape that looks like it should be on another planet. What you’ll be looking at is thousands of individual halite crystal formations – sculpted salt crystals that range in size and height. If the salt pan of Death Valley was an eighteen-hole golf course, this area would be the ultimate sand trap – no ball could be played from any lie between these formations.

If you walk out from the parking area, you’ll hear nothing but the crunch-crunch-crunch of crystals beneath your feet and the wind in your ears. If you bend down to touch the formations, or bump into one with your foot, you’ll feel nothing but hard and sharp serrated edges that can easily cut through skin and shoes. No matter what time of year you go, it will always be hot, and the peaks of the surrounding mountains will seem impossibly high.

If you have ventured out far enough, and if you have the eyes to see it, it will be there. Or maybe it will be elsewhere, because there’s more than one. At first, you won’t believe it, because they seem like they shouldn’t be real. But they’re there – out in the Devil’s Golf Course: pools of water. It’s not the 116 degree heat influencing your eyes: there are actually deep pools of water that appear and disappear in the desert floor. This water lurks underneath the valley, and is the remnants of glacial Lake Manly that used to fill the valley with life before it became associated with death.

These saline pools are real – although they seem like they shouldn’t be real. They are out in the Devil’s Golf Course, although no one quite knows how they appear or when they appear. All that’s known is that they disappear by a slow growth of halite crystals over their openings. If that wasn’t enough of a reality blurring exercise for you; you should know that the National Park Service in Death Valley used to blast these holes open for visitors when they stopped appearing naturally – but that’s another reality to discuss another time.


  1. Death Valley is on my shortlist which is somewhat disappointing to admit given that it’s one of the closest National Parks to me. How have I not been there yet?

    I’ve not heard of these pools but this post certainly moves them to the must-see list for Death Valley. Seems like there are several interesting yet unexplained phenomena in that Park.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Super awesome! I like to think I know a lot of the Death Valley sooper sekrets, but this one was new to me. Can’t wait to find one myself!

  3. Excellent post, Chris. Did NOT know about these. Well written as well. Makes me wanna go find these for myself, which is the point, right?

    • Last Adventurer says:

      Thanks Terry! Really appreciate that! You should go check it out – Death Valley is a magical place (no bad pun intended ;)).

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