Many sites have been given the creepy name of “Devils Hole”. The most famous Hole is in Death Valley, Nevada where a notch in the rock reveals an oasis of ancient groundwater in the otherwise brutally dry desert landscape. The cave opening is unusual, the water level responds to seismic events around the world, the underground passageways are complex and its depth is unknown. The opening in the desert sparked strange thoughts from one of the most disturbed criminal minds of our time, claimed lives, and hosts a rare species.
The water in the hole stays at a relatively constant salinity and temperature. It is warmed by the geothermal heat to about 92 degrees year-round and has remarkably stable chemistry even at depth. It is not immediately affected by rainfall indicating the water itself is old and isolated. This is its description via the National Park Service site:
Devils Hole is a window into this vast aquifer and an unusual indicator of seismic activity around the world. A very spooky aspect of the pool is that it reacts to large earthquakes very far away. Earthquakes in Mexico, Japan, Indonesia and Chile have caused the water to ‘slosh’ around the like water in a bathtub. Waves may spash as high as two meters up the walls.
Such a phenomenon is known as a seismic seiche. Check out what observers saw at Devils Hole in response to the 2012 Mexico quake.
This location is the home to the Devils Hole Pupfish (Cyprinodon diabolis) that are found only in the water here, possibly living in isolation in the aquifer under the desert for some 25,000 years. The Devil’s hole area was named a National Wildlife Refuge in 1984 to protect the endangered pupfish. One test well drilled in the area (for irrigation of the land, of all things) caused the water level to drop. The government won a lawsuit in 1976 to prevent further development of the land and extraction of water to preserve the unique habitat.
According to Atlas Obscura, murderous cult leader Charles Manson was fascinated with place:
When Manson arrived in Death Valley he became obsessed with finding a mysterious hole that would that would lead his “family” to water and a safe place to live in the desert. He wandered the wastelands for days on end looking for this place—and finally found it at Devil’s Hole. Rumor has it that he spent three days sitting cross-legged, staring, and meditating inside the fenced-in observation point near the 60,000-year-old fissure. He was sure that the waters were just blocking the door to the underground kingdom that would provide shelter and water for his group when it was needed.
Legends of an ancient civilization hidden in the caverns under Death Valley may have prompted Manson to seek them out for himself. He believed this was a bottomless pit as mentioned in Revelation where he could escape the coming “Helter Skelter” (the apocalypse) [A. Lankford, Haunted Hikes, 2006]
Due to its sensitive environmental nature, the area is now heavily secured against people trying to explore or to attempt to get rid of the protected fish that blocks their land use options.
Back in 1965, it was not so protected. Kids jumped the fence and dived in the cave. Two boys, Paul Giacontieri and David Rose, failed to surface during one dive. Despite hours of searching by dozens in a rescue attempt, their bodies were never found.
Professional divers have explored the water-filled cave to a depth of 436 feet and did not see a bottom.
A magnitude 7.6 earthquake in Mexico on September 19, 2022 affected water in Devils Hole. Five minutes after the quake 1500 miles away, the underground pool began to slosh back and forth for over a half hour, with waves reaching up to four feet high. The sloshing, called a seiche, occurs because the pool is small and isolated from outside influences. When the passing oscillations are just the right speed and orientation, the pit water sloshes like in a bathtub. Some earthquakes, but not all, from around the world announce their energy waves by affecting the pool. The last large “desert tsunami” occurred in July of 2019 from the Ridgecrest quake in California. That caused the water to extend 15-ft above the static level. The sloshing helps remove algae buildup from the cave. The events can cause short-term harm to the pupfish but ultimately increases oxygen levels in the water.
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Originally published July 2018 and periodically updated