The Devil’s Golf Course is a huge salt pan on the floor of Death Valley, situated in the Mojave Desert in eastern California. Though its particular boundaries are below par defined, and it spreads from the vicinity of the Ashford Mill site to the Salt Creek Hills, a distance of around 40 miles.
The large salt pan is basically a colossal, dried-up bed of a lake that once well covered the valley to a depth of about 30 feet. It is believed that nearly 2,000 to 4,000 years ago the lake dried up which has left behind dissolved minerals for more than thousands of years, and was sculpted by weathering processes into eccentric shapes.
The salt pan is so amazingly serrated that the 1934 National Park Service guidebook to Death Valley National Monument stated that “only the devil could play golf” on its surface. After some time, the salt pan came to be recognized as the Devil’s Golf Course. Over 150,000 years ago, the contemporary day salt pan was the site of a large, deep lake produced by snow and melting glaciers as far away as the Sierra Nevada.
Famous as Lake Manly, this body of water reached depths of 600 feet, and during this date the majority of the salts that encompass these formations entered the area. At the close of the last Ice Age approximately 10,000 years ago climate change started a period of evaporation drying up this lake.
Then for a brief period during the Holocene about 2,000 to 4,000 years ago, the climate was again much damper and one more shallow lake shaped primarily from snow melt in the surrounding mountains and the drainage of the Amargosa River. This time, the salt pan flooded to a depth of around 30 feet. After that, the climate warmed again, rainfall declined to some extent and the shallow lakes started to dry up.
As the water evaporated, minerals dissolved in the lake became increasingly concentrated, finally leaving a thick salty pool on the lowest parts of Death Valley’s floor. While the salt pan at Badwater periodically floods, then dries, Devil’s Golf Course lies in a part of the Death Valley salt pan that is a few feet above flood level. Without the soothing effects of floodwaters, the salty salt at Devil’s Golf Course grows into bizarre, intricately detailed pinnacles.
The pinnacles form when salty water increases up from underlying mud. Capillary action draws the water upward, where it rapidly evaporates, leaving a salty residue behind. The pinnacles rise very slowly, possibly as little as an inch in 35 years, and strong wind and rain continually sculpt the salty spires into captivating shapes.