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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Saline Valley Springs Review

11-14-13 Critical information - South pass needs high clearance and is slow down by the lake (which has returned!).  The north pass is MUCH worse :

But some hope of improvements before Thanksgiving:

Saline Valley Road Work

Good luck.




First posted on 11-17-10:







I've been asked about Saline Valley from so many friends, it's time to post a general review of the area for it's hot-tubs, hiking and generally great spot to get away.


As some of you may know, Saline Hot Springs used to be on BLM land  "just off the map" to the west side of Death Valley until it was annexed.  In many respects, Saline Valley is Death Valley in miniature - low valley, tall mountains and great hiking.  In the 1960s,Hippies built some soaking tubs and planted some palm trees at the hot-springs.  

In 1994 the Feds made Saline part of the official Death Valley Park and won't allow any more development.  But they won't allow any destruction either.  Nudity is still the norm. When people try to change things, the park rangers put it back.  Strange how the liberal government types wish to conserve.  And small government conservatives like to build liberally.

Now there are several pit toilets and many "camp spots" lined in rock.  Winter weekends are a great time to enjoy the warm weather (1100 feet elevation at the salt flat, 1300 feet at the springs), and dramatic hiking (6 to 10 thousand foot mountains).

Mostly it's quiet, but several times a year crowds gather.  There's a baseball game on Presidents day.  Christmas through New years is always busy, though it sometimes freezes at night.  Easter is the last big weekend before it gets really hot.  Summer is the the slow season.






The biggest party of the year is for the Thanksgiving potluck.  I've been maybe five times.  It's a fun group from all over the west and even some from Europe.  Last year about 400 showed up.  Bring a blank tee-shirt for the silk screening, get your toe-nails painted and enjoy the music.  Last year there were even movies in the evening.  Dinner starts about 2:00 PM on Thursday and the soup potluck on Friday is almost as good.






Directions:

If you've had trouble finding directions to Saline Hot Springs, it's because no one wants to be blamed for putting you on that road.  Or getting you lost.  Believe me, it's not a road you'll want to drive just for the fun of
it.  And in the summer, people die out there.

No matter how you do it, it's 60 miles of bad road - each way.  My rule of thumb is to stay at LEAST four days.  It takes that long to forget the drive in.  Having said that, you CAN make it with most any vehicle.  I've even seen a little Honda sedan there.  Just be careful you don't break any bits off.  But I wouldn't try with any long motor-home or trailer than has entry and exit angle problems.  Soft roaders with 7 inches of clearance will do just fine - if you dodge the rocks.  Lower than that, be extra careful.

There's another reason you won't find much driving advice on the net - conditions change all the time.  The north, south and east passes close for various reasons.  I always check these sites before I go out.  There's almost always a report from the last few weeks :


Saline Valley Talk

Death Valley Talk

Saline Valley road runs north and south between highways 168 and 190. The springs are 7 miles east of this road and turns off near the north end of the valley.  When you come off pavement on 168 at the north end (there's a sign), you'll be at 7600 feet, so snow can be a factor even in November.  The sign may say the road's closed.  It rarely is.  The park service does this to discourage traffic.  It works.  The meek drivers at the springs are rare.

The north pass starts with a reasonably graded gravel road, but soon you find LOTS of sharp rocks and more than a few bigger ones to dodge.  It's a good idea to air-down your tires to about 20 lbs to decrease tire damage.  It also improves traction.  One ford pickup brought two spares but needed three.  Fortunately, they were close enough to hike in to the springs and Lee had a spare that fit.  Did I mention to check your spare before you leave home?  I've popped one each on two different trips in the last six years, but none since I started airing-down. It's a small sample, but be ready.

Anyway, off into Marble Canyon from the north - you'll know it by the switch-backs and old mining buildings.  From there it's through the trees and out to a panoramic view of Saline Valley.  This is the top of Ten Mile grade which takes you to the bottom of Saline Valley.


When you get near the bottom, there's a road to the right that goes to Turtle Jim's.  Ignore him.  Continue straight until the road gets level and flat on the bottom of the valley.  There you'll find an ungraded road which turns off to the left.  There is no sign and the park service will take it down if you make one.  If you get to the sand dunes, you went too far.  Turn around.

Coming in from the south off highway 190 (well marked turn-off), the first few miles of road is busted pavement.  Once you hit gravel and go through the Joshua forest you'll climb to South Pass.  At the top is a beautiful view off into Panamint Valley and a road to the right.  Don't take it unless you're headed for the Race Track.  Bare left and down into Saline Valley.  Here are some north faced switch-backs.  There's not as much snow at 6100 feet, but there IS a nasty shaded spot if you're trying to get out.  If you DO get a storm while you're at camp, start early to drive out before this spot gets ice-packed by everyone else driving out.  


Once you get to the flats you still have a good 20 miles of sandy wash-board road.  Airing down is not as critical from the south as there's not as much sharp rock.  But then it only takes one.

Go west around the lake and past the dunes on your right.  About another mile on is that ungraded road to the east. If you start up out of the valley again, you went too far.  Turn around.  This road to the east is the
final section and the worst road.  You probably went too fast on all that wash-board, but stay slow on this section and watch for wash-outs.  If you get over 20 MPH, you'll slam your springs.

A few miles in is a cool sign for the bat road, which is a story in itself - but stay on the road east.  At night you'll see lights up ahead.  The camp lights were the only way I found my way in on my first trip here totally in the dark.

The first springs are where Lizard Lee keeps the lawn.  Another 3/4 of a mile up is another set of tubs. and lots of camping space.


See you in the hot-tubs.