Saline Valley is a huge, 50 mile long by 15 miles wide valley northwest of Death Valley and east of Lone Pine. The floor of the valley is about 1,500′ elevation with the Inyo Mountains on the west which extend to about 9,000′ high. Mountains surround the valley. Saline Valley is accessible by only one very demanding dirt load leading north from the paved highway connecting Olancha and Death Valley. This dirt road drops down into the valley, and then goes out the north end via Westgard Pass. The dirt road will test your personal fortitude and your vehicle’s shock absorbers and suspension. It’s nearly 80 miles from one end to the other.
There are no permanent inhabitants in the valley save for the wild burros, coyotes, and, at the higher elevations, wild horses. No services, no gas station, stores, phones, ATM’s or wireless internet in this valley. Nothing at all! Just a huge beautiful valley. So you’re on your own!
However, down in the bottom of the valley, and 9 miles off this dirt road, accessible by a dirt path which is even worse than the main road are some of the most lovely hot springs that you’ll ever have the pleasure of visiting. There’s three sets of springs, two of which are “developed”, and one that is totally wild. First you come to the “lower springs”, then about 1/2 mile above are the “upper springs”, and finally, via a 2 1/2 mile hike, are the undeveloped springs. “Developed” means that the hot springs have been cemented in to form pools, baths, washing areas, etc.
The lower springs are generally populated by old burnt out “flower children” from the 60’s, while the upper springs hold host to more gentile “family set”. While I’m old and burnt out, I’m not a flower child, so I hang out at the upper springs. Now, since this is a totally “remote” area, if one were to parade around sans clothing, nobody would notice or care. As a matter of fact, it’s generally expected that nobody has anything on, and if you do, you’re considered a “prude” or a Republican.
This is in what’s known as a MOA in “airplane talk” which means “military operating area”. This is where the Navy and Air Force “top guns” practice, and it’s an air show all day long. They dog fight, make high speed runs right on the ground [or as they call it, “down in the dirt”], and chase each other all over the valley. They also know exactly where the hot springs are and make low [really low!] level passes checking the hot springs for “titties”. Which of course all the women happily respond!
Several years ago this whole area became part of the Death Valley National Monument. The Park Service has, fortunately, maintained a more or less “hands off” policy as long as we all obey the common sense rules, i.e., dogs are kept on a leash, no firearms or fireworks, don’t leave a mess, DON’T drive off road, and don’t overstay the 30 day camp limit. At this time [January 2009] camping is free.
So put aside your prejudices and check out the photos. No, there’s no nude pictures that will offend!
Duane Rossi and his daughter Mary, owner of “Rossi Steak & Spaghetti” in Big Pine, Owens Valley. He’s an old hunter, trapper, guide, packer, cowboy, stockman, poet and restaurateur that I used to work for in the Sierra’s about 45 years ago. His grandparents were early pioneers in Owens Valley and the original homesteaders of what is now known as Big Pine. Big Pine is known among the “locals” as “Rossi Town”. As owner of the Tunnel Meadows Camp and Pack Station, he’s packed, trapped and hunted all through the Sierras, from Monanche Meadow in the south, up through Templeton, Ramshaw, & Tunnel Meadows area.