Saline Valley

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!

Looking down into Panamint Valley from the top of the South Pass.  Telescope Peak is in the far distance.

Starting down Grapevine Canyon into Saline Valley.  About 50 miles to the hot springs.

Your first view of Saline Valley, the north end is about 60 miles distant!  Only one dirt road in this valley.

Down on the flats, trying to find the dirt path that takes you to the hot springs, about 9 miles away.

“Mom” and the kid, lots of wild burros & coyotes in the valley.

Nine miles off the dirt road on the dirt path you’ll come to the Lower Springs.

And in those palms & tamarisk trees you’ll find this lovely oasis!

One of several hot pools, it’s “clothing optional” here which means everyone’s naked!

The lower springs “bath” which is reserved solely for bathing [dry now for cleaning].

Can you say the word “oasis”?  The trees were planted by visitors years ago, lovely lawns too!

Half mile farther on you come to the “Upper Springs”.

One of two hot pools at the Upper Springs.  It’s more wide open with views of the valley.

These palms weren’t even here when I first came into this valley in 1956.

The bigger of the two pools, this is a “family” setting, Lower Springs are burnt out hippies!

Just to prove the “family” bit, here’s a little kid splashing in the “foot pool”.

My venerable 5 Star “Hotel Westfalia”.  View is to the east towards Death Valley & Nevada.

With the awning up, chairs out, and getting ready for a gin & tonic and hors d’oeuvres !

Dawn in the valley, those are the Inyo Mountains with the sun just hitting them.  View is to the west.

Just after the sun came up, still dark down here on the desert.

This is the “source pool” where the hot water @ 105 degrees comes out of the ground.  View is to the east towards Nevada.

Remember this is a MOA [military operating area].  That jet’s only about 200′ above us!
Just after dawn, all quiet in the valley [it’s always quiet!] Not much grows out here. Barrel cactus on the 9th hole of the golf course [just kidding!].
Looking east up the valley towards Nevada, hot springs are in the little patch of trees in centre of picture. Picture taken from high up on the slope looking down at the hot springs abut 3 miles distant. Storm coming in!  From December to February it’s easy to get snowed in with both passes becoming impassable!

About 2 1/2 miles above the Upper Springs is the undeveloped springs.  Have to hike to get here.

Proof that I’m not a “prude”, being “undeveloped” means there’s bugs & stuff in the water.

That’s a C-130 going over 500′ above us.  He came by in the middle of the night with no lights!
Picture on the left is the “kitchen sink” where you wash dishes,  on the right is the shower. Unlimited hot water here, right out of the spring at about 105 degrees. 
Head frame of an old mine shaft in a canyon on the way out, north road.
Looking back down into Saline Valley from the north road.  You can barely see the south pass 60 miles away.  Leaving the valley via the road out to the north you climb up a steep grade into the mountains, passing old mine ruins on the way.
Looking up the canyon with the mines, north road.


Paved highway at last!  You’ve just traveled about 90 miles on the dirt road to get here.

That’s the Sierras thru the windshield.  Looking at Owens Valley and Big Pine in the distance.

Contemplating the end of the trip, lunch & a beer.  God, the stress!
                       Duane & Mary Rossi

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.