Saline Valley Road Map
Saline Valley welcomed us to the colorful and extremely fascinating desert Shangri-La that is Death Valley in the Mojave Desert.
Officially within the Death Valley National Park boundary, Saline Valley is mostly overlooked by those heading to its more arid and popular big brother Death Valley farther to the south and east. Saline Valley makes a great introduction to the park, for those with the time, and for those looking for an escape from civilization.
A huge dry lake with a salt marsh occupies the center of the valley, but most people come to see the sand dunes and of course, to soak and relax in the natural hot springs. That is, if you're not bashful about exposing skin (and I mean ALL of it) and don't mind the drive through dozens of miles of washboard roads to get there.
The lonesome road is perfect for four-wheelers, and on most occasions you can drive its entire length without seeing another vehicle (well, at least on land). But with scenery so delightful, the total experience is well worth the trek!
Hippies in the Hot Springs
In the 60s, Saline Valley Hot Springs became popular with nudists, and today, although nudity is against general Park regulations, it is now "clothing optional" and highly regulated. But for the sake of tradition (and the right to bare your assets) authorities and the eclectic - often eccentric - visitors maintain a civil relationship. However, the springs here do not appear on ANY National Park Service maps.
To be so free, stripped of your worries and disclosed to nature, soaking in medicinal water under the golden sun and the unclouded blue sky against rugged mountains - your mind can't help but wander until...
A Jet Flies By
A common sight in the valley, low flying jets (along with who-knows-what-else is "out there") maneuver in neck-breaking speeds. Just over the mountains lie a restricted U.S. military complex. The jets generally don't bother, nor scare people, in fact, Chris and I enjoyed the private show.
Antique Alien Space Modules?
Our love affair with the mountains, hot tubs, and supersonic fliers dissipated as we reached the center of the valley. Here lies a different kind of spectacle. Back in the early 1900s, salt was harvested from Saline Valley and transported across Inyo Mountains and Owens Valley to be milled and shipped to Nevada. They constructed tall tram towers connected with cables for gondolas carrying 800 pound loads of salt to traverse from one tram to another. Now, these ruins stand in eerie uniform distance to each other like giant characters from a Star Wars movie.
It seems ironic to call this a "dry" lake with its voluminous salt marsh, but its glassy and contemplative nature make this spot popular with photographers from sun up to sun down.
Charlie Was Here
Saline Valley also had a brush with evil back in the days. Cult leader Charles Manson (along with his helter-skelter followers) was obsessed with the springs and believed them to be "The Hole," a bottomless pit that leads to a secret city beneath Death Valley. Saline Valley was the fave hangout of this gruesome murderer before his 1969 arrest in nearby Panamint Valley.
Saline Valley is truly enjoyable, whether or not one knows its history. The Native American people who lived here during prehistoric times, the affluence of salt and minerals, the gold-seekers who became miners and drudged to make a living, the 60s mainstream expatriates and the cult members who chose to make this their sanctuary - these are stories obscured by wide open spaces, panoramas of leathery layers of mountains, sand dunes gracefully sculpted by wind and the elements, and a secret oasis for naturists.
There is no doubt Saline Valley is captivating, relaxing and beautiful, but if you think that jets are not the only flying objects here, or that the hot springs are actually portals to a Utopian underworld, I will just have to take that with a grain of salt.
You only need to do it once and it's FREE!