Flickr album link: Saline Valley
A lengthy journey over endless miles of bumpy dirt roads is required to get to the Saline Valley. "Is it worth it?" happens to be a question often heard about lesser known destinations in modern times and this actually is a self defeating inquiry. For those who have to weigh and gauge every destination on an imaginary satisfaction scale, all that can be said is with further experience, you will find that every place that you venture to is worth the time and effort. Something new will always be gained and the opportunity to escape from the rat race to points unknown can help to divine one's own personal life pathways. Half of the adventure is just getting there in one piece, so any trip to a remote destination is a test of self reliance. How well you prepare and how well the vehicle is maintained will determine whether the trip goes off without a hitch or it turns into a desperate survival situation. Navigational and driving skills also come into play, so it is better to play the part of the tortoise than the hare when taking part in a back country interpretation of this old fable. Take it slow, take in the beautiful scenery along the way and when you finally arrive, the question concerning whether the trip was worth it will likely never come to mind.
The Saline Valley is a large relatively flat valley surrounded by mountains in the north end of Death Valley National Park. This description may not sound too exciting to some, but for those who seek peace, quiet and a refrain from modern world, the Saline Valley definitely will fit the bill of fare. Overcrowding definitely is not a problem, but a few vehicles pass through on any given day. Most visitors simply head toward the Saline Valley Warm Springs, which is the main attraction. The thought of soaking in a natural hot springs tub way out in the middle of a vast desert expanse certainly is a dream come true and the dirt side road to this point of interest is easy to manage. Most times there are only a few visitors at the hot springs, but large group 4x4 caravans have been known to show up out of the blue.
For the naturalists, the sight of the diverse environment in the Saline Valley will be the thrill of a lifetime. The geology of the surrounding mountains is fascinating to ponder over and the erosive forces are on full display. The gentle slopes of the valley are covered with rocks and boulders that are worth a closer look. The lower end of the valley features a salt lake and salt marsh where many unique species of flora and fauna can be observed. There is also an old historic tram line from way back when table salt was mined in this place and some of the old industrial foundations remain in place. There are also a few abandoned lode mines to be seen on the surrounding mountain slopes, so history buffs will find plenty to do as well. Peaceful undisturbed white sand dunes cover the opposite end of Saline Valley, which definitely are picturesque during the dawn or dusk hours.
This article is part of a four part series and the next leg of the venture features the long dirt road from the Saline Valley to Big Pine, California, where civilization can be found. Besides Saline Valley Road heading south to Highway 190 or Big Pine, there are a few other dirt trails going out of the valley, but these are only recommended for capable vehicles. One goes through the mountains to Lippencott Pass and the mining district by the same name before continuing onward to Racetrack Playa. This is a dangerous trail that is best for short wheel base 4x4 vehicles. The other way out is Steel Pass Road, which runs from the hot springs to Eureka Dunes. This travel route may be tempting, but the deep sugar sand at the end of the road is guaranteed to strand any vehicle that does not have the right kind of tires. The tire pressure needs to be very low and a 4x4 with bead lock rims will definitely be advantageous when traveling on Steel Pass road to Eureka Dunes. The smooth dirt road to Big Pine definitely is the easiest way to go without backtracking, which turns the Saline Valley venture into a 100 mile back country trip that will provide memories that last a lifetime!
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