I had some fun the other day and created a bunch of “motivational posters” using my own images and captions from one of our desert-walking adventures. We really do enjoy exploring the empty hinterlands of the Desert Southwest, but the dryness can sure be a challenge. Thanks, Despair.com!
We spent Memorial Day weekend over on the Central Coast of California, checking out some of the rugged coastline south of Monterey. We found a number of trails that wound through forested canyons and up onto ridges.
Many these trails are on the steep side, but we were rewarded for our efforts by a lack of other walkers, expansive ocean views once the morning fog burned off, and a complete-surprise sighting of a couple of wild California Condors. [No condor photos; we were too busy gaping once we realized they were not turkey vultures!]
Alta Vista, a Big Sur Landmark
At the top of one of the ridges above the Burns State Park trailhead, we found a smallish, unmarked side trail that we decided to follow. It wound steeply further up the ridge and ended at the stone ruins of … a house! A nearby plaque explained:
Situated on a ridge above Partington Creek, this homestead site was patented in 1932 and named Alta Vista by Alfhild and Gustave Overstrom, who constructed a cabin, barn and cold storage cellar overlooking the Big Sur coast. In 1981, Alta Vista was purchased by Jeff Norman, a noted Big Sur historian and naturalist, who lived on the property for many years until his death in 2007. The cabin, barn and cold storage cellar were destroyed in the Basin Complex Fire of 2008, leaving the foundations that still remain on the site. With support form its members, Save the Redwoods League acquired Alta Vista from Jeff Norman’s estate in 2010 for addition to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.
After visiting the homestead site, we headed further out the small trail system on to the Tanbark Trail, which drops 3 miles back down into the Partington Creek drainage. The fog continued to provide nice, filtered light for photographing the forest. We ran into a few people along this trail who asked us how close they were to “the top” or “the house.” We thought it was amusing that so many people seemed to know about this place we’d never heard of, and whose access trail was unmarked, steep, and brushy.
We recently took our new truck for a break-in jaunt into Saline Valley, the huge valley just east of Owens Valley. The west side of Saline is formed by the rugged Inyo Mountains, and the valley contains dunes, hot springs, pure stands of pickleweed, and—at this time of year—wildflowers. We filled up the weekend with a hike up the steep and historic Salt Tramway Trail, and got a different look at the Inyos from the inside with a short jaunt up Craig Canyon.
Salt Tramway Trail
Michel Digonnet, author of the indispensable-for-desert-travelers Hiking Western Death Valley National Park, gives special attention to the Salt Tramway of Saline Valley. The biggest mining venture in Saline Valley involved not precious metals, but humble halite—table salt. “Discovered” in the late 1800s, Saline Valley Salt Lake underwent serious exploitation around 1911, and construction of a 13.5-mile aerial tramway began soon after. From the valley floor at 1100′, it would climb almost 8,000′ to cross deep Daisy Canyon, continue upward to the almost 9,000′ crest of the Inyos, then drop over 5,000′ down the other side to a railroad terminal on the shore of Owens Lake.
The tramway was powered by electric motors and called for 2 terminals, 4 intermediate control towers to change direction of the cables, 21 rail structures, and 12 anchorage-tension stations.When completed in 1913, it became the steepest tramway in the US— and remains one of the largest of its kind today (Digonnet).
Steep, deep and fall-ridden: Craig Canyon
Craig Canyon is just north of Daisy Canyon and the Salt Tramway, so we explored it a little the next day right from camp. In just 2 miles we scrambled up numerous small falls and bypassed 2 large ones. As Digonnet says, “The lower canyon offers a relatively easy hike to exceptional narrows that rank among the deepest and tightest in this range. For a change there is no running water or bramble to make hiking a nuisance.”