Winter, Saline Valley.

Dried-mud polygons in a high basin. We found worked obsidian chips alongside the dry lake.
Dried-mud polygons in a high basin. We found worked obsidian chips on a small rise above the dry lake.

Mike and I started off 2015 with a 3-day walk in Saline Valley, located near Bishop between Owens Valley and Death Valley. You can get into Saline Valley from the north or south via the rough and often washed-out Saline Valley Road. We were able to drive the intrepid Subaru in from the north, with only a few icy sections to negotiate.

Saline Valley is part of Death Valley National Park, the largest National Park in the Lower 48. The valley floor boasts warm springs and a somewhat-perennial hippie colony, where rumor has it that the word “wind” is forbidden; a marshy salt lake; and sand dunes nestled between the towering 10,000-foot escarpment of the Inyo Mountains to the west and the Saline Range to the east. Unless you are in the deep canyons of the Inyos, where water flows, the only water you have in the Saline Range is what you carry with you.

Remnants of a snake. We also found a frozen tarantula higher up-canyon.  We did not see or hear any wildlife until we were almost back in the bottom of the valley—winter had sent most creatures underground or to lower elevations.
Remnants of a snake. We also found a frozen tarantula higher up-canyon. We did not see or hear any wildlife until we were almost back in the bottom of the valley—winter had sent most creatures underground or to lower elevations.

People sometimes ask why we walk around out here. Despite sometimes heavy packs, we enjoy these remote and untraveled routes because there is always something to see: Animal tracks or giant, ancient logs in a wash. Jumbles of geology, where basalt, granite, limestone, and other rocks sit side by side. Carpets of wildflowers after a rain. Evidence of past, violent volcanic or hydraulic action. Obsidian pieces and rock art left by long-ago nomads.

And always the chance to sleep in the open, full of dinner after a day of walking, under the stars amid the absolute silence of a mostly empty valley, and with the next-day’s promise of sitting in a warm sleeping bag with hot coffee, watching the sun rise.

Easing into Day 1 with heavy packs and thankfully mellow terrain.
Easing into Day 1 with heavy packs and thankfully mellow terrain.
Finding an easy way down into the wash on Day 1, with heavy packs. We planned 1 gallon of water per person, per day - so we started with 24 lbs. of water each, plus other gear.
Finding a way down into the wash on Day 1. We planned 1 gallon of water per person, per day – so we started with 24 lbs. of water each, plus food and other gear, which added up to 50+ pounds each.
Faint remnant of an old trail where Waucoba Wash narrowed at the base of a ridge,
Faint remnant of an old trail where Waucoba Wash narrowed at the base of a ridge.
Waiting for dinner in our cozy 2-person down sleeping bag.
Waiting for dinner in our cozy 2-person down sleeping bag.
Chilly morning pack-up, as sun hits the Inyos across the valley. We had daylight enough to walk from 8am to 4pm, or longer if we wanted to pull out headlamps. The moon was almost full, so nights were bright.
Chilly morning pack-up, as sun hits the Inyos across the valley. We had daylight enough to walk from 8am to 4pm, or longer if we wanted to pull out headlamps. The moon was almost full, so nights were bright.
Petroglyphs in a tiny canyon that drained a small lake basin. Always someone was here first.
Petroglyphs in a tiny canyon that drained a small lake basin. Always someone was here first.
We passed a variety of rock formations that probably had origin in past volcanic activity.
We passed a variety of rock formations that probably had origin in past volcanic activity.
Sunny afternoon wash-cruising beneath the towering wall of the Inyo Mountains. Miners once built a tramway to haul salt from the now-dry lake up and over these mountains and into the Owens Valley for transport. Some of the tram towers are still standing.
Sunny afternoon wash-cruising beneath the towering 10,000-foot wall of the Inyo Mountains. Miners once built a tramway to haul salt from the lake up and over these mountains and into the Owens Valley for transport. Some of the tram towers are still standing.
Volcanic-rubble layer cake in a large wash.
Volcanic-rubble layer cake in a large wash.
Cross-country over a moonscape of volcanic rocks.
Cross-country over a moonscape of lava rocks.
Overlooking what would be our campsite, on the flatter, sandier ground below.
Overlooking what would be our last campsite, on the flatter, sandier ground below. The Saline Valley Road travels along the foot of the mountains across the valley.
We discovered the "Saline Valley Tetons" in the middle of the bottom of the valley. These were the largest boulders around.
We discovered the “Saline Valley Tetons” in the bottom of the valley. These were the largest boulders around. How did they get here?
Ten-foot log of unknown age and origin in Waucoba Wash, several miles from the mountain forests on the sides of the valley.
Ten-foot log of unknown age and origin in Waucoba Wash, several miles from the mountain forests on the sides of the valley.

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