Worth its Salt: Tramway Trail and Craig Canyon, Saline Valley
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. 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 more than 5,000′ down the other side to a railroad terminus 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 (from 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.”