San Lucas Canyon
By: Steve Smith
On March 17-18, 1995, Friends of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness volunteers Tom Budlong, Wendell Moyer, Morgan Irby, Debbie Smith and I did a two day backpack through San Lucas Canyon. This canyon was the route followed by the original road which entered Saline Valley from the south. From the upper end of San Lucas Canyon at the Bonham Mine Road, it is about 8 miles of hiking north into Saline Valley to reach the Saline County Road. This canyon is the southern boundary of the Inyo Mountain Wilderness and the new boundary line between BLM and DVNP.
There is good access to upper San Lucas canyon from the Bonham Mine Road. This road is generally in fairly good condition and at 4,744' there is a minor spur road which heads a short distance down the San Lucas drainage. Starting from the end of this spur road, we walked down an open dry wash to reach the "Narrows" at 3,200'. No sections of the original road remain in the upper canyon and it now appears that no road ever existed until you reach the Narrows.
The Narrows is reached in about 3 miles where there is a two stage 150' natural waterfall. A .25 mile length of narrow roadway was blasted out of the cliff face on the south side of the waterfall and switchbacks down to the canyon bottom. Several built up rock walls and a large network of timbers remain which were used to hold up the old roadbed on the scree slopes below the roadcut. The roadbed is slid out or buried in rock debris at several points across the cliff face which requires hikers to make three 30-50' long exposed traverses on loose scree. Some hikers might want a helping hand for safety when crossing these scree slopes.
The old road cut through the rock face high above the canyon bottom with some overhanging rock is very impressive. We camped on the old road in the middle of the cliff face which provided a pleasant campsite and memorable view down into the canyon. Several huge iron eye-bolts were drilled into the rock next to the road - we surmised they probably used them in some way for safety lines to the vehicles being driven over this narrow and exposed roadcut.
Below the road cut, the route continues for two miles down a wide, open wash with no traces of the old road. At several sites some pieces of old metal and a vehicle frame were observed. At the mouth of the wash at 2,050', the road route exits the was and makes a bee-line northwestward for the salt lake. From this point, it is about three and one-half miles to reach the Saline County Road. Almost all of the last three miles of the old road remains and several interesting rocked up culvert crossings are still well preserved. Along this section, there are quite a few historic pieces of metal, broken glass and some intact bottles were observed.
After leaving the canyon mouth, the old road is in real good shape but grows more indistinct as it approaches the Saline County Road. Where it intersects the county road is not obvious. This intersection is 2 miles west of where the Saline Road makes a major turn from north-south to west-east and about one mile west of the mouth of San Lucas Canyon when looking south from the Saline Road.
This trip makes a great point-to-point desert hike through an interesting part of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness. It is generally easy cross country open desert hiking which can also be done as a comfortable day hike. We opted to do it overnight to have more time to enjoy the historical features, colorful scenery and remote area of the Inyo Mountains Wilderness. The old cliff face historic roadcut is also a great overnight camping site next to the high dry waterfall.
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