Saline Valley, Inyo Mountains


By: Ron Jones



The old salt works ruins just north of the mouth of Hunter Canyon in the Saline Valley was the Saturday morning meeting point for our group of 22 DPSers and friends. The road from Highway 190 through the Santa Rose Hills, over the Nelson Range and down Grapevine Canyon into the Saline Valley from the south is in pretty good condition, passable to all passenger cars, despite the heavy cloud bursts of the summer. It is kept in reasonable shape by the big trucks hauling talc from the White Eagle and Grey Eagle talc mines near Willow Creek. This road north is in good condition past Waucoba to Wolf Man Pass which is impassable to all but the most dedicated 4WDer.(5/85, Now Open)

After assembling we drove north to just opposite the Saline Dunes and took an old "road" west to perhaps about 1600 ft at the mouth of McElvoy Cyn. McElvoy Cyn is a narrow slit at the foot of the Inyo Mtns. It is the first major canyon north of Beveridge Cyn and leads up toward the north slopes of Keynot Pk. There is a faint use trail starting in the canyon which one can take to the Keynot mine, over the crest of the Inyos and down to the Owens Valley.

We started up canyon following the year around stream and watching the towering multicolored limestone wails close in around us. The sun seldom reaches the canyon floor here, never in the tall and winter months. In perhaps half a mile we came upon a mossy glen with walls covered with maidenhair fern for 20 feet above us. After a scramble over a massive landslide a short distance beyond we came to the first of the waterfalls which give this canyon its fame. The falls, perhaps 30 feet high, tumble down a limestone face made slick with moss, mud and travertine deposits. There is no easy way to bypass the fall and so a ladder of willow branches suspended by wire leads up the face along side the falls. The ladder has disintegrated with age end we explored ways in which to get over or around the falls. Maris, Jay Holshue and Sue Hannah found a class 4 route on the south wail of the canyon and Maris dropped a fixed line from above the falls down to the group. Pulling Ourselves up and getting pretty wet in the process, we wandered on a quarter mile to a second, steeper falls, this one 50 feet high. Here too a ladder had once existed but was now pretty much rotted away leaving only two cables which nearly reached us at the bottom. Maris and I climbed up and fixed a second rope which half our party used to continue on while the remainder stopped to sight see and eat lunch. We proceeded up canyon noting it widens out and take a sharp bend to the south at about 3600 feet elevation. There were numerous signs of bighorn in the canyon floor. Here we stopped for lunch and then turned back rejoining the group at our cars.

We caravanned in our cars about 7 miles to the lower saline hot springs and half a mile beyond to the upper Palm hot springs. No one had trouble with the road. Our camp was located in the starkly beautiful Saline Valley towered over by Keynot and Inyo peaks to the west, Dry Mtn and Saline Pk to the east and north. After setting up camp we got down to basics, took out refreshments end soaked our bods in the two cemented hot pools built by a craftsman who signed himself "the wizard". As the sun was going down we realized that this was the weekend of Halloween. I had brought seven or eight pumpkins which were added to others brought by our group and we had a Jac-o-lantern carving contest. The thrill of exploration, the pleasure of the hot springs and the inspiration of the refreshments led to the start of another memorable evening in the desert, parts of which I didn't remember the next morning. Tanya Mamedalin and Tom Jeter won prizes for the best pumpkins, Chris Wolfe won a well-deserved prize for her Elvira, queen of the night, costume and a couple of other prizes were handed out to people I don't remember. Jim Farkas marched off into the night clutching an American flag and searching for a peak he had to climb. Bob Emerick mellowed into joviality, Elden played his guitar while Patty and Adrienne led songs long after I went to bed. We even forgot to bob for apples and eat the pumpkin pies we brought. We put this off until Sunday.

Morning came leisurely with more dips in the hot springs (an emblem pool worth 2 points toward the emblem), pie eating etc. Oh yes we found Farkas wrapped in his flag lying beside the campfire after conquering his peak. We talked with a most hospitable BLM Ranger who checked in and gave us maps and brochures: we met Rich Baldwin who has lived here for 14 years and is now the caretaker (5/85 no longer r?); we set around working on our tans and recuperating from our singing of the night before. We had no plans for the day and about one o'clock Suzanne, Tanya and Igor, Sue and Jay, Maris and Jim left for the 4 WD road to Hunter Mtn. The rest of us relaxed a bit longer and met the locals before leaving this most enjoyable start of the DPS season. My thanks to Elden Hughes for has usual great assist. Also, anyone wishing to subscribe to the 4 page Saline Valley News, printed in the valley by Gail Baldwin, send a check for $10 payable to Gail Baldwin to her PO Box 221 Keeler, CA 93530.

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