Up for a scenic drive? Death valley has several scenic routes for off roading with variety of spectacular terrains and landscapes. Saline valley road is one such challenging back-country drive in Death Valley National Park. We decided to try this road on a weekend and were definitely excited to camp in middle of the dessert to enjoy the night sky (pollution free). This is genuinely a peaceful and beautiful destination away from the city life.
Our time of visit : early October 2019
|Location||Death Valley National park , California|
|Road condition||unpaved, Packed dirt, sand in places, washboard|
|Terrain||Flat a while, filled with dirt, gravel, washboards, narrow mountain routes with blind turns, rocky and rutted in some places. Higher elevation will have snow in winter.|
|Required Vehicle||Atleast AWD and high clearance.|
|Elevation||1000 to 7600 feet|
|Facilities||No services, No phone signals. |
Camping turnouts available.
|What will you see||Sand dunes, White salt flats, mines, Marsh lands, Joshua tree forest, Hot spring, Rugged mountains on all sides|
Saline Valley road runs North-South for about 95 miles on the west side of Death Valley. Olancha is the closest town, which is 32 miles from the south start point of Saline valley road. The road starts at about 10 miles east on CA-190 from CA-136 intersection . There is an alternate entrance at 17 miles from intersection CA-136. If you are driving from north, Big pine is the closest town. From the intersection Of US 395, the start point is 3 mile distance east on CA 168.
We drove this Saline valley road from south to north. So, I will be showing you the sequence of places in that order. As we were coming from LA, we reached the Saline valley start point in the afternoon. Remember to fill up your tank in Olancha as its the last town with services before entering the dirt road.
First stop : Box car Cabin
GPS coordinates : 36.4326397,-117.6313628
This place is very little known to the hikers and backpackers. Its a free to use public cabin for fellow travelers. It has two rooms with necessary furniture and some food supply (donated by travelers). There is even a wood stove. The walls have scribbling and doodles all over. On the outside, there is campfire pit and an outhouse. It was admiring to see a place like this for backpackers use. After a quick tour, we left this place to continue on our scenic drive.
Lee flat – Joshua trees
As you proceed towards lee flat you would start to see Joshua trees around.
From Lee flat, the road gets narrower and rough as you proceed towards the Nelson mountain range. Once you climb the mountain, make sure to stop and experience the breath taking view of the Panamint sand dunes and mountains on your right.
Saline Valley basin
After viewing the Panamint dunes from the mountain, you will drive down and find yourself leading towards the wide flat land. This is the huge Saline valley basin with Nelson range and Inyo mountains on west. This basin is best known for it’s salt and borax mining operations. It was already late in the evening. Hence, we decided to find a spot to camp for the night near salt basin.
Next morning we headed to the salt mine. This is similar to the Bonneville salt lake in Utah. Borox and salt were discovered here and mined in 1900s. Transportation was a big challenge as it is in the middle of nowhere. A wooden tramway was constructed from the floor of Saline Valley to go up and over the Inyo Mountains until Owen Valley. You can see the remains of the tram posts in below pictures.
Be careful where you walk. If the clayey salt soil is not dry, it can pull your leg in.
After the salt valley, the road continues to the north pass. On the way, you will see sign for saline valley warm springs. We did not stop here due to time constraint.
Before climbing uphill, we had a little problem with our car. The screws securing the EVAP box got loose somehow and fell off. Luckily we quickly noticed the odd dragging noise. We were able to temporarily fix it with a cord and were back on road in a few minutes.
The north pass section is little rugged and frequently affected by snow than south pass. It reaches up to 7300 ft elevation with amazing views.
The whole Saline valley road can be completed in a day trip. But the best way to experience such remote location is by camping under the stars, enjoying the night sky, sunrise and sunset. We did it and the car camping was undoubtedly the best part of our journey. Remember to carry lots of drinking water, spare full size tire, versatile clothing and most importantly lower your tire pressure for off-roading. Happy road-tripping! 🙂