Saline Valley

Once while sitting at the bar of a local diner, my wife and I over-heard a local resident ask his buddy when he’d moved to the area. “Fifty-seven”, he responded. “Aww, you’re just a newcomer”, the buddy replied. My wife and I glanced at each other. “I guess we know where we stand”, I remarked (having lived here a mere ten years). Now twenty plus have gone by since our move and I feel like I am finally making a tiny bit of headway into exploring the copious public lands within an hour or three drive from home, though I am several lifetimes away from getting to all the nooks and crannies… For instance: I’ve looked at Basin Mountain, in the Sierra out of Bishop, nearly every day of my brief life as a resident of the Owens Valley and yet have never rested on its summit. This causes me some degree of distress as I feel a personal obligation to climb every named peak within site of my house

I would also like to visit and explore every named valley in the Inyo region. Which is ironic because until my first visit to Saline Valley five years ago it too was a blank spot on my personal map. For many people, Saline Valley needs no introduction but for me it was always the place I’ll get to “one of these” years. Seen one desert, seen ‘em all, I figure. Anyway, I was reminded of this “I’ll get to it” way of planning recently, at the FOI membership picnic, when the subject of Saline Valley came up. One of the participants in the conversation expressed a sentiment much like “I’ve been meaning to get over there…”

So, consider this an exhortation to get your butt over to Saline Valley if you haven’t been there. Lots of desert. Big mountains. Deep canyons. Flowing streams. Waterfalls. Ho-hum: hot springs, too.

Getting there:

I’ve entered Saline Valley via four different routes, each somewhat committing in its own way: Via vehicle: Not for the faint of heart, Eureka Valley and Dedekera Canyon and Steele Pass make for a fun way to go if you have a true 4wd vehicle and know how to use it on technical terrain. This route ranks a 4 on the 1 – 5 bumpy scale and you actually drive up small (usually) dry waterfalls. If driving over basketball size rocks is your thing, you might enjoy this route. The more typical approaches are either from the north or south end of the Saline Valley road. Plan on the longest 25 miles of dirt you’ve ever driven. Ease or difficulty just depends on conditions, which are sometimes suitable for sedans, rarely a goat cart would be a better choice. Finally, I have arrived on foot after hiking up and over the Inyo Mountains and descending a remote canyon on the north end of the Valley. There are many other permutations on this tactic, which I will leave to your own research.

Once there:

Have at it, there’s a lifetime of exploration to do. Some suggestions: Roads penetrate the mouths of the canyons on the east side of the Inyo Mountains (the west side of Saline Valley). These are worth forays. Start with Hunter Canyon, with a decent 4wd road to its mouth and a surprise a short way into the canyon. A couple of canyons to the north Beverage Canyon is worth a jaunt. The road washed out a couple years ago so you may have to walk from the main dirt road.  Continuing north, McElvoy Canyon also has some surprises waiting for you.

The only real problem with a visit to Saline Valley is all those other valleys, peaks, and canyons you’ll see, with names of their own, that beg for another visit, another time…


Much has been written about Saline and there are several guide books including the recent Digonet (Sp?) book on the west side of Death Valley National Park.

Maps: First time visitors will want the National Geographic map to the Park, as well as the individual topo maps to any areas you intend to visit.

A google search for any of these keywords will reward the searcher: saline valley hot springs mcelvoy beverage canyon steele pass