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A group of people were planning on heading out to Saline Valey in Death Valley National Park. This is a place I have wanted to visit, but it entails a grim 50 mile rugged road that would be pretty sketchy with my truck. So I jumped at the chance to join others in this trip. We climbed hard on Thursday so that the three days off from climbing would be needed. Friday we packed up (forgetting all sorts of unessential items) in the rain and headed off with 6 people, 2 dogs, a heap of crap, and 2 jeep Cherokees. After a few errands, we headed out of town and down through Lone Pine. Then we hooked east and finally north on the dirt road. It wasn't so bad at first, but it just went on forever up over a pass and down into Saline Valley. After much shaking and rattling, we finally passed the bat sign and pulled up next to a palm oasis in a massive valley. There we met up with Creager who was completing a motorcycle tour of the back roads of Death Valley.
Saline Valley has a number of hot springs. Two areas have been developed and feature a number of rock and concrete pools and palm trees. The lower pools are the most developed and featured a number of showers, benches, tables, a tiny library (bookcase), a lawn, and a goldfish pool. The park service pit toilets had artwork on the walls and there were funky stone arrangements and artworks all over. The area immediately around the pools was almost completely barren with white calcareous mud. I heard this area was some sort of hippy commune before it became part of the national park.
The first evening we were there, we were hit by a torrential rain. Unfortunately we had just started cooking dinner, so we couldn't just retreat to the hot pools. Another disappointment was that the sky didn't completely clear up either night, as I imagine the stars would have been really spectacular.
Saturday morning we soaked and had a leisurely breakfast and some more soaking. Then we headed off across the desert towards the peace sign that was on a distant red cinder cone. We passed a lot of creasote and arroyos on the way up to the top of the cinder cone for some great views. Then back for more soaking, lunch, and some yoga on the lawn. As you might expect, this is a great place to get a horrendous sunburn. I tried to slather myself when I was going to be in the sun for a while and wear my hat and shirt, but it was hard when I was just going to be hopping back into a tub in a few more minutes.
Saturday evening we drove up to the upper pools (7 of us and 2 dogs in a cherokee). The upper pools were where bats would come to drink water (and eat bugs) at sunset. I took a lot of pictures, some of which even had bats in them. It was weird to be standing at the edge of the pool with bats zipping around. I got run into a few times, but only glancing blows. Then it was back for spaghetti and thai coconut curry, more soaking, and a lot of wind. It was cool sitting in the pools with the wind whipping through the palm trees. I slept in the back of a jeep so I wouldn't get completely dusted on the ground.
Sunday morning I got a lot of pictures of the light creeping down the Inyos (see pictures above). Then more soaking, showers, yoga on the lawn (interrupted when Creager got stung on the foot by a little scorpion), extended lunch, final soak and showers, and packing for the butt numbing drive back.
The people here were a weird mix of old time hippys and four wheeling rednecks (and us). The caretaker, Lizard Lee has been living out there for at least 8 years. Unfortunately the wildflower display hadn't really started there yet, with only a few blooms. I imagine it will be pretty spectacular this year when it comes. It seems like spring has come to the east side while we were gone.