Travel into and out of the Saline Valley has often been a perilous adventure. Before social media and improved cell phone coverage, a trip into Saline Valley was often a matter of tossing the dice and hoping for the best. Even with the advent of “improved” information (for better or worse) across social media platforms, the unknown can often rise in surprise and thwart even the most stalwart. This is an account of just such a time, when determination conquered all, and love moved mountains.
The year is 2010. The day is February 7 and it is Super Bowl Sunday. President’s Day is just around the corner, and friend John (aka O.J.) has big plans for his big day to get married at the Springs that weekend. The only problem might be that storms have hit the region and the passes might be impassable due to copious quantities of snow. OJ asks if I would be willing to run a foray with him up the South Pass to see if indeed it might be passable. As the pass is not very far from my home in Ridgecrest, I know I can make it home for the second half of the Super Bowl.
Accessing the road in through the Darwin Plateau we see the ubiquitous and often ignored sign indicating the road is closed. No sign of snow yet, but in time we did find two feet of snow further up the road.
It is not long before the clear road turns into a winter wonderland. It gets more wonderful by the mile, and eventually we have chained up all four wheels on our 4×4’s.
We are able to make progress as far as the Panamint Valley overlook, and at that point OJ and I decide it would be well to grade the road. I gave the road a grade of F+, and OJ was a bit more forgiving and granted it a D-. Regardless, we decided that it would be best to consider the road impassable and come up with a Plan B.
While in the throes of making executive level decisions, we were quite surprised to see a party of trucks emerge from around the corner, having just made their way out of the valley. Leading the group was the son of Dave Rogers, who owns the Willow Creek mill site and associated claims. He concurred with us that the road should be considered closed. Further down the road they had to use a chainsaw to clear a tree off the road and dodged a lot of boulders. Snow on the road required chains and Posi traction.
While OJ and I considered it prudent to advise against using the South Pass as a way into the Saline Valley for the upcoming events, our friend Mike (a.k.a. Flipper) would not hear of it, subscribing to the theory that often a better Plan B is just working harder at Plan A. “We’ve got the numbers, and we’ve got the push … we can make it through sheer numbers and spirit.” The caravan would be christened “the Donner Party.” Well alrighty then, but I have seen the road, heard reports from the other side, and I will go in the Lippincott Road. That idea held sway in my family until the morning of our departure when the Death Valley morning report indicated the road at the Racetrack was flooded out (aerial reconnaissance by the NPS).
By the time we reached the Donner Party caravan we were relegated to the end of the queue, which was at a dead stop in efforts to dig out a truck further up the line. Unfortunately this truck had dual wheels and only single chains. It seemed inclined to get mired down every few hundred feet and progress was slow to nil.
Eventually the camper turned off to return home. Almost made it past the Panamint overlook when Tito managed to land up against a large boulder (no fault of his own, to make that long story short). My Hi-Lift jack to the rescue extricated his predicament and onward we went along our merry way, free at last. At this point night is falling but at least we have made it into the Valley. Flipper has told me he would leave me a note at the Lippincott turnoff (on the understanding that I was coming in on that road.)
It was great to be in the Valley, even if it was late and night had fallen and we happily made our way along the valley floor, washboards be damned. But wait; what’s this up ahead? A long line of taillights stopped up ahead on the bend near the lakebed, short of Hunter Canyon. As we approached we found a girl who’s handle is ‘Drip Torch’ camped just shy of the queue of taillights. She tells us there is a bulldozer blocking the road up ahead, and that she and her beau had been stuck there since February 8.
Sure enough there is a bulldozer parked perpendicular to the road which completely blocks the way. Someone has left it in the road and removed the starter motor, suggesting some malicious intent. (The bulldozer had been parked further up the road and out of sight for many years on the Gervais Ranch near the old Boron works.) Members of the Donner Party had tried to remove the blade in order to drive around, but that last pin would not come out and the blade was not going anywhere. Neither was anybody else. At this point there is no way in and no reasonable way out. (A week later we were still unable to get out the south pass with four chains and had to use the Lippincott Road). After a lot of grunting, groaning, prying and pushing, and drinking, it becomes apparent that the situation will best be addressed the following morning. This is cutting into everyone’s drinking time! Everyone made camp on the road, we fixed our meals and hunkered down for the night.
February 11, 2010. How to deal with this latest challenge? President’s Day weekend. There is a wedding planned. A golf tournament. A softball game. Leaving the valley is not an option. The pass is covered in snow and it is likely that traffic will be coming in, making going out next to impossible. The Lippincott Road is presumably flooded. (Later reports from a few fellows who came in that way indicated there were nothing more than a few puddles on the road at the Racetrack … far from being flooded … thank you NPS). So the only option is moving forward. Did I mention there is a wedding planned? (Jeanette made it very clear the night before that she was NOT going to get married in the middle of the road by the lake). Time for love to conquer all and move mountains.
And so love did move mountains (ain’t no valley wide enough), along with cables, snatch blocks, winches, Hi-Lift jacks, assorted implements of destruction, and a lot of perseverance … let the following photos tell the story.
And after all that, the wedding took place only an hour later than it had originally been scheduled.
Curiously, the following day the camp host was seen leaving camp on his motorcycle and he returned a few hours later. While he was gone, the bulldozer managed to be removed from the road and returned to where it had been resting at the Gervais Ranch. I asked the host about this, and he said that he had moved the bulldozer after someone had called him and told him where the starter had been hidden.
Travel in and out of Saline Valley has always been an interesting challenge. Some days are more interesting than others. This day was one for the books.
|As you read these humble efforts to transcribe some heritage and history, if you find you have some correction, clarification, or tidbit to add, I encourage you to add a comment at the end of this blog. Contributions will be welcome toward the final project, and all due credit will be given.|
|Please consider visiting the home page: Saline Valley Chronicles for a complete list of chapters published to date, and an overview of the project.|
Saline Valley first inspired me to pursue a more serious engagement with the art of photography. My favorite picks are shared on my Smug Mug Gallery of Saline Valley Art at: https://timenspace.smugmug.com/Saline-Valley-Art/
Saline Chronicles directory and overview: https://timenspace.net/saline-valley-chronicles/
I remember this crazy adventure. It was Victor Zacala, Danny Zavala and myself that suggested, let’s move the large boulder. They dug for about 2 hours and when we used the hi-lift to move it just that one inch, I yelled, “The rock moved!” After that, everyone was digging out that rock and the rest is history….
Joel, Danny and I in our two trucks had left from down south later that day than the main Donner Party who by the time we got to the top of the South Pass at around 10:30pm were in the conga line of vehicles parked in the road south of the dozer that was blocking the road. Before we reached them we saw Victor, who was part of our group and had left earlier in the day with the mission of securing a site at Saline prior to our later arrival. He was camped out on the east side of the road. On our HTs, to each other, we commented, why would he camp there so close to to the chosen land. We stopped, talked to Victor and heard about the blocked road. We then walked north and almost immediately saw the end of the conga line and Saline friends camped on and by the road. We continued walking and visiting and got to the dozer. We looked around, saw what others were doing to move the dozer or pull its blade loose, while also looking at the vertical bank of rock and dirt to the west of the dozer. After a few minutes and some deja vu from other road building adventures in both Saline and the Panamint Range, Joel and I conferred and concluded right then, that our salvation was to tear down the vertical wall and widen the road to drive around the dozer. By now it was close to 1am and as we headed to our camp for a few hours sleep and a crack of dawn start, we also got the word out to those we saw on the way back. At first light, the four of us were there and started moving rocks and digging, others showed with more tools, like picks, shovels and digging bars, we had brought two bottle type jacks to help open space between these large human sized boulders which then allowed both gravity to help and a winch cable from Flipper’s truck using a snatch block attached to the dozer. Down the rocks went to the ground to be levered, rolled and muscled out of the new road path. One very large boulder needed more reach than the short bottle jack could muster to reach tipping point. I found Major Tom and secured his now WD-40 lubed hi-lift jack and we finished with that. More digging and clearing and getting the first vehicle thru, which was Dennis’ first in line trail blazing Rubicon. We then dragged north with a chain, the large boulders remaining with the Rubicon. The bypass was done and the road is now open, with a spotter needed at the dozer choke point for the wider campers. What a team effort and the rest is history as they say👍
I remember that weekend well, I came in through Steel Pass, set up camp near upper soaking tubs. Had my two dogs, Buddy and Jody. Came in with my Jeep Cherokee. I was wondering where everyone was for first two days. Then Saturday afternoon everyone poured in.
I remember that weekend well. One of the best trips ever. It’s amazing what a determined group of folks can accomplish.
The previous week I was in Ohio to visit my Dad for his 77th birthday. There was a big snow storm there so I was worried about my flight being able to leave on time. So for me, my snow adventure started there. I went from one snow storm to the next. I was in a hotel room near the airport following reports on the web about Saline Valley and “The Donner Party”… they were bringing “shovels and rakes and implements of destruction”. Hey, it’s a great song-a classic!
Once we made it though the snow and took the chains off we had thoughts of a nice soak. Only to see a long line of vehicles stopped. I think we were about #17. It was amazing to see everyone camped right in the middle of the road … I remember someone with a grill. Amazing group of friends … or should I say family.
I’m just grateful to be a part of such a community. I call all you guys my Saline Family. I’ve never been able to explain it to co-workers or anyone else.
I found a video Squirrel put together of the trip. It shows getting Tito off the boulder in the snow. I saw that, my ex is in the video in a gold t-shirt. Major Tom used our WD-40 on his hi-lift jack. I remember Major Tom barely able to speak that weekend, he a bad case of laryngitis.
“A short record of Squirrel Clan, Bay Area Chapter’s adventure to and through Saline Valley, CA”
One for the history books for sure!
Cool story! What’s amazing is that all you characters still look the same 12 years later! How is that possible? Must be the water! 😊