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.

Do we believe it?

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.

getting deeper

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.

Thought while we were up here, grading the road might be a good idea
a pebble had rolled downhill and gathered some snow along the way

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:

Saline Chronicles directory and overview: