The real story behind the real Marble Bath

Many of the current visitors to the Saline Valley have come to hear of Marble Bath, located toward the top of Steele Pass, connecting Saline Valley with Eureka Valley. Not so many people know how it came to be, or why it came to be. Fewer know of the original Marble Bath.

Early USGS topographic maps showed a location called Marble Bath at an elevation of roughly 5000 feet perched high above the surrounding valleys on Steele Pass. The problem was that there was nothing there, per se. The map makers at the USGS got it wrong. So just what “was” the Marble Bath? Some old timers knew the real location, and some older timers knew the origins of the name.

The Original Marble Bath

Marble Bath is located in a limestone slot canyon at the very top of Steele Pass. (Marble is metamorphosed limestone, hence the name). This was a source of water (perhaps the only reliable source for many miles) for travelers through this high country. According to the Lonesome Miner, there was (is) a tank carved out in the limestone by water that would act as a catchment and storage for water. A water hole, if you will.

In the late 80’s I set out with friends to explore and locate this hidden quiet corner of Saline Valley. It is located in a very deep-set canyon clearly visible on the east side of the top of Steele Pass. Access is currently a 2.7 mile hike up a wash to the mouth of the canyon. Close to the mouth of the canyon, we found the bath. Above a pothole (filled with dirt) we found a sign etched into the wall which spelled out “WARTER” and an arrow pointing down to the tank. Scooping out the dirt we found the dirt to become increasingly damp. Perhaps there remains a small spring that flowed stronger in wetter times? (Many such locations exist in the greater area, such as Blackrock Well on Lee Flat). Exploring up the canyon we found many ancient petroglyphs etched into the canyon walls. Apparently, the area has been used for time beyond our ability to measure. The greatest discovery of all was further up the canyon, containing a list of names of early travelers dated 1893 from Greencastle, Indiana. Unfortunately, on my last two recent trips into the canyon (2021 and 2023), I have not been able to find any trace of these two items. It has been suggested that someone removed them by etching over the originals. I did find signs of “recent” tags having been obliterated, but I do not believe any of these were the Greencastle list or the WARTER marker. I regret never having made photos of these two artifacts. If anyone does have a photo record, I would love to hear from you and include them in this blog post.

Update, April 2023. Guy Starbuck has provided the shots that I requested. The first shot does show the sign for ‘WARTER’ with an arrow pointing toward the tank. The second shot appears to be the record of visitors from Greencastle, though I remember the list as being longer. (Though the older I get, the less I trust in the whole remembering business.) Photos were made in 2010.

photo by Guy Starbuck;
photo by Guy Starbuck;

Some words of caution as to what to expect. Access to the canyon is at the end of a 2.7 mile trek up a wash (or take the high ground). Once in the canyon there are two challenging, but doable dry falls that need to be scaled early on. Bring good shoes, and perhaps some rope to help your fellow explorers up the falls once you have taken the high ground.

And here are some photos of what is to be seen.

This is the second dryfall. Required jamming this old log (it has been there quite a while) into the gravel and then bracing a foot in the crook to boost yourself up.

(More photos at the end of this post)

Modern Marble Bath

Back in the late 80’s (20th century this time) Turtle Jim floated the idea that we should get a clawfoot tub and quietly place it where the map said Marble Bath should be. And then fill it with marbles! Of course! I was the camp host at the time, and folks would often ask what they could bring for the camp. Among more essential items, I would suggest marbles, and along the way I was able to collect quite a few.

We never did get around to accomplishing that feat. Then in the 90’s a local neighbor and valley property owner by the name of Wendell Moyer took it upon himself to get the job done. I have to hand it to him, using nothing but blue marbles was a nice touch. As some point along the way someone took an objection to the installation and tore it out, leaving the tub high and dry and marbles scattered all about. Carrying on the spirit of volunteerism, a work party was assembled from the camp and things were put to right again.

Many modern maps now show the proper location of the real marble bath, once again leaving the more popularly known edition of the Marble Bath in the wrong place. (And many maps have moved the original location to the more modern site.) At any rate, the modern Marble Bath is certainly easier to find and visit. It should earn a warranted place in the catalog of Death Valley landmarks such as Teakettle Junction and Crankshaft Junction.

A stock photo of a duckie’s stock tank
An upended tub that had lost it marbles (scattered about in the wash.) 1998
Reclamation and sifting.
Mission accomplished. 1998
My most recent photo of the new Marble Bath (2023). Some of the rubber duckies are looking a bit melanomatic.

More photos of the real Marble Bath Canyon

News and tidings from yesteryear.
Undoubtedly a major fault zone with lots of hydrothermal (?) alteration
Tapestries of texture
Bones of stones … this area has been well broken up and reassembled.
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: