By: Steve Smith
This Spring 1987 3 day backpacking cross-country traverse of the Saline Range gave us an opportunity to see one of the most remote areas of the California Desert. Six DPS'ers met Friday morning at the Lower Warm Springs in Saline Valley. Ron Jones and I were fortunate since there were two other DPS'ers who were just enjoying the warm springs and could shuttle us to our starting point in Eureka Valley. Randy Bernard and Steve Zoschke volunteered to drive our group over to the Eureka Dunes on the north side of the Saline Range which saved us considerable time at the end of our hiking when we cane out at the warm springs on Sunday.
The Saline Range is a large 600,000 acre volcanic upland area ranging in elevation from 1,000 feet up to the high point of Saline Peak at 7,063 feet. This range is the largest remaining block of pristine desert terrain in the California Desert and the entire area is being recommended for designation as a wilderness area by both BLM and under Senator Cranston's Desert Protection Bill. The range is bounded by the impressive Inyo Mountains on the west, the Last Chance/Panamint Ranges on the east, the Eureka Valley on the north, and the Saline Valley/Nelson -Range to the south.
Our trip objective was to see the interior of this isolated, colorful range and to climb to the high point of Saline Peak and also Black Top which at 6,548 feet is the range's second highest point. With heavy packs we started out from the Eureka Dunes in warm weather. Since there is no known water is the range, everyone had a minimum of 21/2 gallons of water plus plenty of gear for the 3 day trip. Desert backpacking affords opportunities for people to really get to know an area and enjoy its special environment but it does require special planning and often heavier packs because of water needs.
Our trip covered about 30 miles and we generally followed ridgelines going from northeast to southwest. The ridgelines provided outstanding views of the adjacent ranges and their numerous DPS peaks. There was some elevation gain and loss as we crossed over Saline Peak. and Black Top but nothing that gave the group any difficulties. The first night we camped several miles north of Saline Peak but by afternoon of the second day as we reached the top of Saline Peak, it had turned cold and it started snowing. One unique feature we hiked around as we approached the summit was a 1/4-mile long linear 300 foot high cliff formed by a volcanic vent. Quite impressive with its varying layers of colorful volcanic rock.
By late afternoon on the second day, with a cold wind blowing and snow falling, we made camp in a saddle between Saline Peak and Black Top at about 6,000 feet. The weather cleared that night and the third day had us climbing over Black Top and then down steep ridgelines into Saline Valley. The views and Scenery to the south as we came down off the ridge were outstanding and gave the photographers in the group some great desert vista photos. We only saw two lonely ferral burros as we reached the valley floor - a marked change from the numerous burros that used to inhabit the area before their removal began in the late 1970's.
Late in the day we reached the Lower Warm Springs and ended the 3 day trek by relaxing the hot springs. What a great way to end a desert backpack. And our vehicles were there waiting for us, thanks to the help of Randy and Steve.
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