Road Trip: Saline Valley Hot Springs

Heading Out

The guys arrived from New York on Friday evening and everyone stayed at my house in Hollywood to prepare for an early start the next morning. Adey, who couldn’t join this time, cooked everyone a huge pasta dinner using the wild pig I’d shot late last year. We told tall tales, tried on motorcycle gear and I scoured the Internet for last minute information on road conditions.

The Park issues a PDF morning report each day on road conditions and traveller alerts, but only lists “Saline Valley” as closed every day. For an area the whole world knows is subject to extreme weather, that’s not really good enough. Luckily, my Googling led to a small forum devoted to all things Saline Valley, complete with up-to-date road reports. It’s a good thing we found it, the South Pass into the valley was reportedly snowed in with six-foot deep snow drifts, but the North Pass (which none of us had ever been through) was said to be open. I jotted down some loose directions and hoped they’d be enough.

An hour or so into the next morning and we ran into our first problem. The Honda XR650L I was riding indicated 54 miles on its trip meter when it hit reserve.  That range held true for the rest of the 600-mile trip. That’s 12 fuel stops in one weekend, riding bikes that struggle to cruise at 70 mph. It took awhile to get there.

Highway Highway

That slow speed combined with the knobby tire-induced speed wobble and all the fuel stops had the girlfriends questioning our sanity. There we were toughing it out, fighting 60 mph side winds and numbness-inducing vibrations and they were convinced we were all a bunch of pansies while they waited for us at pretty much every gas station along the way.

Finally, we reached Big Pine, there taking 168 east towards Death Valley for a few miles before turning down Death Valley Road and following that up into the mountains to the giant “Road Closed” signs and the route into Saline Valley. By the time we were airing down our tires, it was 4pm. At 7,000 feet above sea level, it was a cold 4pm too. As the de facto leader, I didn’t relish the idea of trying to navigate dirt roads at night with only anecdotal directions. The girls were already pretty unimpressed and our sore muscles were looking forward to soaking in the hot springs.

So, we hustled down the road, following the directions in my head and moving in the general direction of the valley. About 20 miles in, we passed a naked hippy driving an Explorer. His nudity (we also stopped to chat) verified that we were headed the right way. It turns out that, for the first time in living memory, Inyo County had run a grader through the north pass of Saline Valley Road, clearing washouts and landslides and generally putting the road into surprisingly good shape.

Sunset Sunset

Finally, just after sunset, with a view of the dunes looming in the distance, we reached what I thought should be the turn off to the hot springs. By the time the truck had caught up, it was totally dark out, so it was headlights only as we tackled the bumpy, but firm road in. Five or so miles later, we found that pole with the bat on it (turns out it’s a metal sign, not a spirit guide) and I sighed in relief that I hadn’t gotten us lost, that we’d be sitting in hot springs that night and that my girlfriend wasn’t going to have to bury me in an unmarked graved in Death Valley.

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