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Death Valley - Saline Valley Warm Springs, CA

Wednesday, April 26, 2017 - 9:00am by Lolo
106 miles and 4 hours from our last stop - 1 night stay


It only gets stranger from hereIt only gets stranger from hereAfter our hike, we said goodbye to David, and headed back out from whence we came along the South Eureka Road. However, this time when we reached the Death Valley / Big Pine Road, we headed west towards Big Pine and the road to Saline Valley. When we got to the turnout for the Saline Valley road, we pulled over and had a discussion as to whether or not we had enough gas to make the 40 mile drive to the warm springs and back. This involved many calculations with guestimates as to gallons remaining and mpg to expect off-roading. After determining that we did, but not by much, we decided to drive out to Big Pine anyway, just to be safe. It was about a 30-mile diversion, but one we felt would give us peace of mind.

The road to the Saline Valley Warms Springs from Big Pine Road was 40 miles, just as our drive to Eureka Dunes was yesterday; however, it was far rougher and more desolate. During our entire drive, we did not encounter another vehicle. I was so glad we had filled up our gas tank. Fortunately, everything went smoothly (well maybe smoothly is a bad word to describe the bumpy journey) and it only took us 2 ½ hours.

ParadiseParadiseThe most interesting site along the way was the rusty old remains of an old mining operation, where we stopped to take a break and some photos.

The turnoff for the Warm Springs can be easy to miss, so we carefully watched our odometer to hit the magic 32.7.

The Warm Springs road was significantly rougher and definitely achieved the goal of keeping the timid of heart and non high-clearance vehicles out. About 4 miles into our bumpy drive to the Palm Spring Oasis, we came to a tall post with metal bats hanging from it. I guess we were getting close.

Soon the oasis came into view, like a mirage rising from a dry stark landscape. It was surreal.

We expected to find the Palm Oasis campground empty – after all, we had not encountered another soul on our way in, but to our surprise it was a thriving community whose inhabitants were definitely there for a longer duration than we had planned. I felt a little bit like a tourist in a foreign country – easily standing out, not understanding the culture and rules, etc.

The Pools at the OasisThe Pools at the OasisThe place was amazing – prettier and better maintained than most commercial hot springs. There were several soaking pools made of concrete, rock, and tile as well as showers (with soap and shampoo supplied (to use before entering the pool. In addition, there was a fully stocked bathroom, with Costco size toilet paper packages, cleaning products, air fresheners, etc. The grounds were beautiful, with planted shaded grass areas and creative fencing made from branches. If I ever had an image of Paradise, this was pretty darn close to it.

As we were setting up our tent in the area above the pools, a pair of wild burros wandered by and began rummaging through the contents of our absent neighbor’s camping boxes and even his truck, which was foolishly left with the hatch in the back open. Despite Herb’s lack of experience in burro management, he bravely began waving his arms and yelling at them. They dispersed for approximately 2 minutes before resuming their mischievous behavior. Herb repeated this exercise several times before giving up and asking me to walk through the camp and find the owner of the vehicle, which I attempted with no success.

Sunset in Saline ValleySunset in Saline ValleyFinally, we gave up, took our beach chairs and a bottle of wine, and went to sit in the grassy area that looked out over the Saline Valley. It wasn’t long before a gentleman came over and asked us if this was our first time here – I guess we weren’t blending in as well as I thought. Maybe it was the beach chairs and the wine glasses.

I think his main purpose for talking to us was to make sure that we understood the campground etiquette regarding the campground’s caretaker, “Lizard” Lee. He explained that after the main pool was done being cleaned, Lizard liked to soak for a bit by himself – in other words, “stay out of the pool then.” We assured him that we would behave.

This place certainly didn’t feel like part of a National Park – I guess no ranger talk tonight. In fact, it seems like the National Park Service kind of just ignores this place and lets Lizard and his sycophants do what they want. They certainly do keep it nice though.

After a soak in one of the “Lizard free” pools, we went back to our campsite to make dinner.

Good Riddance!!Good Riddance!!That night was probably the worst night I ever spent tent camping. The winds were so strong that it sounded like a jet was coming through the tent. At some point, the jet began to hee-haw – the damn burros were back and they were now going through our camping boxes, which we foolishly left outside. Herb, the newly minted “burro whisperer,” flew out of the tent, yelling and waving his arms. It was about as effective as his last attempts. The next morning we found burro teeth marks in our Rubbermaid storage boxes.

We had originally planned to spend another night at the oasis, but we had had enough. Exhausted, we packed up the next morning and started out to retrace our long 40-mile bumpy drive back to the paved Big Pine Road. Oh, but before were even a mile on our journey, a group of burros approached our car to say goodbye. One actually pressed his nose against our windshield. I think we had made the right decision to leave early.

Once again, we did not pass a single vehicle along the way. They were all still back there with Lizard and those damn burros.


Lizard's PoolLizard's PoolThe Saline Valley is a large, deep, and arid valley that runs along the western edge of Death Valley National Park. It is known for its salt, borax, abandoned mines, and controversial, clothing-optional hot springs located in a series of palm oases.

The Saline Valley road is a very rough dirt road that runs for 95 miles from SR 168 in the north to SR 190 in the south, ranging in elevation from 1,094 to 7,593 feet. High ground clearance 4WD vehicles and full-sized spare times are strongly recommended.

Coming from the north the drive to the warms springs is a rough 40 miles. The turnoff from the Saline Valley road onto the Warm Springs Road, which can be difficult to find, is at the 32.7 mile point. Here, the road gets even rougher. At about 4 miles there is a tall post with metal bats hanging from it. Once you see that, you are almost there.

More sunset in Saline ValleyMore sunset in Saline ValleyA few miles further is a serious of gorgeous warm springs, each with multiple soaking pools. Although these springs weren’t unheard of during the mining heydays, it wasn’t until the 1960s that they became popular among hippies who developed a semi-permanent camp here. The residents soon set to work making home improvements – taming the wild springs into several concrete, rock, and tile soaking pools, building showers, dishwashing facilities, and latrines, building creative fences out of branches, and planting shady grassy areas.

In 1994 the Saline Valley became part of Death Valley National Park and put under the watchful eye of the NPS. The camp was dispersed and visitation was limited to 30 days. One man named Wizard remained and eventually became the caretaker for the site. When he passed away, Lee “Lizard” Greenwell took his place and is still there today.

Today the springs are not found on any NPS maps and rangers are hesitant to tell visitors how to find them. Meanwhile, Lizard and his sycophants live on happily enjoying their bit of paradise.

Death Valley - Saline Valley Warm Springs location map in "high definition"

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