Saline Valley Warm Springs

This is only one of the many posts relating to our Death Valley adventure. If you would like to see more of what we did on that trip please visit our main Death Valley page.

The two main areas we wanted to check out when we first decided to explore Death Valley were the Geologists’ Cabin and these Warm Springs. After leaving the cabin and getting back into more traveled areas we made our way up into Furnace Creek where we filled up the Tacoma’s gas tank and then headed Northwards on Highway 190 through Stovepipe Wells, up through Panamint Springs and past the Father Crowley Vista Point. A few miles past the vista point we came to a dirt road leading out to the right into the wastelands and towards the hills. This is Saline Valley Road.

Saline Valley Road sign
The Official Sign Has Seen Better Days
Supplementary Sign With Mileages To Eureka Valley Road And Hunter Mountain Road
Supplementary Sign With Mileages To Eureka Valley Road And Hunter Mountain Road
Sign on ground warning that high clearance vehicle will not happen so "proceed at your own risk"s are recommended and that snow removal
Even On The Ground A Hint Of What Is To Come
BLM National Backcountry Byway Sign shot all to hell with a small children's "Casey" California license plate bolted to it
Someone Tried To Kill This National Back Country Byway Sign And Casey Tried To Patch It Up

Heading into the area via Saline Valley Road we eventually came to a major and obvious fork in the road. Our maps tell us that the road to the left remains Saline Valley Road and eventually gets you to the turn off that goes to the Cerro Gordo Ghost Town and mine. According to maps the road goes no farther and you cannot continue on to the Saline Valley Warm Springs via that route. We instead took the fork to the right which is the Saline Valley Alt Road and worked our way up the side of Hunter Mountain. Close to the top of the pass another fork in the road gives you options. Turn to the right and continue on up Hunter Mountain Road towards the Hunter Cabin and then on a circuitous route to Ulida Flat and onward towards Teakettle Junction and beyond. We instead took the left and turned at the entrance to South Pass and headed down into the valley on a more direct route towards the Saline Valley Dunes and eventually the Warm Springs themselves. At one point we thought the Tacoma was about to explode and Willow awoke with a start as a horrible noise started up and within moments got louder. Luckily that was just a warplane, literally down in the canyon with us, screaming past at ludicrous speeds. Looked like fun. Jerk woke up my dog though 😉

Towards the bottom of the pass before we reached the Saline Valley Dunes which were to be our marker to turn East towards the Springs we were surprised and puzzled to see a completely inappropriate vehicle heading our direction. I was so surprised at the appearance of such a vehicle there that I could not get my phone into picture-taking mode quickly enough for a good one but this is a screenshot.

Yellow convertible Camaro on a really rocky, washboarded road
Must Be Tourists In A Rental Car

The idea that someone thought their Camaro, rented or not, was an appropriate vehicle for such a road just boggles my mind.

The sand road that headed over towards the area of the Springs was named Bat Rock Road and there was a piece of sculpture, part mobile, part wind chime, at a crossroad to point us in the correct direction.

Willow sitting at the base of the Bat Rock Road artistic sculpture roadsign
The Girl Wanting To Be Back In The Air-Conditioned Tacoma

As we got closer you could tell where the springs were by the explosion of green and tall palm trees erupting out of the baked light brown color of the surrounding desert.

We found a nice spot to set up camp next to a wall of small trees and brush so as to use them as a wind break.

Willow Taking A Peek At One Of The Open Springs In The Area
Willow Taking A Peek At One Of The Open Springs In The Area

Once camp was set up I celebrated our arrival with a semi-local and totally appropriate brew.

Death Valley Pale Ale bottle
A Cool, Tasty Beverage

Willow decided to take a dirt and sun nap with a rock as her pillow.

willow taking a sun and dirt nap with a rock as a pillow
She Can Get Comfortable Almost Anywhere

Once the heat of the day dissipated a bit we headed over to the Warm Spring itself to check the place out. The Upper Pool is in the open uncovered by any trees.

Upper Pool 1
Upper Pool Picture 1
Upper Pool 2
Upper Pool Picture 2

At night if you sit in it quietly you will most likely be blessed by the appearance of bats coming by to take sips on the wing from its waters right in front of your face.

The main pool is a dozen yards or so below the Upper Pool but seemingly in a different world. It sits next to the communal campfire ring under a dual canopy of camo netting and the fronds of the numerous large palm trees that surround the area.

Main Pool
Main Pool
Plaque At The Main Pool
Plaque At The Main Pool
Quartz And Other Crystal Formations Embedded Into The Main Pool's Structure
Quartz And Other Crystal Formations Embedded Into The Main Pool’s Structure

We’re guessing the pools were around 108 degrees which to me gets them into the range of “hot” rather than “warm” and so the Warm Springs name is a bit misleading. But, I guess if you compare these with a hot spring at like, say, Yellowstone which can reach well above 200 (and some 400+ degrees) and will kill you well then yes, these are merely warm.

There is an open tub with a shower where you are asked to first bathe yourself before getting in any of the pools. I didn’t take many photos in that area because nudity seems to totally be the preferred dress code and I’m sure people didn’t want me taking pictures of them naked, nor do you want to see pictures of a bunch of naked, hairy older gentlemen. You’re Welcome. There were only about 5 or 6 of us at the Springs the three days we were there but, except for Willow, we were all male. I was told that this was a surprisingly slow week and usually there are 10 to 20 people enjoying this oasis during the week and maybe double that on the weekends.

Even when it was 105 degrees outside in the open when you are within the shade zone it was a relatively cool 90 or so. We spent our afternoons there reading and relaxing. The caretaker has several sprinklers doing their work and rotates them to cover as much of the grassy area as possible throughout the day.

Grassy Area Within The Shade Zone Under The Palms
Grassy Area Within The Shade Zone Under The Palms

Willow was especially appreciative of that feature and spent many an hour happily lounging on her back in the grass.

Willow on her back Enjoying The Grassy Area
Willow Enjoying The Grassy Area

I was a bit jealous of her enjoying the feel of cool grass without me and so took off my Keen sandals to get some grass between my toes. It’s coarse crab grass but still was a refreshing, cool change from wool socks in hiking boots or even dirty, sandy feet in sandals. It was all fine until I discovered the existence of these vicious, multi-spiked things that lay unseen scattered about on top of the grass. They are designed in such a way that they always seem to have one spike pointing upwards in a defensive posture. Sadly I made the discovery not visually but first hand, or should I say feet first by stepping on one.

dual thorn that I pulled out of my foot
Vicious Little Bastard. Bottle Cap For Scale.

My involuntary profanity startled the burros which were eating in the area next to the grass. I was over there to take a closer look at the week old or so burro baby who had apparently been stepped on and had a huge, softball-sized lump where one of his knees was. He had trouble walking and getting up and we hope it was just a bad hematoma that will eventually be reabsorbed and he’ll live out the rest of his life mobile and pain-free. The on-site caretaker “Lizard Lee” has been around so long that the burros know and trust him and so he stepped over the fence, past the mother and helped the little burro stand by picking him up and setting him on his feet. I would have taken pictures but I was still bleeding and in pain from the vicious spiky thing.

Much like the Geologists’ Cabin but even more so, if you are here for peace and quiet you will be regularly disappointed. The area of the Warm Springs sits within Restricted Area R-2508 which is a military area jointly used by the Air Force Flight Test Center out of Edwards AFB, the National Training Center at Fort Irwin and the Naval Air Weapons Station at China Lake. It is used for a variety of aviation training and includes a High Altitude Supersonic Corridor, a Low Altitude High Speed Maneuvers range, a radar intercept area and refueling areas. This means that numerous times throughout the day you will be treated to distant sonic booms, the sight of refueling tankers high overhead with a fighter jet attached via refueling boom as well as my favorite… not kidding, the high-speed low altitude pass. You’ll be sitting there with the breeze rippling through the palm fronds and suddenly, within the space of 3 to 5 seconds you hear a growing roar and, about the time your brain figures out what the sound is, a fighter jet screams down out the valley to pass overhead, all of, at most, a couple of hundred feet off the ground, usually at a 90 degree cant so that the pilot can look for naked people in the pools…or so I was told. You can, literally, see the pilot in the cockpit as they scream overhead.

Fighter jet screaming over the Warm Springs
Awesome Sight And Sound

Several other people in attendance would immediately stop what they were doing and cover their ears with a frown on their face. Willow wasn’t a fan but it always brought a huge grin to my face. So yes, your peaceful tranquility is regularly and rudely interrupted but, to me at least, to experience such an awesome, powerful, expensive and capable piece of machinery doing what it was meant to do so close to you is a rare and special treat.

Back at our campsite later it wasn’t long before the locals came by to check out us new arrivals.

burro taking a look at Willow
Warily Checking Each Other Out

It seems strange but the burros here at the Warm Springs behave in a markedly different manner than the ones in Striped Butte Valley. These are much more curious and unafraid to come within an arm’s length of you to stretch out and give you a sniff. Merely standing up from the seat under the sunshade at the Geologists’ Cabin would result in an immediate outburst of hee hawing and running away where here they just turn their head and keep a close watch on your movements. Yes, we know they are wild and not to feed them or leave food out where they can get to it nor harass them and that they could kill me if they wanted to but we’ve found that a calm, slow and relaxed demeanor on our part has always been reciprocated. Unfortunately, after a couple of days or regular, gentle interactions we lowered our guard and trusted the burros to not mess with our stuff. The last evening there our trust was taken advantage of while we were over at the upper pool watching the bats come take drinks right in front of us. On our walk back, right when we were getting to our site we heard a rustling and Willow perked right up. I got out my flashlight and shined it towards our shelter and saw three pairs of eyes reflected back at us which immediately turned away to the sounds of trotting hooves. Our shelter was trashed. Brita filter on the ground, precious water spilled, dish rack and dishes strewn around the ground and my cardboard box full of books, magazines and maps had been essentially ripped apart and eaten along with some of its contents.

ripped, torn and eaten book and magazine pages

A Farewell To Arms ripped aprt and somewhat eaten by wild burros
They Ate The Classics

I’ve read A Farewell To Arms before, found this copy at one of those Little Free Libraries and was planning on doing so again in the coming days. It is a great and well-deserved classic. Now I’ll have to satiate my reading need with the thousands of books I have on my Android Tablet. Sadly, they also ate my Death Valley Backcountry Roads map that I had made countless notes and marks on and, when I tried to replace it at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center, they told me it was in short supply and couldn’t give me one. Then, to make matters worse, one of the burros apparently didn’t like the taste of some of my stuff and, after having chewed it up and formed it into a paper wad in its mouth, decided to spit it out.

chewed up and spit out book and magazines
What A Waste

So, another LPT (Life Pro Tip) learned the hard way: Burros Eat Paper so keep yours stashed away with your regular food items.

So, all tolled, a worthwhile trip to check out this oasis in the middle of the desert. Clothing is usually optional so if that offends you then you might want to visit someplace else. Not a short or easy drive and I would definitely recommend airing down your tires for a cushier ride if you have the ability to air them back up later.

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