<%@LANGUAGE="JAVASCRIPT" CODEPAGE="1252"%> Evanescent Light : Saline Valley


evanescent
: fleeting, transitory
evanescent wave: a nearfield standing wave, employed for total internal reflection microscopy

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Saline amd Panamint Valleys

Saline Valley lies in classic ‘basin and range’ country, to the adjacent to Death Valley, and largely within the expanded reach of the National Park. Like neighboring Death Valley and Panamint valleys it stretches almost due North-South, and contains a large dry lake bed (playa). Unusually, however, there is often at least some water in the lake. Saline Valley is infrequently visited, as no paved roads lead to it; but a 70 mile dirt road traverses the length of the valley, and is braved by some coming to bathe in the (clothing optional) hot springs. Even rougher 4WD trails lead into the valley from the East, crossing over Steele pass from Eureka Valley, and descending from Racetrack Valley.

A fascinating feature is the Saline Salt Tram, a cable tramway constructed in 1911 to transport the extremely pure salt found in the lakebed across the Inyo mountains and down to the railroad in Owens valley. The tramway was a remarkable engineering feat, and functioned intermittently (losing money all the time) until 1936. It was the steepest tramway in the United States, rising from 1100 feet in the Saline Valley floor to 8500 feet at the Inyo Crest, then dropping to 3600 feet at Swansea. Despite its National Register status, the Salt Works and tramway have been severely damaged by vandals. Virtually all of the structures within easy access of roads, including both terminals, have been dismantled and carted off by wood gatherers and junk collectors. However, the summit structure on the crest of the Inyos is extremely difficult of access, and remains largely intact, together with the adjacent living quarters for the machinery operators. To visit it requires an exhilarating climb in low-ratio 4WD up the Swansea Grade from highway 190, or an equally scary traverse below the Inyo ridge along a shelf road from Cerro Gordo.

A further curiosity of the area is the marble bath at Steele Pass, which is generally reckoned to be the most remote place in California. Many maps bear the marking ‘Marble Bath’ adjacent to the pass. However, extensive searches by myself, and by others who report their experiences on the web, have never turned up any natural feature that could be described as a marble bath – for example, a rock depression that might collect rainwater. Indeed, there seems to be no marble, or limestone outcrops anywhere near. But, if you look into the shallow canyon leading east immediately after dropping down from the pass toward Saline Valley, you will find an actual cast-iron bathtub filled with blue marbles! Click HERE and HERE to learn more about the story of the 'Marble Bath'.
For several years now we have made it a point to each bring a rubber ducky to populate the bath: but nevertheless the duck census varies over time. On one visit we forgot the ducks, but an emergency visit to the pharmacy in  Lone Pine yeilded a ruber duck bath sponge, from which the duck was liberated after delicate surgery.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for a photographic record of the rubber duck count at the Marble Bath.



 

A very still, dark and moonless night gave good opportunities for some astrophotography
   

 


 




   


Panorama of sandstorm in Saline Valley : Click the image to download 40 Mpix stitched panorama

 












 









Rubber duck count at the Marble Bath



2005

2008

2009


March 2010

Dec. 2011
 


Feb 2012

Christmas, 2012

New Year. 2014

October, 2014: A return trip to the Marble Bath

From the Eureka Dunes we threaded through the rocksteps in Dedekera Canyon and on over Steele Pass, bringing a new flock of rubber ducks to the Marble Bath.  We found that many of the indigenous ducks had taken shelter from the sumer sun under a rock alcove, but with the onset of cooler weather  we thought they would prefer to be returned to their marbled aquatic habitat.

We had planned to continue down into Saline Valley and out over South Pass, but were thwarted by a bad washout and so retraced our path back to Big Pine.


January, 2016. On reaching the Marble Bath we found only a sole remaining rubber duck. Given that these birds are flightless, it seems that the large flock that was present the previous year could not have departed of their own volition. We suspect the Park Service may have taken them into protective custody, as a new wilderness sign had been placed near the bath. Anyhow, we were happy to bring new ducks as company for the remaining survivor.

Thanksgiving 2017. Once again we found that the rubber duck population had declined alarmingly. But, we came well supplied with new immigrants, and hope they will do well.




last updated 01/13/2019

IanParker
1146 McGaugh Hall
University of California,
Irvine, CA 92697

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