Monday, February 8, 2010

San Lucas Canyon Road

Little is left of the Salt Tram and its diggin's. The Waag Bros. are actively seeking out information about the Saline Valley Salt Tram and the Salt Mine between 1903 and the 1960's, including: documents, photos, articles, stories, artifacts, etc. If you can help us out, please email us at the address above - Thank-you! --Tim and Brian Waag, the Waag brothers (aka E. Clampus Waagus).
Caution (PLEASE READ): Climbing around on the tramway is dangerous because its really old and defnitely unsafe, so don't even think about it. Shoot, just getting to it requires some perilous hiking, and if you don't believe me, just take a look at the Zig Zag Access Trail (or what's left of it). Plus, climbing on it weakens it and endangers your life. Also, the Saline Valley Salt Tram is on the National Register of Historic Places and should be treated with the respect that it deserves. What little remains is of great historic value, and should not be disturbed in any way. Heck, its probably against the law to move parts of the tram around, and certainly a crime to take home some of the few bits of it that remain (though you'd have to ask your friendly local BLM agent for details). So please treat it with the respect it deserves, so that future generations can enjoy whats left, without you messing it up. Really. Please. You can see its listing on the National Register of Historic Places at these web links:

*****QUESTION 1:  (To Do) Hike the section of San Lucas Canyon Road between Saline Valley Road and the San Lucas Canyon Narrows, along the road that is barely discernable from Google Earth, looking for dated artifacts alongside the road from the Sierra Salt era.  Bring the 8x10 print-outs of the historic photos with us, and match up those photos that we have still not matched up yet; to properly do the matchups, we need to continue hiking about a quarter to a half mile west of the San Lucas narrows section. Find an old map that shows the pink road below from the mouth of San Lucas Canyon Narrows to the Saline Valley Road (none of the maps that we have shows it; trying to find an older map that does have it on the map - want to see if the double track "use" road matches the original Salt road used by the Moreland Motor Trucks.
Above: Salt Lake in upper left corner of Google Earth image. Green Line is the Saline Valley Road. Pink Line is the road from the Saline Valley Road to the mouth of San Lucas Canyon. The waypoint marked as SLCN (San Lucas Canyon Narrows) is the site of the fascinating narrows section of this Sierra Salt road. Note that the road in pink is still visible on Google Earth.
Above: antique map of unknown vintage (supplied by M. Bizon of Darwin). It indeed shows the approximate route that was traced in pink in the Google Earth image above the map. In addition, it also shows another side road that appears to now be the Saline Valley Road coming in from South Pass  (about 1 or 2 miles to the east of the San Lucas Canyon to Salt Lake Road) - SV Road takes a turn right around that same location.

*****QUESTION 2: DONE! Re-hike the section of San Lucas Canyon Road between the trailhead on the Cerro Gordo side and to below the dry falls , along the road that is barely discernable from Google Earth, looking for dated artifacts alongside the road from the Sierra Salt era. We hiked this section of road twice - once, when Tim was in a cast on his right leg and could only explore by hopping around the trailhead, and the 2nd time, when we were able to explore the San Lucas Canyon narrows more carefully. Bring the 8x10 print-outs of the historic photos with us, and match up those photos that we have still not matched up yet.

*****QUESTION 3: Sierra Salt Company teamed with Inyo County to build the San Lucas Canyon road. When was the San Lucas Canyon road built?

*****Caution: the San Lucas Canyon narrows are difficult to access, and dangerous and scary once you are there, so proceed with extreme caution. The slopes have steep drop-offs and are unstable, so you have been warned!
Above: Green cross is the trailhead where we parked our cars; we did this hike starting from here twice. The pink is the canyon bottom route that stops at the top of the start of the narrows.

*****Introduction to the San Lucas Canyon Road: Sierra Salt Company teamed with Inyo County to build the San Lucas Canyon road, located at the north end of the Nelson Range where it intersects the Inyo Mountains. Though mostly tame over most of it's run, it is famous for its crazy cliffside route through the short but crazy San Lucas Canyon narrows. The Sierra Salt Company first trucked salt out of Saline Valley on its trucks on June 15, 1926 (see below; photo Courtesy of Eastern California Museum). The road was abandoned by the Sierra Salt Company a few years later due to the high maintenance costs of keeping the road open in the steep narrows section.
Above: Found an oil changing depot of sorts along San Lucas Canyon Road - perhaps it was for the 1920's Salt Trucks that slowly made their way along this road for a few years?

According to legend, the last trip down this road was made in the sixties, by Colonel Rogers and Fred Story, two local miners. The trip by automobile was said to require men with fearless souls, filled with an unspecified (but substantial?) amount of alcohol. Reaching the San Lucas Canyon narrows from Lee Flat (west) side requires a hike of only about 3.5 miles to reach the narrows. A hiker could continue down the canyon and come out on the Saline Valley floor, and within easy reach of the Saline Valley Road
Above: Brian on the road in the San Lucas Canyon Dry Falls on a trip in February, 2009:

*****Trip Report in March 2010: Our 2nd Exploration of San Lucas Canyon Road - Tim, Brian, Mark, Greg and Alan got a late start hiking down the long dry wash of San Lucas Canyon. We approached the trailhead coming in from the Lee Flat area and heading east. We didn't start our hike until about 2:45pm, and it took about 1.5 hours of hard downhill humping along the largely roadless drywash from the trailhead to get there. Surprisingly, it only took us 1.5 hours of steady uphill hiking to get back to the cars on the return trip. In between, we had about an hour to explore the area, with rock-climber Mark finding a route down the falls the did not require the use of the climbing ropes that he so kindly brought for this adventure (thanks, Mark!).

Weeks after the hike, we were informed by the locals that even though there is a boulder in the middle of the road down San Lucas Canyon, the road itself is still open all the way down to the first set of dry falls (shown in the photo below - facing east or down canyon). Next time we go there, we can drive at least half of the distance that we hiked on this trip. In the first section of the canyon road, there is a perfectly passable high clearance 2wd road until you get to the falls shown in the photo below.
Above: Beginning of the San Lucas Canyon narrows, as you are heading east towards Saline Valley. West of this section is a high clearance 2 wheel drive road up to this point.

We attempted to match historical photos from the Eastern California Museum to locations along the hike. Given the late hour, we didn't have a lot of time to do that, unfortunately - but we find a few matches, some of which are shown below.

*****Caution! We cannot emphasize enough how dangerous going up and down the dry falls section can be. On our first trip to San Lucas Canyon narrows in February of 2009,  Brian was not able to negotiate the falls himself, and Doug and Lewis didn't try (probably due to the effects of vertigo at this site!). On the February, 2009 trip, Tim was not able to do the hike because he was in a cast on his right leg from ankle surgery. However, Tim did accompany the Waag Bros. team to the trailhead and guard the trucks (and drink alot of beer, no doubt!).
Above: Google Earth image of San Lucas Canyon narrows, looking towards the west.

*****Hike Description from Lee Flat Trailhead towards Saline Valley - We started our March 2010 hike at the trailhead where the dirt road curves up/west towards the Bonham Talc Mines. The hike is on an open and beautiful desert canyon double-track road, until the first set of dry falls is reached. From there, the trail would be hard to navigate in a stock 4x4 (see photo above).

As you enter the narrows, the canyon gets more and more interesting. The walls are contorted with colorful sedimentary rock displayed in interesting arrays as you work your way down canyon. Eventually, you reach the top of the narrows, where the show starts. The Sierra Salt Company carved the road here out of a massive dry falls area. In order to maintain a grade that the salt trucks could traverse with their heavy loads, the road was carved into the the cliffs and snaked from one side of the canyon to the other in a most amazing fashion.

This trip, we did manage to find a route down the dry falls, but it wasn't easy. The route down traverses the type of terrain where one slip and you're headed for an air lift evacuation and the hospital - so exercise all caution. A disappointingly few manmade artifacts were found on this dayhike. What was found was limited to a couple of auto parts of unknown vintage, and used railroad ties living a second life as shoring for some amazingly high stacked rock walls for the narrows section of the road. We only had an hour to explore the narrows, so we didn't get far down canyon. The topo indicates that the narrows in San Lucas Canyon are extensive, though rarely do the walls close in to within 20 feet of each other.

*****Let's take a look at a few random photos - The photos displayed below are both historical (from the 1920's Sierra Salt era), and from our March 2010 hike.  The initials D. B. stands for Don Becker, another Salt Tram expert who is now hiding out in Oregon. The annotations that accompany the historical photos were written by Mr. Becker on the back of the displayed photos; for your convenience, I have put them together into a single image.
Above: north side of San Lucas Canyon (Photo courtesy Eastern California Museum; click to enlarge)
Above: Photo of Tim standing on the road in roughly the same spot as the driver of the Sierra Salt truck is in the photo above this one.

Above: Remnants of massive retaining wall on south side of canyon; note the railroad ties used to hold together the massive stone wall  (Photo courtesy E. Clampus Waagus Press; click to enlarge)
Above: Passenger auto in center left of photo at upper end of the dry falls on the south side of the canyon (Photo courtesy Eastern California Museum; click to enlarge)

Above: remnants of road on South side of canyon - Brian is the guy on the far right under the overhang (Photo courtesy E. Clampus Waagus Press; click to enlarge)

*****Additional reference information: You can also take a look at Major Tom's website that gives a San Lucas Canyon report (click on link):  Major Tom's San Lucas Canyon Report

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1 comment:

  1. MossBeach: I could only find one map that shows a road coming from the salt lake, and going up San Lucas Canyon. It's from 1948 and is on the USGS site as CA_Death Vally_299750_1948_250000_geo.pdf It is also on the DV Map Disk I sell if interested.