Friday, July 10, 2009

The Marble Canyon Mining Camp Ruins

The Saline Valley is located just west of Death Valley, and is almost as hot as Death Valley itself. It is also far more isolated and undeveloped than Death Valley itself (for example, you are dozens of miles from the nearest electric service or gasoline). The sole road through Saline Valley is a graded dirt road running from Highway 168 in the north (the Big Pine entrance) to Highway 190 in the south (he Owens Lake entrance). The road definitely requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle, like my late, lamented, and much beloved White Thang.

Saline Valley was added to Death Valley National Park in 1994, and many of the mining claims in the area where abandoned over the next several years. One of the best preserved is at Marble Canyon. It is reached by taking Highway168 east from Big Pine, CA, approximately four miles to the Saline Valley turnoff. The Marble Canyon site is about 20 miles down the Saline Valley road.

The first signs you're approaching the mining camp are some buildings and mining equipment that are starting to fall apart:

It amazes me how people managed to build such an extensive mining camp in such an isolated area------you're well over 100 miles from the nearest hardware store, and transporting those materials down the Saline Valley road must have been a huge challenge. The result is impressive:

The interior of the residential building was well preserved; the kitchen looks like it had been abandoned only a few months earlier:

The National Park Service has a policy of leaving abandoned buildings in the same shape as they were when they came under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service; the buildings are not restored but instead are allowed to naturally decay. The result is that some sites are trashy with lots of junk, like the one at Marble Canyon:

The one exception to this "leave it as it was found" policy involves entrances to mines. The National Park Service seals off the entrances to abandoned mines, as you can see below. This policy is necessary because every year several idiots manage to get themselves badly hurt or killed by exploring abandoned mines; causes include collapse of the mine shafts, poisoning due to toxic gases accumulating in the shafts, rattlesnake bites, etc.

Like many isolated desert locations, the Marble Canyon mining site has some quizzical sights, like this open-air chair:

While the Saline Valley road is isolated and not for 2WD vehicles, it has several signs and is easy to navigate without a GPS receiver or maps. As the photo shows, the Marble Canyon mining camp is at a high elevation. The Saline Valley road is often closed by snow in winter, and the best time to visit is autumn or spring.

The Saline Valley gets only a fraction of the visitors Death Valley gets. It is difficult to reach, but it's worth the effort.