Since My Last Post in 2016 (before the wedding, the wedding day, and after the wedding).
Saline Valley Hot Springs – an Annual Voyage.
It has been some years now since I posted about my annual family camping trip to Saline Valley Hot Springs. 2015, the year that Loretta and I got married out there, was the last year I posted our Saline story. Well, we have kept going out to Saline Valley each year even though packing for 4 people and a dog for a 10ish day trip into the desert is hard work. The drive is long and the road conditions are often not great. Some years feel harder than others. But we keep going out to that desolate outpost in the Northern part of Death Valley for hot water, big skies, and the great people. I am going to post pics here from our last 5 years of trips. Make yourself comfortable.
We usually go around Thanksgiving each year. Sometimes we stay for the Saline Valley Hot Springs Thanksgiving feast (up to 350 person potluck), and sometimes we don’t. But each year, we make our desert pilgrimage. I didn’t know if we would make it in 2020, but we did. The park service order the pools to be drained because of Covid. We went anyway. The usual crowd were not there. There were just a small group of us out there in 2020. But we allowed the restrictions and change to make us open to seeing the place in a new light and we explored places that we had previously not made time to explore. In contrast, our 2021 trip to Saline felt like a family reunion (in the best of ways).
Goodbye Cool Slow Van, Hello Fast Mini-Van.
Choosing the right vehicle for your desert voyage can seriously affect the tenor of your adventure. We have tried a number of vehicles over the years. Here are our most recent ones.
2018 was the last time we took out our 1987 Mitsubishi Delica to the valley. The Delica was a turbo-diesel microbus from Japan with the steering wheel on the right side. It was slow, uncomfortable, and didn’t get great gas mileage… but damn it was cool. It was a stick shift, had 4-wheel drive, a short wheelbase, good clearance, and incredible carrying capacity. But, I finally decided that the cool factor and massive capacity were outweighed by the slowness and uncomfortable drive. It was so slow, that it added hours to our journey.
We rented a truck in 2019, and in 2020 took our new to us Toyota Sienna. My search for a replacement for the Delica took much longer than some in my household would have liked. After years of the uncomfortable and slow-moving Delica, driving out to Saline Valley in our lifted (thank you Journeys Off-Road) minivan was a delight and pleasure. We shaved hours off our ride time and enjoyed heated seats, cavernous carrying capacity, and a smooth ride.
Pre Cooking Food Makes Camping Easier!
Our journey out to Saline Valley typically takes a similar trajectory each year. I usually start pre-cooking food about a month before we leave. I make carnitas, soups, granola, etc. Much of the food gets frozen and doubles as ice for the cooler. I start collecting camping gear in a pile and make sure we have all the stuff we need. Within a week of our leaving, I start freaking out about all the things we have to do and wonder which stove setup I should bring this year. My wife, Loretta, usually refocussed me and keeps the packing and organizing and all the other things going when I have reached my limit.
We have been through so many different Saline Valley kitchen setups. Before we had kids, we brought out a vintage 3 burner stove with an oven. It weighed at least 50 lbs and was very cool. I baked chocolate chip cookies and roasted chicken in the oven. Since then, I have brought a smaller 3 burner stove. Smaller… but still kind of huge. Our food storage setup has evolved over the years into something that I am very satisfied with. We pack our food at home in the bins they will be stored in. This was not always the case, and it used to take a day or so to fully set up our kitchen and pantry.
Here is our camping setup in 2008. Pre-kids. Cast iron 3 burner stove with oven… cast iron pots, pans, griddle, etc. It was a lot.
Here is our simplest setup. We did a short trip in 2020 and just brought one burner. Set up and breakdown was a breeze.
Simplifying Gear – Less to Pack and Unpack.
When the kids were young and needed a million things, it felt like our camp setup was constantly growing. Getting everything in our rig was a serious game of Tetris. Thankfully, it now seems like we are downsizing and simplifying. It still takes forever to get out of the house and on the road, but much of that is general life prep before leaving town. We have simplified our kitchen, the chairs we use are much smaller and easier to pack than previous ones, and our food setup is more streamlined. Now that my kids are 9 and 11, they just need less stuff. So, once we have cleaned house, set all of our away notices, gone to the bathroom one last time, and have the vehicle packed, we head out for Bishop.
Audiobooks – a Must-Have for Long Car Rides with Kids.
In the last few years, we have discovered audiobooks. It is good fun for the whole family. Our kids are content to sit and listen for hours without complaining. It makes car rides so much more enjoyable. In 2021 we listened to Lord of the Rings. In 2020 it was Trevor Noah’s biography, Born a Crime, that got us there. We usually get underway around 11 am or so. I always have high hopes of having the vehicle packed the night before and hitting the road first thing… but that never happens. By the time we leave, I am just glad we made it out of the house and are on the road.
If Tioga Pass is open, we go through Yosemite. Even driving through Yosemite after dark is beautiful. The Tioga route usually saves us at least an hour of driving and a good number of miles. When it is closed, we go up to South Lake Tahoe and then head over 88 and 89 to 395 which takes us south to Bishop. We usually stay with Loretta’s family in Bishop, the Woods. They have three boys and are delightful people. It is so nice to break up the long ride. Our kids get to romp around and make trouble before piling back in the car the next morning. We gas up, gather any last provisions, and stop in at the Great Basin Bakery before making the last push into the Valley.
Here are some pics from a couple of years when we were able to go through Yosemite.
The Woods Family and Our Kids
Side Trips on the Way to Saline Valley Hot Springs
In 2020 we went to the Eureka Sand Dunes for the first time. We pitched our tent and spent one night. It gets really cold out there, and we just barely had enough warm clothes to keep us warm. In the morning our dog’s water was frozen solid. The milk in the bottom of our cereal bowls froze as soon as we finished eating. Thankfully once the sun came out, things warmed up. In 2021 we decided to stop by the sand dunes again, but did not spend the night. The Eureka Sand Dunes are less than an hour past the turn-off to Saline Valley. After stopping by this last trip and letting the kids run around we got back in the van and made the last leg of the journey to Saline Valley.
2020 Trip to the Dunes
The year that the Delica broke down on the way to Saline Valley and we had to rent a truck in Bishop, the Woods took us to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. That place is awesome. We have talked about going back, but so far have not made the time.
50 Miles of Dirt Road
The Wacoba / Saline Valley Road conditions vary from year to year. Road talk is always a topic in the tubs at the hot springs. That and the weather. In 2021 we lucked out with both weather and the road. There were no washouts, the washboard wasn’t too bad, and snow didn’t slow us down. We covered the 50ish miles of dirt road in less than 2 hours and didn’t get a flat tire. Victory! Once we figured out where we were going to camp, we settled in.
Old Friends and New Friends
Our 2021 trip to Saline Valley was a great one. We saw lots of old friends and made some new ones. After years of wondering where he had gone, and if he was still around, Minnesota Bob showed up in camp. What a delight to see him again after so many years. Honestly, there were so many wonderful people out there, it felt like a long-overdue family reunion.
In recent years I have not been great about taking pictures with my camera. I am often ready for a break by the time I get out to Saline Valley Hot Springs. I just want to hang out, eat, soak in the hot tubs, and maybe go for a hike or two. So I have been leaving my camera in its case, and venturing out with my phone camera or no camera at all. In 2021 I made a concerted effort to do a little better. Toward the end of the day, I would head out and take some portraits of friends and family.
A Few More Images from Past Years
It is fun to see kids grow up. We have had some wild adventures out at Saline Valley Hot Springs. So here are a few more pics from past years.
The year of the epic wind storm (followed by beautiful weather). Great times hanging with our buddy Maurice and his family. I think this was the last year we stayed for the Thanksgiving feast.
The year of the rainbow. More good times with Maurice and company.
The year Aili and Jake and the Woods family from Bishop came out to Saline Valley.
The year the weather was crazy. It rained in Saline Valley, and we had to dig a moat to keep the tent from flooding, and then we packed up in a windstorm at the end of our trip. We stopped at the Crab Cooker hot spring by the green church off 395 of the way home. Having hastened our departure because of incoming weather, I looked up at the sky and decided it was time to keep trucking home. We just make it through Tahoe as chain control was starting. My family and Maurice and his crew were not so lucky. They stopped off at another hot spring before heading over the pass and got stuck in the crazy snowstorm. Back at Saline Valley, the Thanksgiving potluck was postponed because it poured in the valley all day on Thanksgiving.