6 years ago

It had been some time since I had ventured into the secret valley and was apprehensive as to what I might find. For a while now, it has not been much of a secret. The Timbisha Shoshone have known about and inhabited the valley since before recorded history and called their village and the valley Koon. They all moved to Darwin in the early 20th century but still hold the land as sacred. Although many modern humans know about the place, due to its remote location, the condition of the road, and the rumors that surround the valley, it still remains one of the quietest and most remote wilderness areas in all of North America.

As I turned right out of Big Pine, heading up the hill I was impressed by the newly paved two lane highway. Last time I was through here, the road was full of potholes and the dividing line marking the lanes had long since disappeared having succumbed to the hot desert sun. As I reached the turn off to the dirt road that leads into the valley, I stopped to photograph and marvel at the majestic view of the Sierra Nevada.

From here, that familiar sense of freedom began to take over and my soul began to shake off the trials and tribulations of day to day life in the city. I opened the traditional beerput the truck into second gear and ventured forth anticipating the beauty and grandeur that I was long familiar with, but had not experienced for over 3 years.

All was as I remembered, with very little, if anything changed. The road was actually in good condition. The sky was blue and the early November air was crisp, clean and refreshing! The moon was almost full and still visible in the morning sky. Driving slowly along the dirt road through the various valleys, the Pinion Pine and Juniper Forests, through the narrows of Paiute Canyon and ultimately to the northwestern rim of the secret valley. The Valley is in the rain shadow of three major mountain ranges and it is quite common for a large storm to leave little in the way of moisture, even while the rest of California is getting soaked. However, heavy snow can fall at the higher elevations (up tp 10,000 feet) and one can easily become trapped unable to escape from either the north or south passes. This is not necessarily a bad thing as long... as you have plenty of food and no immediate plans!

To me, the valley appears to be a volcano caldera, surrounded by mountain peaks on all sides. However, it is a bolsa with a number of abutting mountain ranges creating the effect. All water flowing into this valley has no escape which creates a salt marsh and lake at the very bottom. There are a number of steep canyons cutting into the Inyo mountain range that have water that feed the lake. This water provides for exceptionally lush micro climates that provide life for a surprising array of flora and fauna. It never ceases to surprise and delight me, to find so much life in such an arid and desolate place.

The Valley was a significant mineral source in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Conn and Trudo Borax Company mined borax from the salt marsh from 1874 to 1895. The remains of this site can be seen today as a few shallow pits near the road. Salt mining began in 1903 at the south end of the lake, and continued into the 1930s.

An electric aerial tram was constructed in 1911 to carry the salt 14 miles (22 km) over the Inyo Mountains to the town of Keeler in the Owens Valley. It operated sporadically from 1913 to 1936, but ultimately proved to be too expensive to run. The tram, which was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1973, was the steepest ever constructed in the US. It rose from an elevation of 1100 feet on the valley floor to 8500 feet over the mountains, and then down to 3600 feet in Keeler. In recent years it has been badly damaged by vandals. This appears to be one of the saddest things about the secret valley as well as every other remote arealittle to no respect for the land.

I stopped briefly at Willow Creek Camp just to take a look over the fence to see that all was well and the property appeared to be clean and in order. There have been many people who have had great hopes for this placeminers, adventurers, lost souls and wayward gypsies all searching for that magiclost treasure, escape from civilization, and for all, a place to set your spirits free.

From here it is only 11 miles to the natural wonder of the Hot Springs. Having visited hot springs throughout the world, these are indeed most dear and special to me. Although the water contains a large number of minerals, unlike many hot springs, these do not contain sulfur. The springs seep up from underground at a few locations. Most notably are the two areas that have been lovingly developed and cared for by volunteers over the years. The lower spring has two concrete soaking pools, a well maintained and manicured lawn and is more socially oriented than the upper, less developed Palm Spring. In the 1960s, the hot springs in the valle