March 2006 Issue Explore Historic California - Magazine for Enthusiasts




Mojave Expedition (11-12-05) photo gallery--Click the photo to go to the gallery



Burro Schmidt's

Tunnel Update

Burro Schmidt's "Famous Tunnel" now has a group of "friends" trying to preserve and protect the site.   

Click the photo to visit  their Website.



Click on the photo below to read more about Cerro Gordo.

Cerro Gordo now has its own Web site. Click the link below to visit.


Join us at the 10th annual Moose Anderson Days, April 29-30, 2006 at Jawbone Station.  Click the drawing for details.




The Panamint Breeze is a new publication highlighting the history and legends California and Nevada.  

Click on the logo for details.

Sketches of the Saline Valley and the Salt Tram

 by Cecile Page Vargo

          In the early 1900’s salt was still used as a preservative for foods. The Saline Valley had plenty of salt, so a tram was built to carry the salt over the Inyo Mountains, to the Owens Valley, and off to market by rail. Work began on the tramway in 1910 and was completed in 1913. Gondola cars carrying 800 pounds of salt, traveled at a rate of 20 tons per hour over those mountains. A total of 30,000 tons of high grade salt was carried over the tramway on and off through the early 1930’s. 

The main salt tram summit control station straddles the crest of the Inyo Mountains. It once was totally enclosed with metal siding.

          The salt tram consisted of a series of tramways, 13.5 miles long.  A unique crossover system allowed the gondolas to go from one tramway to the other without stopping. Electricity was provided by the Edison Power Plant located in Cottonwood Canyon in the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the western side of Owens Valley.

Salt tram towers seen from the Swansea Grade on the west side of the Inyo Mountains. No two towers are exactly alike.

          Before the salt could be transported on the tramway, it had to be harvested from the Saline Valley lake bed. Fresh water was pumped from a large spring into shallow ponds that were built on the lake bed. The hot sun baked down on the brine solution in the ponds.  As the water evaporated, the salt crystals that remained were raked into piles. The salt was then shoveled into wooden railway cars that were pulled into a large storage hopper, where tramway gondolas automatically were loaded with salt. The unique system was capable of filling 56 gondolas per hour, or 20-24 tons per hour. As many as 40 - 60 men were employed at the salt tram, enduring summer temperatures which could reach as high as 120 degrees.

          Following it’s trek over the Inyo Mountains,  gondolas ended up at Owens Lake, northwest of Swansea.  Here the salt was dried, screened, and prepped before railroad shipment. The first buckets of salt reached the Owens Lake railhead on July 2, 1913. “The World’s Purest Salt” was endlessly transported over the tramway for seven years. 

          The high cost of the construction of the great tramway over the Inyo Mountains,  prevented salt mining from being a profitable venture, unfortunately. Ownership changed hands on and off until the depression hit and the gondolas stopped forever. The remains of the towers can be seen here and there as you travel the Swansea Grade today. 

View looking down the east side of the the control station into Daisy Canyon and the Saline Valley salt flats.

The Summit Control Station and Power House can be seen at the top of Daisy Canyon northwest of Cerro Gordo ghost town. The control operator’s house has been restored, and is a pleasant spot for modern backcountry travelers to pause for a picnic and ponder over the construction of the great salt tramway in the early 1900’s.

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Tour Information

We're back on the road again! 

Click on the photo for our preliminary 2006 schedule details.

Thanks to all who joined us on our dirt road travels.

Please contact us at for additional information or reservations.


Explore Historic California!

     Not too many years ago, the family station wagon was the magic carpet to adventure. Today, that family station wagon is likely to be a four wheel drive sport utility vehicle or pick up truck. SUV's and other 4x4's are one of the best selling classes of vehicles. Ironically, industry statistics show that once purchased, few owners will dare to drive their vehicles off the paved highway. Click your mouse through our website and enjoy our armchair adventures and the histories behind them. If you are interested in taking one of our guided tours with your vehicle, please contact us at:

     Several years ago, we bought our first SUV. We went to a one-night class at a local community college entitled "How to 4-Wheel Drive" by Harry Lewellyn. The following weekend we attended the hands-on day tour. We liked what we were doing so much that we began going out nearly every weekend and learned how to negotiate a variety of dirt roads. Our spare time was spent doing research on the history and ecology of our favorite areas. A one-day outing turned into 16 years of leading others on mini-vacations throughout Southern California and the Owens Valley.

     Our 4WD outings involve driving on easy to moderate dirt roads and are ideally suited to novice and intermediate level drivers. All tours are suitable for stock vehicles in good condition, although some tours do have vehicle size restrictions.

     Our tours are operated under permits issued by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, and other authorities.

     We share our knowledge of the backcountry over the CB radio with our guests. We frequently stop to explore mining areas, old and new, and ponder the rocks, plants and animals we may encounter. We'll occasionally visit an old cabin or deserted mountain lookout.

     California has a fascinating history, from geologic unrest and prehistoric petroglyph scribes to the "Radium Queen of the Mojave" and the "Human Mole of Black Mountain." Load up your 4X, fasten your seatbelts and get ready to explore historic California.

Roger, Cecile and Marty Copyright © 2006, All Rights Reserved.                           Powered by