Hot Springs, Falling Water, and Service in Saline Valley, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14311A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Discover the delights of rustic hot springs at a Mojave Desert oasis
  • Eradicate invasive tamarisk from riparian canyons
  • See ancient petroglyphs, hike slot canyons, and marvel at the starry nights


  • Six nights camping at Saline Valley Hot Springs, inside Death Valley National Park
  • Hearty, vegetarian-friendly meals and snacks prepared by an expert cook
  • Guided introductions to local history, flora, and fauna


DatesOct 19–25, 2014
StaffBill Glenn

Trip Overview

The Trip

Saline Valley is well off the beaten track, nestled in the Mojave Desert on the northwest corner of Death Valley National Park. The campground features a number of natural and semi-improved mineral springs ranging in temperature from the high 90s to 107 F. Camping at the springs makes it convenient to bathe daily in the waters, shaded by palms planted long ago. In the worksite area just west of the national park boundary in the foothills of the Inyo Mountains, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, riparian streams wind through secluded canyons that feature waterfalls and fern grottoes year-round. At night, after a friendly campfire, watch the Milky Way and the constellations in their march across the stygian night sky.


The Project

Early settlers planted tamarisk bushes for shade and marsh reclamation. Unfortunately, tamarisk (also known as salt cedar) has become one of the worst plant pests in the West, spreading voraciously, gobbling up precious water, and polluting the soil with salt.  We will spend our four work days cutting and removing this attractive yet invasive  plant from the canyon streams and alluvial fans, and, for a change of pace, perhaps working to restore areas disrupted by unauthorized vehicles. 


We’ll meet at a campground near Big Pine, California, on U.S. 395 to the northwest of Saline Valley at 10 a.m. on the first day of the trip.  We’ll caravan together over the North Pass with expert guides, stopping along the way for brief informative insights into the area, as well as a group picnic lunch. Arriving at our base camp near the hot springs, we’ll set up camp and have our welcome dinner. Interspersed with the sightseeing we’ll experience during our work days, we’ll have one full day free for exploring the surrounding area, hiking, relaxing, and perhaps viewing petroglyphs or the remains of the 19th-century salt industry in the area. Our group commissary will be a shared responsibility with participants taking turns as part of the kitchen crew.



Getting There

The Death Valley National Park Back Roads map describes Saline Valley as “One of the most remote locations in California.” Big Pine, our meeting place, is about 4.5 hours’ drive from Los Angeles or Reno, and about 5 from Las Vegas. On every route, however, are myriad scenic byways and campsites for those who can take an extra day or two. Our plan to caravan with our local guides will enrich the trip experience and assist us in negotiating the rugged, challenging, unpaved roads descending along the eastern edge of the Inyo Mountains and into the springs. The road requires sturdy, high-clearance, 4-wheel-drive vehicles, and the leader will help facilitate ride-sharing for participants so we’ll all be safe and comfortable.

Accommodations and Food

We’ll be tenting in the Palm Springs campground of Death Valley National Park. There is potable water at the campsite; we will use purification tablets to supplement from the mountain streams as we work. Showers are available and are required before bathing in the springs.

Vegetarian-friendly meals — with meat “versions” as appropriate to the group — will be prepared by the cook and daily camper-helpers: high-protein, nutritious and imaginative meals and snacks suited to the work project and campers’ needs and preferences.  Within our budget, we strive to select food options that are organic and produce the minimum amount of waste. All breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are included in the trip price, beginning with our picnic lunch on the first day, October 19, and ending with breakfast on the final day, October 25.  Please plan on bringing a few hard-sided, reusable containers (mess kit, Tupperware, water bottles, etc.) for packing lunch to take with you to the work site each day.

If you have food allergies or strong preferences, please contact the leader and cook prior to applying to be sure we can accommodate your needs in this remote environment.

Trip Difficulty

The work, under supervision of BLM staff, can be moderate to strenuous, depending on the terrain and plant conditions; no one will be required to work beyond his or her comfort level and we encourage all participants to take regular water and rest breaks to catch their breath and enjoy the surrounding scenery! The tenacious tamarisk doesn’t want to be removed, and requires us to bend, pull, and cut it with loppers and other tools. (Herbicides will be used on stumps by trained, protected workers.)  There is a good deal of satisfaction in seeing the natural setting revealed after the tamarisk is removed. For the fit and adventurous, some of the work sites require hiking and scrambling over primitive trails.  We’ll have experienced BLM workers and volunteers leading us and working beside us.

Equipment and Clothing

Sturdy boots for work and hiking and heavy leather gloves are a must; long-sleeved shirts and long, sturdy pants will protect from thorns and sharp twigs. Bring a hat to shade from the sun, a bandana or two, and a warm cap and jacket for the crisp mornings and evenings. You’ll need a three-season tent with fly to help keep out the dust if there is a windstorm; a camp mattress or pad and sleeping bag comfortable down to the high 30s; personal towels, toiletries, and a good sunscreen and insect repellent. The daily temperature range is usually in the high 80s in the afternoons, dropping into the low 40s at night, sometimes with a wind-chill factor. A full equipment list will be sent to registrants.

Cameras, binoculars, and a small telescope for star-gazing (if someone has one) will be welcome additions!

Work tools and instruction in their safe use will be provided by BLM staff.



  • Foster, Lynne, Adventuring in the California Desert. Sierra Club Books.
  • Digonnet, Michel, Hiking Western Death Valley National Park: Panamint, Saline, and Eureka Valleys.
  • Bossard, Carla C., John M. Randall, Marc C. Hoshovsky, Invasive Plants of California's Wildlands. Available free online at


The Sierra Club is focused on conservation and sustainability of resources, both locally and globally. Our work is accomplished by volunteers and aided by a salaried staff, and encourages grassroots involvement. Our outings seek to empower participants toward greater understanding, advocacy, and participation in the goals of the Club.

In addition to learning more about tamarisk and other invasive species, we will be working in an area of delicate and fragile natural beauty — secluded canyons in the Inyo Mountains with year-round flowing water, fern grottoes, and the creatures who make their lives in this fragile environment. Our expert supervisors will initiate us into the secrets of this desert wilderness and the people who have lived there in the past: Native Americans who left their history in petroglyphs, and settlers who created a salt industry, transporting their product across the mountains to Los Angeles. We’ll have opportunities throughout our week together to discuss different aspects of resource conservation and learn more about the challenges in protecting desert environments.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Death Valley National Park.



Bill Glenn has led Sierra Club service outings in California, Idaho and six other states since 1992, and keeps coming back for the incredible surroundings, terrific people, and satisfaction of doing good, physical work in support of our public lands. He lives with his wife and daughter in San Francisco, where he works in environmental communications and enjoys dabbling in movies, wine and history.


Originally from the Philadelphia area, Adam Kapp moved to Berkeley, California, in 2006 to work at the Sierra Club's national headquarters in San Francisco. His hobbies include cooking (naturally), bartending, and curling. He enjoys service trips as a way to take the advice of Sierra Club founder John Muir and "break clear away, once in a while."

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