Our epic end of the year journey to the Saline Valley Warm Springs this year was no less epic than previous years. I finally admitted that our growing family needed a vehicle with a little more room than the Mazda B2200 we had been taking into the Valley for the last couple of years. If it were just up to me, I would probably have tried to cram everyone in to that tiny cab for a couple more trips, but my wise and reasonable partner, Loretta, kept encouraging me to think differently. So, in typical Gabriel style, I impulse bought a wacky esoteric vehicle that just happened across my field of vision. We picked up a 1987 Mitsubishi Delica L300 Turbo Diesel van that had been imported from Japan. The steering wheel is on the right side. It is shorter than my Honda CRV and seats 8. It has 4WD, no nose, and decent clearance. The roof rack is bomber. For this adventure, I removed the third row of seats to make extra room for all the food, water, toys, camping gear, etc that we lug out to Saline Valley.
It took us several days to gather, organize, and pack everything for our journey. I carefully followed road and weather reports leading up to our departure date. We got the last of our stuff strapped down, the kiddos in the van, and underway on Monday, November 18th. I typically like to come into the Saline Valley through the North, and will take whatever pass is open. We lucked out this year and were able to get to 395 via Tioga Pass in Yosemite. We were one of the last vehicles through before they closed it. We drove into Bishop Monday evening and crashed at some friends’ house. They were gracious enough to have dinner and a comfy bed all ready for us when we arrived. The next morning our kiddos had a much needed play-fest, and got out some of the stir crazies from the long drive. We bid our hosts farewell, picked up some mahogany smoked bacon, a boat load of baked goodies, and headed out of town.
We got to the top of the Saline Valley Road in average time, and began our 3 plus hour journey down the gnarly dirt road to the springs. The first good bit had been freshly graded, and was relatively easy to navigate… and then we got to the part of the road that had been cut apart by flooding earlier in the year. I wish I would have taken pictures, but I was so focussed on making it through, picture taking just didn’t happen. At times it felt like we would roll head over heels, but our little van managed the road like a champ, and we arrived at the springs a little before sunset on Tuesday. We set up a temporary camp and passed out. The next morning we went for our first soak and then unpacked. The weather was balmy and warm. Our worries that it would be too hot were premature and unfounded. The next day the wind started blowing, and rain fell steadily on our little encampment.
We took shelter in the van, in our tent, and warmed up in the springs. When the rain finally let up three days later, there was snow on the mountains all around us, and the passes had become impassable. No one was able to leave or enter the springs for a couple of days. We took this change in weather to get off our back sides and move around a bit. In what might have been an act of sheer determination or stupidity (not quite sure which), Loretta and I embarked on a 6 mile hike with our two wee ones. Ellis and Zelda walked a little bit here and there, but we carried them for much of the way. On the hike we ogled lots of beautiful rocks, told stories, and had a great snack lunch (which Ellis vomited up shortly after).
And then the first vehicles broke through and came in with exciting new stories of their journey (there is a lot of route and weather talk at this place). We greeted old friends as they rolled up, and welcomed the clear skies dry nights. We met a family from Portland, who we immediately bonded with. They came over for breakfast and we ate much bacon and eggs. Loretta and Michael (the dad) talk medical stuff (he is a firefighter), and I chatted with Becca (the mom) about photo stuff. The kiddos played. Later we shared dinner with them. It was a little on the late side for the kids. We went over anyway. When we got back to our tent Ellis had full on melt down… and off in the distance, I could hear Michael and Becca’s daughter screaming and crying. Maybe we pushed it a little late.
We would go to bed early every night (the sun goes down around 4:30pm) and wake up early every morning. I loved rolling over in the morning before the sun was up and asking Ellis (3 1/2 yrs) if he wanted to go for a soak in the warm water of the springs. Every time he would sit straight up in bed and say, “Yeah, let’s go soak.”
On our journey we met great people, had great conversations, ate lots of yummy food, and got some good soaking in. Here are few snap shots from our adventure.