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Someone Ruined a 113-Year-Old Landmark in Death Valley Winching Out Their Stuck Car

Park rangers say they veered off the legal roadway and used the historic salt tram tower as an anchor point.

byCaleb Jacobs|
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I feel like I've written this story before. People apparently can't help themselves from driving where they shouldn't in Death Valley National Park. This time, it tore up the terrain as well as a historic landmark that stood previously for 113 years.

The National Park Service put out a release on Monday seeking more information about the destruction of a Saline Valley Salt Tram tower number one. It was seemingly used as an anchor point when someone veered off the legal roadway and got stuck in the mud sometime between April 1 and April 24. While winching the vehicle out, the operators tore the tower and its concrete footings out of the ground.

“I have hiked along sections of this tramway, and am amazed by the tenacity it took to build,” said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “I hope the person responsible for this damage will contact us so we can discuss restitution.” 

The tower was put in place by the Saline Valley Salt Company in 1911. It was part of a 13-mile aerial tram that carried salt from Saline Valley to Owens Valley, climbing more than 7,000 vertical feet with grades up to 40 degrees. It was an impressive feat of engineering, especially more than a century ago, and you can't discount the harsh environment that is Death Valley. Only the first four towers are within the national park's borders as most of them sprawl across areas protected by the Bureau of Land Management. According to the NPS, the tram is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its age, length, steepness, scenic setting, and—until this—its preservation.

Here's the topographical view. NPS

There's no telling what kind of vehicle it was that got stuck off the marked path, though there's a history of bad-acting off-roaders in Death Valley National Park. A few years back, at the start of the COVID pandemic, 4x4s left 130 miles of illegal tracks through dry lakebeds in areas like Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America. The damage in that case was far more extensive than what the NPS is dealing with currently, but that doesn't make the up-ending of this salt tram tower any less important.

Before this incident, the NPS already had a salt tram stabilization project in the plans. It will be accomplished with funds from the Inflation Reduction Act, though the project manager has yet to determine if that money can be used to repair tower number one. Rangers are asking the public to contact the NPS-wide tip line with more information at 888-653-0009 or this link here

Got a tip or question for the author? Contact them directly: caleb@thedrive.com

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