California’s Abandoned Saline Valley Aerial Tramway

(Image: LCGS Russ. The Saline Valley aerial tramway aka salt tram)

Amid the searing heat of Death Valley National Park in the rain shadow of the mighty Sierra Nevada, the arid expanse of California’s Saline Valley makes for an awesome sight as it reaches across the northern Mojave Desert.

In 1911 an aerial tramway was built here to ferry salt across 14 miles of barren wilderness, from the Saline Valley over the Inyo Mountains to a terminus in the Owens Valley, northeast of Keeler. The stark ruins of the abandoned electric mineral tram can still be seen today.

(Image: Frank E. Moore)

The Saline Valley aerial tramway operated for just 23 years, first running in 1913 and closing down permanently in 1936, during the Great Depression, due to its high operating costs. Almost four decades later the dormant system had earned its place on the National Register of Historic Places as the steepest ropeway ever built in the USA.

From its starting point at 1,100 feet, on the floor of the Saline Valley, the electric aerial tramway rose to an elevation of 8,500 feet as it traversed the Inyo Mountains, before dropping to 3,600 feet at its terminus near Keeler, a small community of California’s Inyo County.

(Image: G. Thomas)

But sadly its historic appeal and desolate location haven’t kept the vandals at bay. In recent years especially the disused electric aerial tramway has seen extensive damage. But in spite of this, its rugged timber uprights offer a haunting glimpse into the history of one of America’s most barren and inhospitable regions.

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