Historic Landmark in Death Valley National Park Toppled by Careless Overlander

United States National Parks Service

Earlier this week, the National Park Service (NPS) announced that a historic salt tram tower in the Saline Valley, part of Death Valley National Park, had been damaged. The suspected culprit? An overlander using a winch to extract their vehicle out of deep mud.

The 113-year-old tower was reportedly pulled over sometime between April 1 and April 24. The tower was part of a 13-mile aerial tram system constructed by the Saline Valley Salt Company in 1911 to transport salt from the Saline Valley to the Owens Valley in-period. This remarkable feat of engineering climbs over 7000 vertical feet, sometimes at grades of up to 40 percent.

Saline Valley Salt Tram Tower vertical original undamaged
NPS/Jeremy Stoltzfus

Because of its age, length, steepness, preservation, and scenic setting, the tram system is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The first four towers of the tram are within the boundaries of Death Valley National Park, while the remainder of the tram’s towers sit on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Tower #1, the fallen structure, is in Death Valley National Park.

Saline Valley Death Valley California Salt Tram Tower
Getty Images/Matt Kazmierski

Per the NPS report, “nearby tracks show that a vehicle drove a short distance off the legal roadway and got stuck in the mud. Park rangers believe that someone used the nearby tower as an anchor to pull their vehicle out of the mud. The tower toppled over, pulling its concrete footings out of the ground.”

Saline Valley Salt Tram tower stanchion
Flickr/Joseph Jones

The incident marks another strike against the growing population of folks who want to use their vehicles to explore vast and untamed places. In other parts of the country, such as Moab, Utah, the damage done by vehicular exploration has sparked lawsuits and trail closures that have frustrated many overlanders who feel they’re being unfairly punished for the behavior of a few bad apples.

Though the focus of the tension between vehicular explorers and those who worry about ecological conservation has focused primarily on habitat risk, the destruction of a national landmark ratchets things up a bit—and not in favor of the overlanding crowd.

Saline Valley Salt Tram hilltop stanchion
Flickr/Joseph Jones

A salt tram stabilization project was already in the works before this unfortunate event. However, the project manager has not yet determined if that funding can cover the re-anchoring of tower #1.

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

Wiki Commons/Jeffrey Moore

Park rangers are asking anyone with information on the incident to call the NPS-wide tipline at 888-653-0009 or to go to the online tip website and pass along your information there.

This should be obvious, but it apparently bears repeating: So we can all continue to enjoy the outdoors with our vehicles, stay on the marked trails, people.


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    “I hope the person responsible for this damage will contact us so we can discuss restitution.”

    Good luck with that. Anyone dumb enough to pull that stunt is highly unlikely to come forward. Probably not the first thing they wrecked and more than likely not the last.

    They should see if they can find some instagram or tik tok vids. The person responsible will likely not come forward but a lot of people broadcast their stupidity for the world to see. They may have self-incriminated on the internet in their vanity.

    The truly clueless and horrifically classless ruin it for the rest of us.
    Be prepared, stay on trail, and Leave No Trace.

    The law should be set up so that if you come forward, you pay restitution. If you are caught or turned in, you pay triple damages. Let one part be a reward for turning someone in and NPS/BLM/whoever get the other two parts. With a little motivation, these problems often sort themselves out. 🙂

    It’s a shame when it’s getting to the point where any historical landmark must have a fence around it.

    UTV proliferation has torn up many mountain roads.

    They get angry with drivers going slow up technical sections because most of the UTVs can’t effectively crawl, so they use throttle.

    I’m not big into banning things, but UTVs are on the list.

    Disgusting vandalism! Gees, I love old mine and rail-road constructions that survive! Proud to be of a sepcies that could build great mine towers, flumes, trestles, etc. from wood with a bit of iron fastening! We’re losing them everyday to rot and weather, but a guy with a winch… so pull it back in place, man!
    N CA has a lot, too; I recall a whole silver/lead mine at Ingot, CA — mostly gone now, but I took some Ektachromes of the complex when it was under snow. Dangerous to explore, even the above ground part, but fascinating!

    Something this big would pull out a Jeep if it’s connected low. This person was just stupid. UTVs are stain on the off-road community but it’s also an indication of the lack of respect and consideration in most everything anymore. IMHO, you can put the blame squarely on social media.

    While thankfully bringing attention to a problem – The half full is that it is only one example of many constructed items and not especially unique in and of itself. The downside is we do much more damage to the ecosystem in different ways without realizing it, or simply choosing to look away.

    I have been – off and on – an off-road enthusiast for 50+ years. (we didn’t have fancy names like “overlanders” back then)… One of the first things I learned from that community of folks is that one nincompoop can and will ruin it for hundreds of careful and rule-abiding drivers. In my day, we often went for days on end without seeing another rig – but these days, there is nearly always someone else around, wherever one goes. I encourage anyone who is out in these situations to commit to memory (nowadays even easier to commit to your smartphone’s digital memory) all of the other vehicles you see on any given day in any given area. Details of make, color, number of passengers, etc. can be noted. That way, when something like this is discovered, the folks who passed each other on the trail can present a report to the investigating authorities what/who they saw. I’m sounding a bit like I’m advocating Big Brotherism, but the alternatives seem to be to have areas closed for access to EVERYONE due to the actions of the very few.

    Maybe an off-roading club or association can repair the damage, ferret out the guilty party, and extract reimbursement from them. Not that I’m gonna hold my breath, but the clown(s) may spill the beans somewhere.

    Can’t ten guys, a few 4X4’s a rented excavator and a couple cases of beer quietly and without fanfare make this thing right? It might be a fun little junket but someone needs to organize this thing before mid summer!

    Don’t forget to re- pour the concrete footings “Dbag” the “overlander” destroyed.

    Ten guys that know what they’re doing can re-pour those in a couple of days.

    Former concrete forms builder, Local 225, Atlanta, Ga.

    Hey Nate – I found the article interesting and was disappointed that someone would do this having spent time in the natural beauty of Death Valley. However I take exception to your last paragraph. Your comment directed at us Hagerty readers (who else would see it) was offensive and insulting. I doubt a Hagerty reader did this damage.

    Do you ever read the comments? There are just as big idiots among the Hagerty readers as there are in the rest of the population.

    Too late! When I visited Stonehenge in 1992 the paved observation path was roped off about thirty feet from the stones. I witnessed an uncouth (American) man climb over the rope and run to have his picture taken pushing on one of the stones.

    How about if all these outraged overlanders start policing themselves and report the person(s) responsible. I am sure they know who it is.

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