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Mining History: Desert Fever

Inyo County: Non-Metallic Minerals

Saline Valley Salt

The presence of mineable salt in the Saline Valley was noticed as early as 1902, but due to its inaccessibility, it was not until 1911 that anyone successfully and seriously developed the deposit. A 16 square mile deposit 30 feet thick, consisting of a salt (sodium chloride) 98.71 percent pure, was an attractive gem on the desert floor. In August, 1911, the Trenton Iron Works received a contract from William Smith's Saline Valley Salt Company to construct a 13 mile aerial wire-rope electric tramway. It was completed in 1913. Two hundred and sixty-eight buckets, each carrying 12 cubic feet of salt, would travel 7,600 feet from the valley floor to the top of the Inyo Mountains, and then another 5,100 feet down to Tramway, Where a 70 ton mill and employee dwellings were located.

The Owens Valley Salt Company operated the mine from 1915 to 1919 as a lessee. In 1920, G. W. Russell revived operations for a year, and after four years of inactivity, Russell formed a new company. The Sierra Salt Corporation repaired the tramway, which had fallen into disrepair after previous companies hauled the salt out by truck. In 1929 the tramway was reopened, but in the I930s, Russell ceased operations. All three companies seemed to be plagued with difficulties in making the tramway pay for itself. Although the salt was exceptionally pure, it did not demand a high enough price to offset the tremendous investment poured into the Construction and upkeep of the remarkable tramway.

Saline Valley

Salt Tram

Salt Works

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