My Bad: Death Valley Visitor Turns Himself in After Toppling Historic Salt Tram Tower

My Bad: Death Valley Visitor Turns Himself in After Toppling Historic Salt Tram Tower

The toppled tram tower in Death Valley on April 27, 2024. (National Park Service)

Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

5/22/2024

Updated: 5/23/2024

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A park visitor who apparently knocked down a 113-year-old historic tower in a remote corner of Death Valley National Park has turned himself in, park officials announced May 16.
The person responsible for toppling the salt tram tower April 19 told officials it was an accident.
The National Park Service, which oversees the California desert park, said the driver was deeply stuck in the mud and didn’t intend to cause harm to the historic structure. The tower was pulled over while the person used a winch to free their vehicle, officials said.
The driver called a tip line provided by the National Park Service after it issued its first press release announcing the damage.
“Although we would certainly prefer that this damage hadn’t happened, we are glad that the person who did this ultimately took responsibility for their actions and came forward,” said acting Superintendent Elizabeth Ibañez in a statement May 16.
The Saline Valley Salt Company built the 13-mile aerial tram to transport salt from Saline Valley to Owens Valley in 1911. The tramway climbed over 7,000 vertical feet at steep grades of up to 40 degrees, according to the park service.
Saline Valley Salt Tram is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is considered nationally significant because of its age, length, steepness, preservation, and scenic setting.
Only the first four towers are within Death Valley National Park. Most of the tramway crosses lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the park service reported May 13.
The toppled tower, called tram tower No. 1, was closest to the Saline Valley lakebed.
Park officials found tracks near the damaged tower, revealing that a vehicle drove a short distance off the legal roadway and got stuck in mud. Park rangers said they believe the driver used the tower as an anchor to pull their vehicle out of the mud, toppling it off its concrete footings.
The National Park Service already had a salt tram stabilization project planned before the damage occurred.
Park management is working on a full assessment of the damage and making plans for a possible restoration, according to officials.
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Jill McLaughlin

Jill McLaughlin

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Jill McLaughlin is an award-winning journalist covering politics, environment, and statewide issues. She has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Oregon, Nevada, and New Mexico. Jill was born in Yosemite National Park and enjoys the majestic outdoors, traveling, golfing, and hiking.

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