Death Valley and Saline Valley Hot Springs: The Chicken Strip
In a previous post on remote fly-in hot springs I mentioned that I would never visit this spot because of the 1,400 foot runway, very short for my Cessna 210. However, two pilots (Jeff and Craig) contacted me and said that because the airstrip slopes up, it really shouldn’t be a problem landing there. I did some research and decided I really could land there. So I waited until I had a business trip to the Los Angeles area, then flew back home via the east side of the Sierra Nevada mountains – to Saline Valley for the night.
I waited until evening so the winds would be light, and arrived right around 7 pm about half an hour before dark. I did a low pass to make sure the strip was clear and to check the winds. I was nervous and a bit scared as I came back around to land. The landing started out fine. I came in at the speed I wanted and touched down near the beginning of the strip. But I wasn’t expecting the washboard and ruts on the strip! It really bounced and rocked the plane, more so than other dirt strips I’ve landed at. I didn’t like that.
The place itself is amazing. Truly an oasis in the desert, including wild burros, palm trees and grass. I walked the 10 minutes to the hot springs, enjoyed a nice soak with some friendly folks until after dark, then headed back to the plane for dinner. Unfortunately I didn’t realize there are dozens of wild burro trails and soon I was lost. I decided to crisscross the desert, hoping to run into my plane or the runway. I couldn’t help thinking of what the people I met back at the oasis must be saying as they watched my flashlight zig zagging across the desert, “Look at Mr. Pilot Man, lost in the desert trying to find the runway”. When I did finally did find it about an hour later, I turned on the strobes, tail beacon and nav lights for a minute, just to let them know I made it and that Mr. Pilot Man can indeed use his acute navigational skills to find a nine foot tall airplane in a flat desert.
The take off in the morning was exciting. Cool morning + good lift + downhill + low altitude = awesome power and a quick lift off. Although I did ding my propeller pretty good in the soft gravel (it gets sucked up into the prop) while turning around to line up with the runway.