Steel Pass, Afghanistan, and the Marble Bath

One of the least traveled places in Death Valley National Park is between Steel Pass and Dedeckera Canyon. On a bigger scale, it is between Saline Valley and Eureka Dunes.  It is not an easy road, going up from Saline Valley includes long stretches of steep gravel streambed that require good, offroad, tires, four wheel drive, low gearing, and patience; going up from the Eureka Dunes side requires driving up a very narrow rock streambed and requires a spotter pointing out to the driver where to put the wheels. Both roads are doable, just not done very often.

Neither way is the hardest road in the National Park and I think that the reason more people don’t take the road is because it just takes too much time to get to the starting point.  Both the Saline Valley and the Eureka Dunes areas are at the ends of long , rough, roads. Both also are great end destinations in themselves being more intrinsically interesting than the road section between them. Most people don’t take the road because it just isn’t worth it.

I think that is the same problem with Afghanistan. It is about the most remote place in the world. To get there one has to either go through Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, or Tajikistan. It doesn’t have an outlet to the sea, and once there, there is not much there. It doesn’t have oil, it doesn’t have lots of arable land, it doesn’t even have any lost cities of gold. It is not that it isn’t conquerable, but that it just isn’t worth the resources that it would take to conquer it. If we wanted to throw in the same resources we used to conquer Germany, I am sure we could, but Why would any country want to put forth that kind of effort?

Meanwhile, back at Steel Pass, there is a spot on the map called Marble Bath.  The old USGS 7.5 minute map – but, apparently, not the new maps – showed “Marble Bath” almost at Steel Pass on the side of the road. I had once tried to find the Marble Bath on the ground and couldn’t. As it turned out, so did Wendell Moyer, a research chemist, inventor, mountaineer, desert rat, and all around good guy who had looked for the Bath several times to no avail. Wendell thought it would be a public service to install a marble bath where it was shown on the map to relieve any future Marble Bath seekers the disappointment at not finding it.

At that time, a bill was moving through Congress that would annex the Saline and Eureka areas into Death Valley National Monument and then turn it all into a National Park. A National Park usually gives an area an higher level of protection. A lot of us thought that a higher level of protection might not be a good thing. We were afraid that the area was going to become too civilized.

Then, and now, the Saline Valley was known for its several nude hot springs and the fear was that the hot tubs would be closed or – at a minimum – become clothing mandatory; the side roads off the road between Steel Pass and  Dedeckera Canyon would be closed – they were closed, preemptively by the BLM– or even the Steel Pass road itself would be closed or, maybe, paved; the private holdings in Saline would be bought up; etc, etc. Most of that didn’t happen.

In that atmosphere, Wendell Moyer thought up what I like to call the Marble Bath Gambol. He got a clawfoot tub, more than several boxes of marbles, and rounded up a couple of friends to install a real tub where the missing tub was shown on the map. Michele and I were included with Michele being the only woman. Among other duties, we were the official photographers and took numerous pictures of the installation including a couple of Michele taking a bath. Unfortunately, the pictures were film and are in storage. I hope.

Later, I heard that the tub had been removed by the Park Service. That turned out to be totally wrong! Not only is the tub still there, but it has gathered somewhat of a reputation as a required stop for the few travelers that pass by. People even added rubber duckies which, presumably, they brought with them for that purpose.

And now, even more amazingly, after the tub’s marbles had been depleted by souvenir takes, there has been a successful campaign to restore it to its former glory.

If he were still with us, I think that Wendell would have been very pleased with the way the Marble Bath Gambol played out. Sadly, Wendell Moyer died just after climbing 22,000 foot Ojas del Salado in Chile in 1995. I believe it is the way he would have wanted to go.

One thought on “Steel Pass, Afghanistan, and the Marble Bath

  1. Marble Bath is actually just a small pool(usually dry) on the Eastern side of the Eureka- Saline Valley road.I have been to the location several times and it has always been dry. The Koso Indians of the Saline Valley occasionally used the water source when transversing to Big Sand Springs, located not too far North of present day Scotty’s Castle.

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