Books That We Recommend:
See the Ibex Hills Area chapter for directions to the area, then follow the directions below.
From the south (Baker): From Salt Creek Hills, continue on S.R. 127 for 0.9 miles and look for the wide dirt road and the historical marker on the left. This is the well-graded Harry Wade Road; turn left. See * below for further directions.
From the north (Shoshone): From Ibex Springs Road, continue on S.R. 127 for 9.9 miles and look for the wide dirt road and the historical marker on the right. This is the well-graded Harry Wade Road; turn right. See * below for further directions.
From the north (Badwater Road): This route requires a high clearance vehicle and, depending on road conditions, may require 4WD. From the junction of Badwater Road and S.R. 178 (near Ashford Mill), go south on Harry Wade Road for 25.7 miles. Look for the sign to Saratoga Springs and turn left onto Saratoga Springs Road. See ** below for further directions.
*Once on Harry Wade Road, go west 5.9 miles. Be aware that many maps label this section of Harry Wade Road, from S.R. 127 to the turn off to Saratoga Springs Road, as Saratoga Springs Road so don't let that confuse you. You are on the right road. Watch for the sign to Saratoga Springs and turn right onto Saratoga Springs Road. See ** below for further directions.
**Once on Saratoga Springs Road, it is 2.7 miles to the junction with the road that goes to the springs. This section of Saratoga Springs Road is where the Amargosa River crosses the road in several places and where you may need a high clearance vehicle. Although these river crossings normally have just a small amount of water running in them, during wet years or right after a rainstorm, they could be difficult or even impossible to get through for any class of vehicle - even one with high clearance. Use common sense when deciding if you should continue or not.
The first set of river crossings is about 0.75 miles from the junction with Harry Wade Road. At 2.2 miles, there is another wet area to watch for. Once you get past these potential obstacles and have traveled the 2.7 miles on Saratoga Springs Road, turn left onto the dirt road that leads you another 1.2 miles to the parking area.
From Ibex Springs: You can get to Saratoga Springs via a dirt road that connects to the road to Ibex Springs but you will need high clearance and 4WD. We have not yet traveled this 6.4 mile section of road but understand that parts of it are in deep, soft sand that are best traveled going downhill, from north to south.
About Saratoga Springs
This unique desert wetland supports a rich community of plants and animals including some that are rare. The Saratoga Springs Pupfish (Cyprinodon Nevadensis nevadensis) is found here and nowhere else in the world! In addition, there are five rare invertebrate species here; the Amargosa tryonia snail, Amargosa spring snail, the Saratoga Springs belostoma bug and the Death Valley June beetle. These wetlands are also a regular stop for migrating birds and is a great place for bird watching.
For biologists, the pupfish are the main attraction here. Like their cousins at Ash Meadows and Salt Creek (north of Furnace Creek), these fish are descendants of what was once a more generalized pupfish population that swam in the lakes that once filled Death Valley some 10 to 20 thousand years ago.
As the climate changed and the lakes dried up, the pupfish became isolated into small ponds and have evolved into separate species. They have all had to adapt to the extreme temperature changes that they are subjected to because of being in such shallow ponds. The water gets extremely hot in the summer and near freezing in the winter. Pupfish feed on small larvae and other small organisms and have developed long intestines allowing them to also feed on different types of bacteria found in the water.
The Native Americans in the area, as well as the first "foreign" travelers, knew Saratoga Springs as a source of year-round water in the otherwise dry desert. In the 1880's, the famous twenty-mule teams would stop here to rest on their way from the Amargosa Borax Works. They were probably the people who built the two stone houses to the east of the springs that are now just ruins. In 1902, the California Sate Mining Bureau issued a report that there were rich nitrate deposits in this area and started a "rush". Soon, hundreds of people had flooded into the Ibex Hills but they had wasted their time. One week later, the Geologic Survey reported that mining such a cheap commodity in such a remote area was futile.
Talc was discovered in the mid 1930's and mining began in 1940 at the Superior Mine just north of Saratoga Springs. This was the most successful talc mine in southern Death Valley, producing 141,000 tons of talc from 1940 to 1959. For a short time, one resourceful man even started a water bottling business and a small tourist resort at Saratoga Springs. Both enterprises, however, failed due the the gasoline rationing of WWII.
To learn more about the history of this area, we suggest reading both the Hiking Death Valley and Death Valley and the Amargosa books [references].
There is much to see here whether you're a photographer, wildlife enthusiast, bird watcher or mine explorer so plan on spending some time to wander around. Look into the water for the unique Saratoga Springs pupfish or some frogs, watch the reeds for birds and look at the ground for the tracks of coyotes, rabbits and other animals. Try to be still for a while and see what critters come out.
After cresting the small hill, there are trails leading both left and right. The trail to the left (west) takes you down a rocky hill and to a path that will take you through some of the thick brush to the edge of the pond. This is where we saw the many, one-inch long pupfish.
Heading to the right (east) will take you around the ponds or to the old talc mines. To walk around the ponds, a distance of about 1.0 miles, look for the trail in that direction. The trail around the ponds can be faint in some places because of changes in water level so you may have to do a little navigating on your own for short distances. You may also run across some slippery, muddy patches but we found that there are plenty of higher-ground embankments to walk along, if necessary.
To hike the 1.6 miles to the first of the mines, look for the old mining road that hugs the mountains and follow it. We have not yet explored the mines here but understand that the Saratoga Mine is really three groups of mines. The middle group is said to have the best ruins. For details to these mines, we recommend reading Hiking Death Valley [references].
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Last updated November 06, 2011.
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