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Historic Death Valley Landmark Damaged by Off-Roader Who Used it as Recovery Anchor

saline salt tram tower downed in death valley
Death Valley Landmark Toppled by Off-RoaderCourtesy National Park Service

An off-road recovery gone wrong "during a time of desperation" caused damage to a historical salt tram tower located inside of Death Valley National Parks’ Saline Valley in late April.

The incident involving tower #1 occurred on April 19, NPS said in a press release. Investigators believe that an off-roader left a marked trail before ultimately getting stuck in the thick mud near the tower. The nearby tower was then utilized as a recovery anchor, but was toppled during the attempted extrication. The incident took place with so much force that the tower’s foundation was ripped right from the desert landscape. Video footage of the aftermath was initially published on YouTube but was removed as of May 15.

Luckily, the team at Outside has published an edited version of the clip on their website. The edited dash camera footage shows a last-gen Toyota Tundra pickup stuck up to its axles in deep mud not far from the fallen tower. The truck is clearly modified, with a higher clearance front bumper, a winch, and a bed-mounted camper; the sort of hardware you’d expect from someone who knows better than to go off the trail. A woman approaches the camera vehicle for assistance in the cut-down video, asking the passersby for a tow. The camera truck obliged and captured the Tundra crew removing their winch line from the toppled landmark during the process.

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It ultimately took three tow lines to get the Tundra freed from the mud, owing to the fact that the thick stuff can double or triple the force required to pull a vehicle to freedom. No off-road recovery gear was utilized in the clip, which presents a potentially deadly situation.

saline salt tram tower before incident in death valley
Courtesy National Park Service

The tower is one of four that exist inside Death Valley National Park, and is part of the larger Saline Valley Salt Tram. The 13-mile aerial tramway was built in 1911 by the Saline Valley Salt Company and travels 7000 vertical feet at grades up to 40 percent. It currently resides as a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places. NPS was granted money for a salt tram preservation project via the Inflation Reduction Act, but it is unclear whether those funds can be used to reinstall the damaged unit.

Update, May 16, 2024, 10:00 p.m. EST: The off-roader who caused the damage has come forward and is "taking full responsibility for their actions," park officials said.

Officials said that they were told "this was done during a time of desperation while being deeply stuck in mud, and that it wasn’t their intent to cause harm to the historic structure."

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