Death Valley National Park visitor admits to toppling historic salt tram tower

A Death Valley National Park visitor has stepped forward and taken responsibility for knocking over a 113-year-old salt tram tower last month, claiming it happened during a time of desperation and that there was no intent to harm the historic structure, park officials announced.

“We are grateful to the dozens of people who reached out to the park with information and for all the statements of support that we received from people who care about this place and its cultural resources,” said acting Supt. Elizabeth Ibañez in a written statement. “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.”

The confession comes three days after park officials sought help from the public about the damaged tower that was part of the Saline Valley Salt Tram, a 13-mile aerial tramway built in 1911. The officials said someone toppled it between April 1 and April 24 when they attached a winch to the tower to pull their vehicle out of the mud after driving off the main road.

"The individual responsible for pulling over the salt tram called the tip line provided in an earlier press release, stating that 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," the statement read.

Park officials did not identify the person but an 11-minute dash cam video reported by Outside Magazine may have shown those responsible for knocking the tower down.

An edited version of the video was posted on the magazine's website. That version of the video, which is about two minutes long, starts with a man pulling up next to a woman wearing a pink bikini top, jean shorts and a trucker hat. The woman tells the driver that she needs a winch.

“We went a little too far into the mud, and there’s nothing to press the winch onto,” she’s heard saying.

The video then shows a white truck with a camper deep in mud, and at the edge of the screen is the tram tower, which appears to already be lying on its side. The video also shows the woman next to a man in a flannel shirt and jean shorts after an attempt to pull the vehicle out failed. Eventually, a second line is needed to pull the truck out, but the video ends before it can show the results of that attempt.

It’s unclear whether the couple or any of the people seen in the video caused the tower to topple, but the magazine included a photo of the man in the flannel shirt removing a winch from the downed tower.

A spokesperson did not respond to questions from The Times about whether the person taking responsibility was in that video.

National Park Service said a resource management team will assess the damage to the salt tram tower and make restoration plans. It also asked the public to remain patient and not attempt to restore the tower themselves.

The incident, officials said, was a reminder of why it's important to carry a satellite-based communication device when traveling in areas where cellphone service is limited.

"As Death Valley’s famous summer temperatures continue to increase, park rangers encourage people to stay on paved roads during this time of year, as help is more readily available."

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.