This feared road is the only one that directly connects The Racetrack to the Saline Valley. Many accounts of the grade will strike fear into the hearts of most backcountry explorers. There is (or was) a well-known warning sign on each end of the steep roadbed, intended on keeping casual explorers out of the rugged terrain.
The Lippencott road requires a high clearance 4wd vehicle with low range, and an experienced backroad driver. Denting a rim or two may be in the scenario. Plan on class 3-5 driving conditions (moderate to tough challenge), depending on the year and weather. It is a nice challenge, but not nearly so frightening as South Park Canyon’s “Chicken Rock” or Goler Canyon during a bad year.
If South Pass and North Pass are closed due to snow, and we need to access the Saline Valley, this is the easiest way down. The other way, Steel Pass, is much longer, more remote, and not advised unless we are in a group. The infamous Lippencott road is not shown on the AAA map, but it is shown on Tom Harrison’s map.
There is a bit of Death Valley history well-hidden within the confines of the constricted canyon, up which the Lippencott road travels. Somewhere around the halfway mark of the steep switchback section, we find a stone marker. Some folks pass it without noticing, most likely because the terrain usually has the driver’s full attention and the marker blends in well with the surroundings.
This is a stone sign with a metal placard attached to the northwest side of it. If we are driving down the Lippencott road, the metal section is on the other side, but we will see it if coming up. It is a sign designating the entry into Death Valley National Monument, which was formed in 1933. This was the boundary of DVNM until 1994, when DVNM became DVNP – the California Desert Protection Act came into law that year and morphed the monument into a park, while also greatly expanding its borders.
The unique sign is a historical remnant worthy of a photograph. If it is morning, good luck in photographing it though, because the dark, weather-worn metal is on the shady side, which leads to an underexposed photo (unless a powerful flash or mirror is used to reflect the sunlight onto the sign’s face).
Why is this called the Lippencott Road? That will be another story … stay tuned.