Death Valley Overland Adventure Part 3: Lippincott Mine Road, Steele Pass and Dedeckera Canyon

Where you are, who you’re with, how you got there and where you’re going. Every once in a while you you get complete alignment of uncompromising awesome. Such was life on Lippincott Mine Road in Death Valley National Park one day earlier this spring.

Who we were with

This was an awesome family overlanding trip. In the StormRnr, (the white 4Runner) was me, my wife, and our two boys with our dog Juni navigating from the back deck. In DarkStar was my sister, her husband and their son with their dog Kira as ballast.

Family at Racetrack Playa

Gizzard Stone Overland crew at Racetrack Playa.

As we rolled along we bantered back and forth over FMRS radios, giving pointers on the route, coordinating video shots and making fart jokes. Because 6-year-old-boys…

Where we were

Lippincott Mine road starts at about 3800 feet above sea level at Racetrack Playa, which we visited in part 2 of this series. Lippincott pass is a slight hump above the high valley that gives way to a precipitously steep, loose, rough and scary road down almost 2000 feet to Saline Valley below.

Descending Lippincott Road to Saline Valley

Descending Lippincott Road to Saline Valley

It’s an amazing place that requires you go to an amazing place to get there and we were on out way to another amazing place once we were done. We just spent a week in Tennessee, and while we couldn’t do much overlanding in our rented minivan, and the scenery there is breathtaking, it’s got nothing on our Great Basin desert.

I would say that while Lippincott road is not a 4×4 road per se, you do need a 4×4 to travel there despite what you may read on Reddit for a couple of reasons. 1) 4×4: You could get down in 2x, but 4×4 is safer. 2) There are some rocks and clearance issues that require higher than normal clearance.  A stock 4Runner is perfect. 3) Low Range: I use 4 low a lot. My 4Runner (StormRnr) is a little undergeared with the bigger tires, and brake fade isn’t something I like to worry about. 4) Mini vans and crossovers, like our Honda Pilot, have P rated tires with thin sidewalls. That means they are far more susceptible to catastrophic tire damage than a truck tire. I use BF Goodrich All Terrain KO2 tires which are an LT (light truck) tire and are load range E. That means there is a lot more rubber to prevent punctures and stiffness to prevent cuts and pinches.

Rough section of Lippincott Road

Rough section of Lippincott Road

Where we were going

Saline Valley has a lot to see actually. There are dunes and ruins of an old salt mine with wreckage of the old overhead cable tram they used to use to bucket the salt over the Inyo Mountains to Lone Pine for transportation to market.

Saline Valley Upper Warm Spring Camp

Saline Valley Upper Warm Spring Camp

There’s also Saline Hot Springs, which is a weird place. We stopped in and got a tour that ended with the tour guide luring us up to “the dog pool” (which is a cold pool below a sign that says, “No Dogs”) and then taking his pants off and wading in.

So we piled back in and rolled past dozens of camp sites full of dazed campers up to Upper Warm Spring, which was vacant. This site has space for a few tents, but isn’t an ideal camp site, particularly when the wind whips up and there’s nothing but slab rock to stake your tent to.

The spring here is a tepid pot surrounded by lush vegetation and palm trees, and excluded from the surrounding landscape by 6-foot chainlink fencing. It wasn’t particularly awesome, but the kids had fun splashing around in the water, and being up out of the valley a bit, the view was incredible and the temp a bit cooler.

Steele Pass Road

Steele Pass Road heads up and out Saline Valley following the ephemeral river channel. It litterally runs up the river following one of the braided channels that winds between embankments up and up and up. This road will change with the seasons, but should be easily passable in a stock 4Runner or similar vehicle. Do carry a shovel just in case though…

Steele Pass Road

Ascending Steele Pass Road

As it approaches the top, views back into Saline Valley are stunning before the road enters a narrow canyon, and pops out at Steele Pass. From there the road crosses a broad undulating saddle before it finds Dedeckera Canyon, where the going gets really cool!

Dedeckera Canyon

This is clearly 4Runner country. We saw 2 3rd Gen 4Runners coming down Steele as we were going up and one more entering Dedeckera Canyon as we were finishing. Accept no substitute. The obstacles in Dedeckera are pinch points, stair steps and rocks. Anything too much less able than a stock 4Runner might have trouble with clearance (and traction going up), and anything too much bigger, might not clear the narrow rocks.

Dedeckera Canyon pinch point steps

Dedeckera Canyon pinch point steps

If you’re at all concerned about this, approach it from Eureka as the retreat from that side is easy, and far shorter.

Running Dedeckera was super fun. We’re not rock crawlers, and our trucks aren’t really set up that way, but it was fun getting a small taste of it and having to carefully thread out way through this section. As you can see in the video, we had no trouble with it, and the guy running up it in the 4Runner made it with little effort as well.

Eureka Dune

Dedeckera Canyon spits you out above Eureka Dune. Eureka Dune is the tallest sand dune in North America. It rises 680 feet above the valley floor. While surrounded by a dispersed camping area, the dune is off limits to vehicles and there are no services here at all. Definitely stay for a hike on the dune, though this is only really possible in the spring or fall as the heat here can be intolerable in summer. In years past we visited in fall when it was nice and cool and the sand was wet making is much easier to hike to the top.

RV stuck in sand at Eureka Dune

RV stuck in sand at Eureka Dune

While Eureka Dune is approachable in non-4×4 vehicles, do be aware that the farther down the road you go, the deeper the sand gets. We stopped to help a couple who had bogged their camper in the sand. Using my snatch strap I was able to yank it out and tow it back onto the packed sand of the road.

Death Valley Adventure

That’s That! Hope you enjoyed reading about and watching our Death Valley Adventure! It was an AWESOME trip that had everything from baby goats, to dramatic narrow slot canyons, ghost towns, volcanos, [unsolved] mysteries of nature, incredible wind, 4-wheeling, baby goats and scary shelf road switchbacks.

Family Photo in Dedeckera Canyon

Family photo in Dedeckera Canyon

This was an amazing trip and we’ll definitely be back for more.

-Mike