On the Trail: Lippincott Mine Road
If you're looking for a nice, mellow trail where you won't spill the coffee you picked up at the Starbucks a few miles back, Lippincott Mine Road isn't the place for you. Rather, this is where you go to test your off-roading skillset (and your nerves). Located in Nature's Oven, aka Death Valley, the 8.2-mile run goes from Racetrack Valley Road to Saline Valley.
While Lippincott Mine Road runs short on distance, it more than makes up for that with challenges. And did we mention the hundreds of feet of dropoffs? None of that adds up to casual driving. But all of it adds up to some pretty thrilling adventure for the right driver in the right vehicle. In this edition of On the Trail, our own party of adventurers test their mettle against the challenges of Death Valley's Lippincott Mine Road. Skip to the video directly.
Matt Moghaddamm hosted Pit Crew members Geoff Tumang and Jonathan Hume for some serious driving on what may be the most dangerous off-road trail in all of Death Valley. Think about that for a sec. The most dangerous route in a place that has the word "death" in the name. That right there's a clue, kids. On the upside, though, Lippincott Mine Road offers every type of terrain Death Valley has to offer, in a route that's just over eight miles. Preparation is key; temps get as high as the 130F range and there's absolutely no one to help you if you get into trouble.
So not only should your own abilities be on the above average side, your vehicle's should as well. To that end we brought Matt's 2020 Ford Ranger with APG ProRunner conversion kit, King shocks, Baja Conversions lights, and 35-inch Nitto Ridge Grapplers. He's run it on this trail before so he knows its capabilities (and that it's a little wide for some parts of the trail). Jonathan's 2019 Ford Raptor packs RPG Off-Road suspension, Fox shocks, and 37-inch Nitto Trail Grapplers. It's not exactly on the svelte side, either; we'll have to do some spotting along the way. In fact, having a spotter along is almost essential on a trail this challenging. And finally, we have Geoff's stock-width Ford F150 with a lift kit for additional ground clearance, and 18-inch Rays Engineering wheels shod in 35-inch Trail Grapplers. His truck is the mildest hop-up of the trio but its narrower width should make navigating tight spots easier than with the other two vehicles.
We kicked off at the Saline Road entrance, just off the 190 freeway. Airing down the tires was the first order of business before heading out. This really helps before taking on the rocks ahead because this way the tires will be able to conform to the irregular shapes of the awaiting obstacles. This is also the perfect chance to double check everything before moving onto the trail. While the route itself isn't too technical, there are many sections where you really need to pay attention to the trail. Quite often you'll have the trifecta of a steep path going up or down that's flanked by a sheer drop-off on one side and a solid rock wall on the other. After climbing our way to the pass, we faced the hardest part of the whole trip: an extremely narrow zig-zagging thread with a rock wall. Narrower, in fact, than Matt's Ranger. We had no choice but to drop tire a bit into the ditch along the way, but luckily the park service had filled it in partially with some rocks to make that easier for off-roaders. Once Matt advised Johnathan to hug the rock wall as much as possible without damaging his wider Raptor, he went about the business of spotting him through the narrowest part. After that, the team tackled an off-camber section, where steady, consistent power and no sudden, jerky movements were keys to success.
Tap that Pass
This was the uphill route through Lippincott Pass and once the group conquered it, they were ready for a break at the top. Between the increased clearance and his 37-inch Trail Grapplers, Jonathan's wide Raptor had an easier time navigating the rocks than we'd anticipated. As Geoff pointed out, here, like in racing at the track, being aware of your vehicle and its size is extremely important. Furthermore, in both situations picking the right line through a section before you get to it is also vital.
Speaking of Racetracks
As Matt points out, the hardest part was behind us at this point. The next leg was mostly fire run trail through Racetrack Playa. But it's also some of the most scenic viewing in all of Death Valley. The versatility of their Nitto Trail and Ridge Grapplers also comes in handy for exploring the dirt roads that lay ahead.
The Bare Necessities
After lunch, the guys got back on the trail for the run to Teakettle Junction. As Geoff points out, when you're this remote, having the essentials is, well, essential. Among them, a spare tire with a jack, wrenches, hose clamps, drinking water, and sunscreen. Shortly thereafter they reached the Racetrack Playa where Matt revealed how it got its name.
See, the combination of rain, sheet ice, and wind in the winter causes some of the rocks in this very flat, dry area to sail along and leave trails. Usually the rocks like to do this when no one is looking but several years ago a team of scientists caught them in the act and figured it out. A ten to fifteen mph wind pushes the cracked ice along with a rock underneath it and create the trails. This being a hot, dry desert, the ice doesn't stay around too long. When it's gone all that's left is the trail and the rock. It almost looks like the rocks are racing. By the way, the National Park Service really frowns on driving on this pristine surface and screwing it up, so don't do that. Keep your vehicle on the trail.
Teakettle Junction, What's Your Function?
Nice, smooth sailing lead us to Teakettle Junction, a place that serves no real purpose other than being the intersection of Hunter Mountain Road and Racetrack. That is, unless you're a teakettle enthusiast. If so, you're in luck.
For some unknown reason, there's a sign covered in hanging teakettles.
Near journey's end we were at Uhebe Crater, a large bowl measuring over 600 feet deep and half a mile across. It was the perfect example of some of the cool geological formations for which Death Valley is known and what makes exploring it so much fun. Sites like this make all of the hard work that goes into tackling the tough parts of this trip that much more rewarding. If you want to see more paths for you to explore yourself, subscribe to our YouTube channel.