Entering Cerro Gordo directly from the north, San Lucas Canyon Road is accessed from Inyo County's White Mountain Talc Road. The White Mountain Talc Road forms the west-southwestern boundary of Death Valley National Park. Although probably the most genteel road into camp, this road is the long way around and accurate maps may be difficult to find (editorial opinion from the staff at the Cerro Gordo Bugle of Freedom). The main route, from the Death Valley highway, near the Darwin cutoff (which bears to the south), is via the Saline Valley (south pass) road. Turn north from Highway 190 and bear to the northwest, to intersect the White Mountain Talc Road.
…and while we're on the subject:
Cerro Gordo sits in a high mountain pass at roughly 8,300 feet. The weather can change quite rapidly during seasonal shifts. On the other hand, it can change quite rapidly between seasonal shifts. Get it? Carrying multiple layers of clothing can be a blessing, for temperature adjustment. Hats or caps work well to block solar radiation as well as the wind. Wear comfortable tennis or hiking shoes. Carry water. You may appreciate sun-block and chapstick. Don't forget your camera.
The" Journey of a Thousand Miles" begins somewhere else. We're more like…burning the candle at both ends…bon voyage.
The Swansea Grade Road
(aka the Mexican Spring Rd.,Salt Tram Rd. or Inyo Crest Trail)
While only suitable for four-wheel-drive vehicles, motorcycles, mountain bikes or horses and mules, the Swansea Grade is, undoubtedly the most scenic access road, to and from Cerro Gordo. The 360 degree views are stunning. Originally adopted as an Inyo County road by the Board of Supervisors in 1873, this route has segmented ownership, by Inyo County, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Cerro Gordo Mines and is maintained only by "those who it benefits." Any maintenance or repair is generally performed by energetic four-wheel-drive clubs and very occasionally by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. It provides the only access to visit the Saline Valley Salt Tram Summit Station. The trip from Highway 136, from Swansea to Cerro Gordo, should take four or more hours. This road is closed, due to snow, much of the winter and early spring.
The Yellow Grade Road
Of the three roads into camp, the most commonly used access to Cerro Gordo is via the infamous Yellow Grade (aka Cerro Gordo) Road. Originally constructed as a toll-road in 1868, by bullion king Mortimer Belshaw, the road began earning a "romantic" reputation from its onset. Legend has it that the earliest teamsters would consume their whiskey at the bottom, near Swansea and later Keeler, before urging their teams up the grade. The roads steepness and weather extremes fostered creativity back then. Today, the Yellow Grade is within the maintained mileage system of Inyo County. Experienced county road crews groom away defects on an as-needed basis. While traveling in any of the canyons of the high desert, all visitors should pay close attention to weather events that may create dangerous flash-flood conditions.
The climb from Highway 136, at Keeler, to Cerro Gordo is roughly 5000 feet. The distance is 7.5 miles. The road surface is of native sand, gravel and bedrock. While the use of a four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended, nearly any two-wheel-drive car or truck with moderately adequate ground clearance, good brakes and a sound drive train, should suffice. Travelers should plan to take between 25 to 30 minutes, after leaving the highway, to arrive. Carrying a good spare tire is imperative and a can of "stop-leak" or other tire emergency aid won't hurt. Knowing how to change a flat tire is also a good practice. As with many desert destinations in and around the Death Valley region, care should be taken to not overheat the vehicle's cooling system and for those of you with automatic transmissions, you might find an extra can of transmission fluid handy.