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The Story of the Toll Road to
Stovepipe Wells Village

Herman (Bob) Eichbaum sold everything, left West Virginia, and traveled to Death Valley. After building a power plant at Rhyolite, trying his hand at prospecting, and then starting a tourist business on Santa Catalina Island he felt the draw of Death Valley. In 1925, he went back to the Valley with the intention of building a grandiose resort at Hell’s Gate, near the Death Valley Buttes overlooking the valley at Stovepipe Wells. There were no roads for this type of endeavor – neither to build the resort nor to bring tourists from California once it was built.

All of the roads in Death Valley and most of Amargosa Valley were simply maintained by its local users, since non-locals made use of them only rarely. They were simple, unpaved affairs, winding between water holes, and marked with little signs. Seeing an opportunity, Eichbaum started building a toll road that would both allow him to build his hotel as well as gain quick control of the money of every tourist entering Death Valley from the California side.

After hurdling obstacles put up by Inyo County and the Borax Company, he began to build. The road was called both, “One of the most remarkable feats of engineering of the present day” and, “The road to nowhere.” With a crew of only six shovel men and a caterpillar tractor, it was most likely a lack of power that prevented Eichbaum from removing obstacles such as gigantic boulders debris and rocky outcroppings. Instead he simply designed the road to go around these obstacles.

When he was still at least twelve miles short of Hell’s Gate and the originally planned hotel location, Eichbaum gave up on road building and began on the hotel just west of the dunes. Constructing the road had been much more costly and time consuming than original estimates indicated. Consequently, he drastically
scaled back the plans for his resort. The magnificent hotel featuring Babylonian gardens, was now reduced to a handful of bungalows. Stovepipe Wells Hotel opened on November 1, 1926. Originally called Bungalette and then Bungalow City, Eichbaum later appropriated the “Stovepipe Wells” from a spring 5 miles away.

Eichbaum’s toll road, though unfinished and rough, led directly from a toll house to the hotel. The prices visitor’s paid were: $2.00 per car, SOC per person $1.00 a head for animals, and trucks and wagons from $4.50 to $6.50 a ton. The slogan for Death Valley Toll Road: “One of the most unusual and grotesquely
beautiful scenic wonders of the world.”