Monday, April 22, 2013

Desert Destination: Titus Canyon, Death Valley National Park

Happy Earth Day! Here's a post where you get to see plenty of earth: Titus Canyon, one of the most popular backcountry drives in Death Valley National Park. I had visited the canyon about 16 years ago and wanted to see it again.

After a lovely night in Beatty and a quick stop in Rhyolite, we headed down the pavement towards Death Valley National Park. We took the road marked as the Titus Canyon turnoff, prepared for a 27-mile adventure. The road is one-way except for the last three miles.

The beginning was a typical gravel road with creosote bushes and other desert plants on both sides. It didn't take long to get to some spectacular scenery. I stopped and took photos several times, trying to capture the variety of colors in the mountains.

At one of the stops, we could see the road leading up to Red Pass, with the red road cut giving an indication of the origin of the name. We would be on that road soon, and I was very glad we were driving the truck and not the van. The road is designated as high clearance, and I would agree with that. 

The road was in good condition and seemed plenty wide enough. Granted, I've driven some scary 4x4 roads, so it takes a lot to intimidate me. I did put the truck into 4x4 so it wouldn't bounce so much on the uphill.  I thought we'd see a lot more flowers, but we saw relatively few.

Here's looking back from near the top of red pass at the road we had just traveled. Wow, what great mountains! I would like to hike more of that terrain someday.

I've biked much of this Titus Canyon road before, which was wonderful. If you want an even more in-depth view, you could enter the Titus Canyon Marathon. It used to be held in February but due to a number of years when storms washed out the road and they had to reroute the marathon, they've changed it to December of this year, limited to 300 participants. Hmmm...

Descending from Red Pass, we soon entered Titus Canyon proper. I had fun guessing where exactly the road would go.

Before long we reached Leadville, a small ghost town. (Like the dirt bikes? Several people used them to go down the road, and they sure could travel a lot faster than the vehicles!)

Desert Girl did a little happy dance on an old foundation. I wondered how they had gotten all that cement to such a remote location.

A few buildings persisted, and we had fun peeking in them.

We could walk through one old shed.

Oh yes, this is a good adventure!

What a view out the window!

I don't think I would be cut out to be a miner in such a remote location.

We went over to a mine adit and walked up to the bat gate.

Inside was a culvert, and beyond that old timbers supporting the mine shaft. The miners had clearly spent a considerable amount of time and effort to make such a large shaft. It went beyond where my camera flash reached.

We continued on, with fantastic rock strata dipping in the same direction we were traveling.

As we continued to descend, the surroundings became much more canyon-y, and the rock layers continued to impress. Most of these are Cambrian age limestones.

As we rounded one corner, we saw some bricks. We couldn't tell what they were doing there, so we got out and walked over.

When we got closer, we still didn't know why the bricks were there.

A bit further on we saw some petroglyphs. A spring is nearby. We didn't stop, as the kids weren't terribly interested and we wanted to pass one vehicle that had stopped there. We saw about ten other vehicles on the road that day, and all the other drivers were quite polite and pleasant.

The canyon continued, wider than I had remembered. I couldn't wait to get to the good part--the narrow section!

Finally we were there. See how the rock has changed and now consists of huge breccia cemented into the bottom of the wall? I didn't notice while I was driving--I was more concerned about hikers in the canyon. To my surprise, we didn't see any--all the hikers in the rather full parking lot had gone over to nearby Fall Canyon.

It took us over two hours to get to this narrow section of the canyon, and Desert Girl had fallen asleep and Desert Boy was ready for lunch. So we didn't spend quite as much time appreciating it as I had planned. Oh well, it was still enjoyable.

The canyon ends rather abruptly, with a parking lot just outside it and then a washboardy road leading down to the highway. When we looked back from the highway, we couldn't even pick out which canyon we had come down--there are just so many canyons in Death Valley!

I'd definitely recommend this trip to anyone who likes the backcountry and a little driving adventure. Plenty of hike options lead off from the road, including Titanothere Canyon (before Red Pass), peaks from the top of Red Pass, upper Titus Canyon, and anything else that strikes your fancy. When the kids are older I hope we can return and spend a whole day in the canyon, checking it out more thoroughly.

Question of the day: What is your favorite canyon?

p.s. It's the last day to enter the Zinio Magazine Giveaway!


John Mosley said...

Arrow Canyon near Moapa has to be close to the top of the list.

Silver Fox said...

My favorite *is* Titus Canyon!

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