Titus Canyon Road - Death Valley National Park

{Click on any image to view full size, then use the back button on your browser to return to this page}
This page last updated on 12/09/2018
(Fig. 01)
Directions: Directly from Las Vegas, drive north on Highway 95 to Beatty, 117 miles. At the stoplight in Beatty, turn left onto Highway 374. Drive west 6.2 miles to Titus Canyon Road (Fig. 01), on the right; watch for highway signs. Turn here; this is the roadhead.

Titus Canyon Road Elevation Profile
Road Overview Titus Canyon Road is a one-way, dirt road normally suitable for 2WD-HC vehicles. The road starts outside the National Park on Daylight Pass Road near Beatty, Nevada. Running west into the park, the road climbs over two high points in the Grapevine Mountains (including Red Pass at 5,240 ft elevation), drops past the ghost town of Leadfield, and finally descends through the narrow and sinuous canyon for which the road is famous. Finally, the road descends onto the alluvial fan to Scotty's Castle Road.

Trip SummaryNormally hiking is my favorite part of every road trip, however, driving Titus Canyon Road turned out to be one of my favorite experiences. I can see why this is the most popular back-country road in Death Valley National Park. The 27 mile, often washboard adventure was much more than a drive! It has astounding mountains, steep twisting roads with hairpin turns, gorgeous colorful rock formations, bighorn sheep, lush plant life and cacti, a ghost town, abandoned mines, a dry waterfall, ancient petroglyphs, and breathtaking canyon narrows. It takes an average of three hours to drive Titus Canyon Road from its start near Beatty, Nevada to it’s finish in Death Valley. But, according to Bob's GPS, it took us 4 hours and 44 minutes including a picnic lunch. We stopped frequently to enjoy the dramatic and stunning desert landscapes, scout for bighorn sheep, hike and climb on nearby rocks, visit several abandoned mines and explore the ghost town of Leadfield and petroglyphs. The road was so bumpy, uneven, and rocky that we also drove really, really slow, especially on the steep switchbacks along sheer cliffs!  Once we got into the mountains, the road is lined with vibrant, colorful rock deposits in reds, pinks, golds, yellows, greens, and purples. In places it reminded me of Artist’s Palette. As the road winds through sagebrush and rock outcroppings, it begins to climb several switchbacks up the curving mountainside covered in red dirt and red rocks to Red Pass. In many places, the road is bumpy, uneven, and very narrow, with tight hairpin turns on steep grades with sheer cliffs that drop hundreds of feet. The steep dirt road to Red Pass that was barely wider than my jeep. On a couple of occasions the jeep jerked sideways as I navigated the potholes, rocks, and uneven road. This 27 mile road provides sightseers with spectacular scenery, views of the old mining ghost town of Leadfield, a petroglyph panel, and it provides hiker access to Titanothere Canyon, Thimble Peak, and Leadfield, and myriad other unnamed mines and destinations.

12/07/2018 Trip Notes: Today Bob Croke, Jim Herring and I drove to Beatty to get to Titus Canyon Road. From its trailhead, about 1.9 miles out, the road narrows as it crosses a cattle guard. the sign announces entry into Death Valley National Park (Fig. 02). The signs that should announce that this is a one-way road were missing. At about 6.2 miles out, the road turns to the south and starts up into a broad canyon (Fig. 03). From about here to the end of the road, the road runs in a 100-ft wide corridor of non-wilderness with designated Wilderness on both sides of the road. Because it was a little overcast, the further and higher we drove, the clouds were touching the tops of the mountains (Fig. 04). At one spot we got out and hiked to the top of a small ridge for a better view of the mountain in the distance (Fig. 05). At about 12.4 miles out, as the road runs up onto Red Pass (Figs.  07 thru 08). Parking is limited, but there is space for 3-4 vehicles on the south side and parking for another on the north side. Views in both directions are grand, but the view north is worth pulling out the folding chairs. From the small parking area there is a short hike up to a spot that provided and even better view of the surrounding area (Figs. 09 thru 11). As you can see, this area provides some of the most colorful views on the whole trip. We spent a lot of time here, along with others, soaking in and taking pictures of the beautiful views. This is also the trailhead for Thimble Peak, which lies some 3 miles to the south-southwest along the ridge. (Notes con't below)

(Fig. 02)
(Fig. 03)
(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 05)
(Fig. 06)
(Fig. 07)
(Fig. 08)
(Fig. 09)
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 11)
Trip Notes Continued: As you begin to descend from Red Pass the slopes become more gentle and eventually the road descends towards rusty metal buildings and mine tailings of the ghost town of Leadfield. You can see some of the buildings in the distance in the picture in (Fig. 12). Along the way down to the town, we past several mine sites, several of which we got out and explored (Figs. 13 thru 17). At one point we hiked up a long wash to try and reach one of the mines only to be thwarted by a high polished rocky spillover that we were unable to climb (Fig. 18). Bob climbed up a little to see what was on the other side (Fig. 19). At about 15.6 miles out we finally reached the ghost town of Leadfield. (Notes con't below)

(Fig. 12)
(Fig. 13)
(Fig. 14)
(Fig. 15)
(Fig. 16)
(Fig. 17)
(Fig. 18)
(Fig. 19)
Trip Notes Continued:  This old town boomed and died in 1926 (Fig. 20). Its old mines, buildings, and other materials serves as silent testament to the efforts of some 300 people that once lived here (Fig. 21 - click to enlarge).
Side Note: History of LeadfieldLeadfield was an unincorporated community, and historic mining town in Inyo County, California. It is now a ghost town located in Titus Canyon in the Grapevine Mountains, east of Death Valley in Death Valley National Park. Leadfield lies at an elevation of 4,058 feet. It is on the National Register of Historic PlacesGold was discovered in Leadfield around 1904. The townsite of Leadfield at the head of the canyon dates to the years 1925 and 1926. It was the product of extensive and fraudulent advertising by the Western Lead Mine Company and C.C. Julian, and the town boomed in 1925. His advertising posters showed steamboats navigating the Amargosa River to Leadfield, ignoring the fact that the Amargosa River is dry much of the time and does not run within 20 miles of Leadfield. The town's big boom was in 1926-27. Fifteen miles of road were built up the canyon to connect with the road to Beatty, Nevada. Titus canyon road was built at a cost of $60,000 at the time.Charles Julian sold stock in the mine and was very successful at it. It seemed, though, that he jumped the gun and had not obtained a permit for selling the stock. Despite having sold 300,000 shares, and the town having 93 blocks, by 1927 it was all gone. After the auto road was built to the town, businesses sprang up from nothing in months. A concrete foundation for a stamp mill was poured, and the beginning of a series of power poles for electric lines were installed. Historic photographs show some frame and corrugated metal buildings and there is evidence of a few dugouts, but the majority of the denizens of Leadfield lived in tents of varying sizes and construction. The population peaked at around 300 in 1926, with a post office opening in August of that year. However, by February 1927, the post office closed down and the town quickly died. After the gold ran out, Julian disappeared and the inhabitants soon became disillusioned and quickly drifted away. Julian fled eventually to Shanghai where he died at the age of 40. The significance of the site lies in the fact it was an example of one of the get-rich-quick schemes of the wild 1920s. His greatest legacy seems to be the Titus Canyon road.
We spent considerable time exploring its remaining buildings (Figs. 22 thru 25) and some of its mines (Figs. 26 thru 29). Some remains were almost totally destroyed and unrecognizable. Upon closer inspection Bob notice the "cutouts" on one of the planks (Center of the picture) identifying it as a two-hole outhouse (Fig. 30). We decided that this was a good spot to enjoy a "bag" lunch and sat on some concrete foundations to eat lunch. As it turns out these foundations were for a stamp mill.
Side Note: Stamp Mill: A stamp mill (or stamp battery or stamping mill) is a type of mill machine that crushes material by pounding rather than grinding, either for further processing or for extraction of metallic ores. Californian stamps were based on Cornish stamps and were used in the Californian gold mines. In these stamps the cam is arranged to lift the stamp from the side, so that it causes the stamp to rotate. This evens the wear on the shoe at the foot of the stamp. They were more rapid in action and a single head could crush 1.5 tons of ore per operation.

While we were sitting and eating, a bird flew in and sipped some water out of a small puddle of water. He stayed for the whole time we ate and allowed us to get within inches to take picture without flying away. Each of us took one of the three pictures in (Figs. 31 thru 33). It is a Cedar Waxwing (Bombycillidae cedrorum). You decide who captured the best shot.
Side Note: Cedar Waxwing (Bombycillidae cedrorum): The Cedar Waxwing is a medium-sized, sleek bird with a large head, short neck, and short, wide bill. Waxwings have a crest that often lies flat and droops over the back of the head. The wings are broad and pointed, like a starling’s. The tail is fairly short and square-tipped. Size: Their Length is 5.5-6.7 in; their Wingspan is 8.7-11.8 in. Color Pattern: They are pale brown on the head and chest fading to soft gray on the wings. The belly is pale yellow, and the tail is gray with a bright yellow tip. The face has a narrow black mask neatly outlined in white. The red waxy tips to the wing feathers are not always easy to see. They sit in fruiting trees swallowing berries whole, or pluck them in mid-air with a brief fluttering hover. They also course over water for insects, flying like tubby, slightly clumsy swallows.
Continuing past Leadfield, the northern-most mine can be seen with another tin building high on the hillside to to the left at about 16.3. Then the road curves hard to the left and enters the first of the narrows deeply cut into layered limestone cliffs. This is actually the last of Leadfield Canyon. The canyon feels narrow for about one more mile, but gradually it begins to feel like a deep desert canyon. As you wind through the canyon there are some very interesting geologic formations (Fig. 34). Around 18.2 miles out, the road arrives at a sign announcing petroglyphs on a large boulder beside the road and only about 100 feet before Klare Spring. The petroglyph boulder, and an adjacent boulder, have been badly marked by vandals, but the original rock art remains. The boulders are dark, probably dolomite rock, and pecking on the rock leaves a light-colored scar. Native peoples left odd shapes, humanoid forms, and glyphs thought to represent rain and the sun. There are also symbols of some little bighorn sheep. (Fig. 35). Only a few steps further down the canyon, Klare Spring wets the hillside as it follows the road. Unfortunately, the dense thicket of Arrowweed, sedges, some cattails, and even a few rushes cover almost all of the free water. Near the end of the thickets it actually trickles down the side of the road (Fig. 36). So we're sure bighorn sheep, coyotes, and birds come in here for water, we didn't spot any. (Notes con't below)

(Fig. 20)
(Fig. 21)
(Fig. 22)

(Fig. 23)
(Fig. 24)
(Fig. 25)
(Fig. 26)

(Fig. 27)
(Fig. 28)
(Fig. 29)
(Fig. 30)

(Fig. 31) Ken
(Fig. 32) Bob
(Fig. 33) Jim
(Fig. 34) Nice shot Bob
(Fig. 35)
(Fig. 36)
Trip Notes Continued: Beyond Klare Spring, the canyon runs wide for a bit more than a mile. Wide is nice for a change because the scenery is grand with layered and colorful mountains and cliffs all around. The road eventually climbs onto a bench above the wash, then drops back into the wash. From about 19.6 miles out, the road enters into the lower narrows. At around 21.8 miles the lower narrows are almost entirely narrow, and they continue to get narrower and narrowed farther down the canyon. There is a brief opening at about 21.8 miles out, but after that (22.3 miles out), the narrowest and deepest of the narrows begin. For the next 1.8 miles, the canyon runs deep and narrow. At the narrowest, the canyon walls are barely 15 feet apart - not really enough room for a road! (Figs. 37 thru 39). At about mile 23.4, the road passes a section of canyon with a black-and-white mosaic (modern art) plastered on the walls (Fig. 40). This is the result of an ancient earthquake deep within the earth that fractured the rock into shards of black stones. Eventually, water percolating through the rock dissolved some of the limestone, then deposited it around the shards in the form of white calcite. Exposed and polished smooth in recent times, we now see a cross-section slice along the fault zone (Figs. 41 thru 43). The geology here is just amazing. Beyond the mosaic walls, the road winds through the narrowest of the canyon (Fig. 44), but eventually the roads makes a final curve and suddenly the canyon ends and the bright and sunny world of Death Valley opens up again (Fig. 45).  Once you get to the paved road that leads to Scotty's Canyon, turn left and drive to Highway 374, Daylight Pass Road, and turn left again and head to Beatty.

(Fig. 37)

(Fig. 38)
(Fig. 39)
(Fig. 40)

(Fig. 41)
(Fig. 42)
(Fig. 43)
(Fig. 44)
(Fig. 45)
(Fig. 46)
NOTE: Due to the fact that I left my camera home, I took 90% of the pictures on this page with my Galaxy 8 camera. Some of the pictures shown here are from Jim Herring and Bob Croke. I thank you guys for providing me with some of your pictures.

Note: Every attempt is made to provide accurate information, but occasionally depictions are inaccurate by error of mapping, navigation or cataloging. The information on this site is provided without any warranty, express or implied, and is for informational and historical purposes only.