Death Valley National Park’s most popular back-country road travels along 27 miles of high mountain peaks and a deep narrow gorge cut into the steep face of the Grapevine Mountains.
Titus Canyon has always been high on my list of places to visit in Death Valley National Park. The 27 mile one way dirt road begins in Nevada along Highway 374, 2.75-miles east of the Park boundary sign.
The Park Service recommends a high-clearance 4WD vehicle, however if there hasn’t been a recent storm a 2WD with decent clearance should be fine but you should always do your own research or ask a ranger. Since it’s a one way road, once you start, there’s no turning back, so make sure you’re prepared before beginning this road trip.
From Highway 374 the road heads west across the Amargosa Valley and climbs into the Grapevine Mountains.
At White Pass it enters upper Titanothere Canyon. Colorful rock deposits along this section contain fossil beds 30-35 million years old.
The fossil skull of a huge, rhino-like titanothere was found here in 1933.
As the road reaches the foothills, it starts to climb and meander among the sagebrush and red rock outcroppings.
The highest point on the road is this divide between Titanothere and Titus Canyons.
Red Pass sits at an elevation of 5250ft.
As you leave Red Pass, the decent into Titus Canyon begins. As the road makes its way down, you’ll begin to notice several mines along the walls of the canyon.
Soon you’ll come across the ghost town of Leadfield, which has a rather interesting story to tell. A small parking area is available for those who want to check out what’s left of this short lived boom town.
The ghost town of Leadfield can easily be explored by following the well marked trails that are set within the hillside.
Ore was being exploited in Titus Canyon as early as 1905, but the townsite of Leadfield at the head of the canyon dates to the years 1925 and 1926.
The product of extensive and fraudulent advertising by the Western Lead Mine Company and C.C. Julian, the town boomed in 1925.
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 the townsite.
Fifteen miles of road were built up the canyon to connect with the road to Beatty, Nevada, 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 died.
C.C. Julian disappeared and the inhabitants soon became disillusioned and quickly drifted away. 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.
There’s an abandoned mine higher up on the hill…
…but like most mines found in National Parks, the Park Service has plugged it:(
It’s still an interesting place to see and it’s also a good place to stop for lunch before entering the amazing narrows of Titus Canyon.
Just below Leadfield, the road enters the main fork of Titus Canyon where you can find petroglyphs pecked into rock by the Native Americans that used to hunt these canyons for bighorn sheep.
Limestone cliffs rise high above the broad wash; their folded layers reveal the work of great mountain building forces.
The final 1.5 miles of the canyon is the most narrow and definitely the most beautiful section of the drive.
This section is very popular with hikers that are entering from the lower mouth of the canyon, so drive carefully when winding your way through this portion of your drive.
The walls squeeze down to less than 20 feet apart in some places.
After the narrows, the road dumps you out onto an alluvial fan that flows down into Death Valley and eventually connects to Scotty’s Castle Road. Driving through Titus Canyon should definitely be on your DVNP to do list. It can easily be done within 2-3 hours and if you don’t have the proper vehicle you can always park at the mouth of the canyon and hike through the narrows. It’s well worth the time.