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Titus Canyon Road: 4-Wheel Drive to Leadfield Ghost Town, Death Valley

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Don’t have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle?  You really should consider renting one — because a visit to Death Valley without a drive through Titus Canyon is missing a whole lot of the fun.  This rough, one-way dirt road into the park provides a day-long adventure, as well as access to a nice little ghost town.

Location

Titus Canyon is located on the northeast side of Death Valley.  If you only have a 2-wheel-drive vehicle, you can access the parking area at the mouth of the canyon via a 2-way dirt road, off of Scotty’s Castle Road, north of Highway 190.  If you have a 4-wheel-drive vehicle, you’re allowed to travel the one-way portion of the road through Titus Canyon.  This part of the road begins in Nevada, west of Beatty, along Nevada Highway 374 (Daylight Pass Road).  The one-way portion of the road is 24 miles — so be prepared to spend several hours on this road, without the option of turning back.

My Visit

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The drive out to Titus Canyon is uneventful at first.  In order to get to the good parts, you must begin the trip across the state line in Nevada, and drive several miles on a flat dirt road.

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The most interesting thing to see along this part of the road is the view to the north.  A storm on the previous day had dusted the top of the mountains with snow.  By the next day, that snow was gone.

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After several monotonous miles, Titus Canyon Road begins its climb into the mountains.  As you gain elevation, you’ll have a great view back toward Beatty.  I took this picture just after crossing over into California (although there are no welcome signs).

The road continues to climb…

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… up to a pass.  There’s a parking area here, and a short trail that leads up a ridge.  From there, you have a great view of the road ahead…

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… and behind.

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Don’t be afraid of mud puddles.  This is one spot where it’s good to know you’re in a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle.  There will be many more such places up ahead.

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The road dips down into a valley…

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… before climbing once again, towards Red Pass.  On the way up…

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… you’ll have a nice view.

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Unfortunately, this was rush hour on Titus Canyon Road.  Several Jeeps were lining up behind me.  I didn’t want to let them pass, then get stuck behind them, so I took pictures quickly and stayed ahead.

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The views get better and better…

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… as you approach Red Pass.  The name makes perfect sense when you see it.

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The road is cut through some bright red rock.  On the opposite side of the pass, an entirely new view opens up…

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… and you can see the road ahead, after it drops down into yet another valley.

Also, notice that road surface.  It’s pretty rocky and rough — this is not a place where you’d want to be driving a low-clearance sedan!

Leadfield Ghost Town

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After a little more than 90 minutes of driving, I arrived at Leadfield.  This old ghost town boomed with about 300 people in 1926 and went bust in 1927.

Leadfield is the reason Titus Canyon Road exists. The road was built by Charles Julian, as part of his plan to sell stock in the town’s gold mine. And he sold plenty of that stock – but the mine couldn’t live up to Julian’s claims. Investors lost their money, and Julian fled to China, where he committed suicide.

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There are several buildings still standing in Leadfield, and you’re free to walk around and explore them.

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They all look quite beautiful, set against the backdrop of the Grapevine mountains.

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Step inside, and you’ll find old windows providing a picture frame for beautiful mountain views.

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The skeletons of the old buildings are covered with metal roofs and walls, which have rusted through (or been shot out), allowing pinpoints of light to stream through.

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It’s obvious that there were other buildings here, as well.  Piles of lumber and metal roofing material are scattered around the site.

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If you hike up the short trail to one building that’s slightly above all the rest, you’ll find an entrance to the old mine.

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This building also has some old equipment inside.

I spent quite a while exploring Leadfield, but eventually it was time to get going.  And I knew that the best parts of Titus Canyon Road were still ahead.

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Beyond Leadfield, the canyon narrows, and the rock walls tower above the road.

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It’s a beautiful and dramatic area of Death Valley…

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… where every curve reveals a new scene.

 

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In this area, I spotted the first desert wildflowers of my trip.  I was visiting during the Superbloom of 2016, and wildflowers were plentiful in several locations around the park.

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This stretch of Titus Canyon was no exception.

 

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And just when I thought the canyon couldn’t get narrower, it did.  Obviously, this is why Titus Canyon Road is one-way.  You couldn’t face two-way traffic in a slot like this.

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There are, however, a few places where you can pull off the road and explore.  You’ll also start to run into hikers who have walked into Titus Canyon from the trailhead at the mouth of the canyon.

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After a few more tight squeezes like this one, the canyon abruptly ends, and you’re in the wide-open space of Death Valley.  The parking area at the mouth of the canyon allows you to hike back into Titus Canyon, if you so desire, or hike over to Fall Canyon, just to the north.

If you don’t think your vehicle is up to the challenge of Titus Canyon Road, you can rent a Jeep at Furnace Creek.  As of 2016, Jeep rentals start at around $200 a day, with pick-up in the morning and drop-off that same night (it’s not a 24-hour rental).  You can also schedule a tour of Titus Canyon — the four-hour tour costs $145 per person (but to me, four hours sounds like you’re rushing it).

The Bottom Line

It’s unfortunate that everyone can’t experience Titus Canyon.  This 4-wheel-drive adventure is a lot of fun, and you get to explore some beautiful parts of the park that are otherwise unreachable.  I’d suggest you strongly consider renting a Jeep and enjoying this drive, even though it isn’t cheap.

Drivelapse Video

Here’s a look at the time-lapse video of the drive through Titus Canyon the right way…

… and a reverse rear-view showing a wrong-way drive through the canyon:

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