Hiking up Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley


My ultimate goal for this trip to Death Valley was to drive up to The Racetrack in the northern part of the park.  But, as I drove into Stovepipe Wells, I found another attraction to distract me for a short while.  Mosaic Canyon is in a hillside above Stovepipe Wells.  A washboarded two-mile dirt road took me close to the mouth of the canyon; my feet had to do the rest.

From the parking area, there isn’t really an established trail.  You can choose to walk anywhere you want, as you make your way through the canyon’s alluvial fan.  Mosaic Canyon was carved by water from flash floods, as it rushed down from the mountains.  When the water emerged from the canyon, it deposited all of its sediment here.

The canyon is wide in places, and very tight in others.  Over many years, water cut through the marble rock, creating the canyon.

Those marble walls feature an ever-changing swirl of patterns.  I saw one person carrying a bottle of water, and spraying the rock.  When the marble is wet, its colors and texture come to life, and make for great photographs.

The park calls Mosaic Canyon an “outdoor museum”, because of the jumble of geology.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell which way is up, which is down, and if anything is actually “level”, as you pass through the slanted layers of marble.

This is as far as I went — about a 15 minute hike from the trailhead.  The canyon continues for at least another mile, until the path is blocked by a dry waterfall. If you’re visiting in late spring, summer, or early fall, you’ll probably be wishing for some shade, but you won’t find it.  Remember to bring a bottle of water if you’re hiking here, or anywhere in Death Valley.

Depending on the time of year, you might find a beautiful sign of life in Death Valley.  In spring, wildflowers add some color to the valley.  There were some flowers blooming during this visit (in 2009), but not nearly as many as during my previous visit in 2005.  That year saw an extraordinary wildflower bloom, thanks to an unusually wet winter.  Seeds that had waited many years in the desert dirt came to life that year.

My 45-minute detour up to Mosaic Canyon took up some precious time that I really should have spent heading up to my next destination, The Racetrack.

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