Mosaic Canyon sits at the edge of the hills a short distance from our Death Valley base at Stovepipe Wells. Just up the highway a gravel road climbs the alluvial fan to the parking lot at the base of the gorge. From the parking lot it is a short walk to the mouth of Mosaic canyon.
Mosaic Canyon is named for its peculiar sedimentary rock. Here the sandstone has incorporated small rocks. With the passage of time and the gorge’s periodic flash floods, the sandstone aggregate has been polished smooth exposing a matrix of congealed rock and sand. Up close Mosaic Canyon’s rocks appear similar to a trencadis-style mosaic, hence the name for the ravine. Hiking up this slot gully is a popular park excursion.
As you enter the canyon the rock walls narrow and rise. Layered with the namesake mosaic rock is solid white marble polished smooth by the elements. The slippery marble flows along the base of the gorge. Though it feels like Mosaic Canyon has been dry forever, you can sense the force of the floodwaters in its rock’s hydrodynamic convolutions. At each bend and at each turn the gorge’s sculpted shapes surprise. A hike in the cool shade of Mosaic Canyon left us wondering whether all of Death Valley’s ubiquitous alluvial fans have similar canyons at the top.
Later in the day, we explored another canyon at the top of an alluvial fan. This time we visited the canyon from the comfort of the truck’s seats as a dirt road runs the length of Titus Canyon, our next excursion. The drive through Titus Canyon is the most popular backcountry road route in Death Valley National Park.
From Stovepipe Wells, Titus Canyon is reached by crossing Daylight Pass into Nevada. Short of Beatty, off of Highway 374, a left turn onto the one-way Titus Canyon Drive starts the tour. It’s a long and rough dirt road ride through the desert to the top of the canyon. On the way you pass the remnants of Leadfield, a lead mine ghost town. A little further on a sign marks the beginning of Titus Canyon proper.
Within Titus Canyon the profile of the gorge varies as you move down the road. Some sections of the canyon are broad and V-shaped. In other sections, the meandering gravel canyon base is narrow, a little more than a car width wide, and the sidewalls are steep and high. Approaching the exit onto the alluvial fan, the slot becomes consistently narrow and steep sided. Open air is high above. There’s no doubt why this route is designated as one-way. It seems improbable that you can actually drive a vehicle through the complete length of this canyon.
There’s one thing, though. Maybe it was because I was driving, but I was left wishing that we were walking the canyon. Titus Canyon is so steeply walled and deep it needs to be felt. It needs to be experienced unfettered. You need to feel the cool shelter of the chasm. On foot, the experience must be more dramatic. And indeed you can drive up the alluvial fan to the base of the canyon and hike in. For sure the impact of the lower canyon would be better on foot. The problem is you’d miss the interesting stuff that’s well above the base of the canyon. It’s always a compromise, isn’t it?