If you’re looking to make a dramatic entrance into Death Valley, drive Titus Canyon Road. The 27-mile one-way dirt road sweeps through rugged rock formations, hangs over canyon views, skirts past petroglyphs, and even rolls through a ghost town, eventually passing through what is arguably the grand finale: the canyon narrows. The narrows tower overhead, barely letting cars squeeze through before they open wide to reveal the barren Death Valley floor.

A dirt road heads past a steep rock face.

Titus Canyon Road – a one-way, 27-mile road winding past rugged rock formations, sweeping canyon views, petroglyphs, and even a ghost town, all eventually leading to the salty and barren Death Valley floor. Photo © Arnaud B., licensed Creative Commons Attribution.

Titus Canyon Road has some of the most interesting geology in the park, and it’s the most popular backcountry route in Death Valley for a good reason. Aside from taking in the spectacular views that dominate the entire drive, there are some key spots to stop.

Directions

The National Park Service officially recommends a two-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle, but cautions that a 4WD vehicle may be needed in inclement weather.The one-way Titus Canyon Road starts from Highway 374 (Daylight Pass Rd.), six miles south of Beatty, Nevada. Plan to spend three hours driving Titus Canyon Road to its terminus at Scotty’s Castle Road. It’s a slow drive on a one-lane dirt road that can be rutted or rocky, and it hugs the canyon wall at points. The National Park Service officially recommends a two-wheel drive high-clearance vehicle (an urban SUV is usually fine), but cautions that a 4WD vehicle may be needed in inclement weather.

Early morning and the golden evening hour are lovely times to capture the light, but if you choose to drive this road in the evening, give yourself enough time to reach the valley floor before dark. The National Park Service does not recommend this drive in summer; the area is lightly patrolled, and any breakdown can be dangerous due to the heat.

Leadfield

Folks trying to make a living mining in Death Valley were no strangers to schemes and swindles, but the short-lived town of Leadfield was built on one of the biggest loads of hype in Death Valley. In 1926, people swarmed to the area, inspired by wanton advertising that greatly exaggerated the potential of ore in the region. A post office lasted less than a year, and the town quickly shut down.

A one-mile hiking trail passes through the remains of the town, including several large structures, a dugout, and the remains of the old post office. The ruins are disproportionately plentiful compared to the town’s short existence in history.

The ruins of Leadfield lay scattered on the left side of Titus Canyon Road, 15.7 miles from the start of the drive.

Klare Spring

Park sign for the Klare Spring petroglyphs.

The only Native American rock art site readily disclosed in Death Valley is in the popular but rugged Titus Canyon at Klare Spring. Photo © djfrantic, licensed Creative Commons Attribution No-Derivatives.

The petroglyphs at Klare Spring are among the few petroglyph locations that are publicized in the park. Sadly, this means they’ve been defaced; people have unfathomably added their own writing on top of these ancient works. Still, the large panel of ancient drawings chipped into rock is a fine one and worth the stop.

Look for Klare Spring on the right, 18.1 miles from the start of the Titus Canyon Road and less than three miles past Leadfield.


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Death Valley National Park.