Feb 22

Day 7: Titus Canyon

Category: Death Valley

After leaving Leadfield, the road became surrounded by steeper and steeper mountains until I could tell that we were soon going to be in Titus Canyon proper. Leadfield was far out of sight, hidden by sheets of stone, and the weather continued to provide us with dramatic light.

titus canyon

Throughout Death valley there are a number of places where aboriginal people scribed pictographs into the stone. Nobody is sure what they mean, or even which people were the artists. A sad fact is that people tend to deface such things, so the location of many are kept secret. This is one case however where everyone knows the location: on the Titus Canyon road between Leadfield and Titus Canyon, there is a bus-sized ridge of rock on the north side of the road that has a number of pictographs on its west face. The insets show magnified versions of the glyphs.

pictogaphs death valley titus canyon

The Titus Canyon road is a dirt road, but it’s well maintained and not a challenge of any sort as long as you don’t leave the graded surface. Some of the other roads we used in the park were not even identifiable as roads! But this one was no big deal. Nevertheless, pictures of our vehicle on this road look like some sort of car commercial.

titus canyon road

At this point the river bed (for that’s what we were driving in – a dry river bed) snaked around a few more curves before we found a fossilized beach or ocean bottom. Solidified by millenia and tilted obliquely by crustal changes, the once-ocean-bottom now sticks out of the ground at a steep angle. The ripples are gentle; I could almost picture trilobites crawling over them. I got out of the car and clambered up the hillside. Running my hand over the ripples I found them unyielding and smooth, as if covered with shellac. Where the rock was broken, it was sharp and unforgiving.

titus cayon road ocean bottom fossil ripples

On closer inspection, the ancient fossilized sand seemed to contain the remains of animals or plants. I’ve read that nearby there are stromatolites – remains of the earliest known types of life.

titus canyon road death valley fossils

And finally, we entered Titus Canyon itself. It is a large slot canyon. At times it’s only 20 feet wide, although it’s hundreds of feet high. The river bottom writhes through the rock and every turn brings a new visual wonder. I’ve read that this section gets very crowded, that there are traffic jams and sometimes it can be quite a trial to be here with crowds of vehicles. We were fortunate and saw hardly anyone here. For long stretches we had it all to ourselves. Maybe it was the rain, or the early time of year. At first we went slowly, trying to suck it all in, but eventually I drove faster to enjoy the exhilaration of careening around the sharp corners, hearing the gravel pop under my tires.

At last we came to the mouth of the canyon and were disgorged onto a high plateau overlooking death valley. The setting sun spiked through roiling clouds. A shaft of light penetrated dozens of miles and laid its dusty hand on these two visitors as if performing a benediction. The size of the two people amidst this astonishing landscape provides a sense of scale. Nature takes notice of you; it is like being at sea. You are irrelevant in the face of nature. On the other hand, how lucky are you to see and experience this? The valley does not know or care of its beauty. It is for us, the sentient, to marvel – although appreciation is shared by all who need this environment: the vultures, coyotes, insects, and specialized plants to whom this place is normal, and the people who find refuge in wild open spaces.

titus canyon bottom death valley

Titus Canyon is a real treat, the acme of a fine day. A day that deserves a good meal at the Furnace Creek Inn – but we had larger plans. For me, the canyon was only a start. On our last day in death valley, with the sun only 2 hours away from the horizon, I had my sights set on Ubehebe crater. This crater lies north of Titus canyon, but as long as I had a chance, I needed to get there. Because the day was drawing to a close, I wouldn’t be able to explore it, walk in it, or enjoy it for very long. In a frenzied, absolutist state of unseemly tourism, I’d see it, and could then go home in peace. Much of the trip had been pared off by my illness. I was sick, listless, and too weak to enjoy much of what I came to do. But I had planned on seeing this crater, and by God I would see it – my personal white whale – and take back this vacation from the ugly clutches of the flu. So with grim determination to have fun we ripped into the park road leading north, bent upon wringing every bit of experience from the last shred of daylight.

No comments

No Comments

Leave a comment