Current Temperature: 45 degrees F Cloudy with thunderstorms. Lo tonight: 39F
(we drove through snow today)
After our amazing morning at the higher elevations on the road to Wildrose, the heat at sea level was breathtaking. Literally. There is a swimming pool at Stovepipe Wells, but it was too hot to walk across the street to get into it. Besides it was very full with all those lodge guests who also needed to be somewhere cool during the middle of the afternoon.
When Mo and I traveled to Death Valley in 2004 we rented a car in Las Vegas and stayed in Beatty, Nevada. The upper end of Titus Canyon road isn’t far from Beatty and the old ghost town of Rhyolite, and we gave it a try. Of course we weren’t supposed to have that little sedan on dirt roads, but we took our chances. It was gorgeous and fun, and we decided that it might be worth a repeat trip. I figured that the canyon would be shaded this late in the day.
In early April of 2004, the valley was hot down at Badwater, but quite cool elsewhere. The photos show us in shorts, long sleeves and warm vests. No vests on this trip, no way no how. Just a month later makes a big difference, but then again I don’t think much is predictable about visiting Death Valley, and missing out on the biggest crowds seems to be a nice benefit to coming a bit later and braving the heat. According to the literature, don’t come on a holiday or in January and February if you want to find a parking spot at any of the popular sites.
It is about 28 miles from Stovepipe Wells to Beatty, and the turnoff for the canyon road is just 3 miles west of that little town. We remember something about ice cream at Beatty, but we were on a mission and ice cream wasn’t on this particular agenda. The road starts at the bottom of a very long, very rough, alluvial fan, graded dirt and gravel with a LOT of rocks. Nothing daunting, just a big pain in the patootie. It seems to go on forever, and right into the western sun. I was reconsidering my timing for this trip by the time we finally reached something that was at all interesting.
The park brochure also says to allow at least three hours for this trip, and when we set out we couldn’t imagine it would take that long. We left at 4 and it was after 7 when we dropped out of the canyon onto the paved highway. The time in between, however, was timeless. Once we maneuvered the narrow winding curves and drop-offs, and descended into the main part of the canyon, the afternoon light did all that I imagined it would.
We saw a very few flowers growing from the canyon walls, and bits of vegetation here and there, but the heat was still pretty strong even in the shady canyon. We stopped to let Abby walk and Mo moved ahead with the car so I could have a bit of alone walking time in the depths of this lovely place. Abby was pretty concerned, though, and kept running ahead and sniffing the ground to try to figure out what I had done with Mo. It wasn’t a long walk, but I treasured it. There really aren’t many places to hike in Death Valley where there aren’t a lot of people around. Once again, we had the entire canyon trip to ourselves without one single car marring the magic.
The wildly contorted geology of Death Valley is no more evident anywhere than it is in the depths of Titus Canyon. Metamorphic rock is folded and bent, lifted and curved in ways not often seen. Huge boulders brought down canyon are erratic, and cemented conglomerates filled with shiny smooth rounded stones are piled up under dolomite cliffs. This canyon is definitely worth a repeat trip, even though at the beginning we were wondering about our decision to try it again.
The return highway dropped into the valley below and we passed the Mesquite Dunes just after sunset, missing the “magic hour” of light that would have made photos memorable. It was definitely too hot to think about wandering around in the dunes, especially when photos would have looked dull and flat. Instead we decided to rise at dawn, as suggested in the park brochure, and walk the dunes when the air was reasonably cool and the morning light would be fun to photograph.
Home to the full blast air conditioner, gravel parking lot sites all filled up again with rental RV’s and a swimming pool too darn crowded to even attempt a swim. After a very full day, we were perfectly happy to close up the shades and read ourselves to sleep.