Titus Canyon


Day 2 of our trip to Death Valley

We slept in because of having to drive half the night to get to Beatty. But, after a good breakfast, and some other tasks, Hal and I were ready to get out and enjoy the day. The destination was Titus Canyon. We have wanted to ride it for some time, and last year when we were here, it was closed due to wash-outs from a recent storm. This year, we were happy to find it open.

First, though, we rode through the ghost town of Rhyolite, but since it was so spread out, we thought we would come back on the last day, on the way out of town, and shoot photos of the buildings then. We explored the dirt road north of Rhyolite for a short way. After that, we discovered the little cemetery down the road from Rhyolite, and spent some time there photographing the graves.

As I shot many images, the place made me think again about the tenuousness of life, about how each one of these graves represented the body of someone who was once alive, someone who had an everyday life, someone who had dreams and goals, some of which were fulfilled, and some that probably were not. These were people that once had lives, their graves were not just tourist attractions.

Panamint Annie is one of the interesting people buried there. She was quite a character, she did things her own way. She was a prospector, and lived a rough, interesting life. Her adventuresome spirit appeals to me, and I identified with her at once. I looked around, wondering about others buried there who, although they were not such colorful, memorable characters, were part of the history of Death Valley as well.

The wind blows free over the desert where those who are buried there lay, the years pass, the sun rises and sets, the clouds and storms come and go. It made me think about how the earth continues long after we are gone, the rocks and geology slowly changing over the millennia, our lives so fleeting compared to the changing of the earth. I thought about my friend who has recently died, how she no longer can see and enjoy the beautiful things I was experiencing this day, and any day I am in Death Valley. It made me sad, but it also made me feel again how important it is to enjoy everything to its fullest.

And that is what we did, as we geared up, got on the bikes, and then turned down the road to Titus Canyon. At first, it is a long, straight, sandy/corrugated road. Then, after about eight miles, it begins to get much more interesting as we climbed up into the mountains. Last year, Hal and I had hiked in at the west end (the only part open at the time) and were amazed at the vibrant colors in the rocks and the illustrative geology. The walls were high and close, and this year as I rode, I remembered that part. I knew that was the destination, but what lay in between where I was and that end of the canyon, I did not know.

We climbed more and more steeply as we gained elevation. We saw all the different colors of dark volcanic rocks, and glimpsed a history of the earth as we passed geologic formations, striated rocks that told the story as clearly as any book. The road was narrow and twisting going up, and then we began to descend into even more serpentine turns. The surface of the road in one part looked like it was caliche or similar, a soil composition that turns to slimy gel-like mud in the rain, as was evident by the deep ruts cut through that part of the road by other vehicles’ tires when it was wet.

Near the end of this segment of the ride, we stopped and shot photographs of an old mining town, Leadfield, that literally hung on the side of the mountain. The sign explains how it came to be, and then how it declined to nothingness in the short timeline of a year. All that is left now are a few buildings, but not even a shred of the hope that once swirled in the air.

We came to the most dramatic part of the ride, which is through towering multi-colored rock walls. In some places it narrows to the width of a car, and the shadows are deep and cool. We were still descending, but more gradually, and I was able to see many geologic folds and upheavals.

I kept exclaiming about them to Hal over the communication system. “Oh, look at that, to your left!” I would say, or “to your right,” there were so many things to see. Again, we rode somewhat slowly in order to be able to see everything. The sun was drifting toward the western horizon, and it was dark in the canyon because of the high walls. I loved being deep in the canyon, so close to the rock as I rode.

I began to notice some familiar features, things I remembered from hiking in last year, and then I knew we were coming to the end.

We also began to meet more and more hikers, people who had walked in from the west as we had done last year. It was over way too soon.

The end opened out to an incredible vista, and I said, “It’s so beautiful!” Hal laughed. It’s kind of our little joke, but at the same time, it really was “so beautiful!” We didn’t stop, though, because it was hot, and we had already done this part before. We flew down the wide unpaved segment back to the paved highway, the road that leads to Scotty’s Castle one way, and back to the Beatty turnoff the other way.

Soon we were climbing Daylight Pass, the route “home” to Beatty that we take each time we are here. The temperature drops dramatically from the high 80s F. at the floor (sea level) to the 3307 ft. elevation of Beatty. It is a steep climb in a few places, and sometimes the little KLX250S strains to maintain 60 mph, especially if there is a headwind.

We got back to Beatty, de-geared, then walked to dinner at a nearby Subway, our favorite place when we are on the road. As we munched our salads, we pored over the maps, planning our ride for the next day. It looked like we were going to be on the road for a good part of it, but I did not know then all the stunning sights I would see.

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One thought on “Titus Canyon

  1. Nice mix of IR and visible images – there really is something about a graveyard in the desert…we have stopped in at a few in our travels – some with markers indicating “killed by indians” – and you realize that we all are here for but an instant.

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