Chloride City and Titus Canyon

Evan and I were up earlier than we wish we were on vacation, but for whatever reason, we couldn’t sleep in. So we wandered the grounds until it was time to hit the trails. The Oasis is lovely, but the water features and the golf course do strain the messaging about being in a desert with a water shortage.

Two big overland drives today. We left the park to Beatty, NV via Chloride City and then returned via Titus Canyon Road — the trail we did back in 2017.

The history of Chloride City seems to depend on which website is retelling it. According to the Parks service, Chloride City became a town in 1905 during a strike at the nearby Bullfrog mine. “There are numerous adits and dumps in the area and the grave of one James McKay, of whom nothing is known. In addition, there are remains of 3 stamp mills.” It was abandoned a year or so later. Other sources point out that it was one of the earliest Death Valley mines, but perhaps not very productive. They had a helluva view though.

The site was 10-15 miles off the highway to Beatty up on a mountain, which got rocky pretty quickly. That was great fun.

A lot of the trail was fairly easy going, but it got surprisingly difficult in places. Definitely enough tricky stuff to keep it exciting. There was one big “walk it and be spotters for each other” section. I thought I had great dashcam footage of my trek up in the Xterra, but something seems to have malfunctioned. I’m actually quite sad about it, that was a neat little moment.

Just know that I almost drove off a mountain and used some foul language, but I righted myself with enough poise that I could tell I’ve gotten better at doing this over the years — thought not good enough to have not almost driven off the mountain in the first place. We each commented that if we’d tried this road in 2017 as originally planned, we would have been in huge trouble.

I would like to commend the Rivian for its composure. Andrew made quick, seemingly effortless work of many of the obstacles. One useful tool I learned about is the set of cameras around the wheel wells and in the front bumper, so it’s easier to see. There are also some fancy buttons that deploy mystical off-road magic powers. Still, starting with Chloride Cliffs Road instead of Titus Canyon meant we were doing the harder drive first.

When we made it to the to what remains of the town, Evan and I definitely did not immediately enter the mine through the hole in the wire mesh that was intended to keep people like us out. To our credit, it had already been breached by someone else. And thankfully that someone else wasn’t waiting inside to kill us.

Fifty feet-ish down the passage, there was an opening with a gated path upward to the surface and a slippery looking descent into darkness which was surely guarded by ghosts. We took photos but did not trespass further.

Once safety back outside, we packed back up and headed down to Beatty for another backtrack tour: That damn Denny’s. We topped up on fuel because gas at Furnace Creek is pushing $7. Andrew was also able to charge briefly, and I got to watch what has apparently been a theme: a steady stream of oglers gawking at the R1T and asking questions during charging stops. (I say, judgmentally, as I wrote a blog post gushing about this car…)

After lunch, the main event: Titus Canyon Road. It was one of the first epic trails on the Southwest Offroadtrip in 2017. I’ve been back a couple times since, but George has wanted to do this in the Renegade since he got it. And it seems right for Evan to return here in the Disco as well.

So after I diagnosed my error code as a clogged evap canister relief valve and cleared it, we set off to Leadfield along Titus Canyon Road. The story of Leadfield is much better documented than Chloride City. And somehow, it escaped being recounted the first time.

Courtney Chauncey Julian (“C. C. Julian”) was, as George put it, “a shyster.” He founded Leadfield as a lead mine, though there were also rumors of gold. “The product of extensive and fraudulent advertising by the Western Lead mine company and C. C. Julian, the town boomed in 1925.”

This town was the brain child of C. C. Julian, who could have sold ice to an Eskimo. He wandered into Titus Canyon with money on his mind. He blasted some tunnels and liberally salted them with lead ore he had brought from Tonopah. Then he sat down and drew up some enticing maps of the area. He moved the usually dry and never deep Amargosa River miles from its normal bed.

National Parks Service, quoting Betty J. Tucker, writing in a 1971 issue of Desert Magazine. (Link)

Julian’s advertising went so far as to include illustrations of steamships on a river through this desert, which obviously never existed. This glorious road he constructed follows a wash, but that’s it. Regardless, at its height, over 300 people worked the mine and a post office was constructed in August of 1926.

Two events took place which spelled the end of Leadfield. The main tunnel of the Western Lead Mine finally penetrated the ledge which the company had been tunneling towards, where its geologists had felt the best lead deposits would be. Instead of finding high-grade lead ore, the company found almost nothing. The ore assayed only 2 percent lead, far too small a percentage to mine profitably, considering the high freight costs.

The other being that the California Corporation Commission halted further sales of stock in this un-permitted company, leaving Julian without room to raise further capital. The mine and the post office closed in February of 1927. The town died shortly thereafter, leaving little more than a fantastic story and a lovely picnic spot of abandoned buildings along Titus Canyon Road.

For his part, C. C. Julian went on to found a similarly fraudulent oil business in Oklahoma. Somewhere along the way, he picked a bar fight with movie star Charlie Chaplain who roundly kicked the shit out of him. Not long after, he moved to China to escape prosecution for his financial crimes, where he spent the rest of his life.

But back to us.

Though it is a dramatic drive, it’s approachable so we encouraged Andrew to take the lead into the canyon. I swear, Captain “I’ve Got a Button for That” put a quarter in his Rivan and they took off — keeping up with them was a surprising amount of work and a lot of sloshing around on loose dust and gravel. I had so much fun.

Titus Canyon ends in dramatic fashion, ramping up the excitement until suddenly this road through a slot canyon spits you out into the unlimited expanse of Death Valley, wishing you could immediately give it another go. Instead, it was time to watch twilight fade and head back to Furnace Creek.

We had dinner at the buffet at The Ranch, just down the road from our hotel. Andrew drove us there and we fiddled with all the interior toys. Until he demonstrated his Millennium Falcon-esque acceleration capabilities… He came to a stop in the middle of the park highway and then floored it. We jumped to hyperspace. Which was good because somehow we’d gotten hungry again.

This was our only full day in Death Valley, but we’ve got time tomorrow for a little more fun before we head on toward Mesquite.

It was team tshirt day today.