Day 2 here, more pictures here.
We decided to visit Titus Canyon on Sunday morning. This is another of those roads where you wonder whether a regular car could do it. And again, the answer is no! You really do need the Jeep.
Titus Canyon is a long one-way road, which is entered in Nevada nearly at the ghost town of Rhyolite, an amazing rags-to-riches-to-rags story in itself. Gold was found in there 1905. By 1907 the population was 5000, and three separate railroads were under construction for hundreds of miles across the desert. Yet in 1910 the mines were exhausted. The railroads had barely reached the town when the mines closed in 1911. By 1920 there was nobody left.
The canyon ends, quite suddenly, with a magnificent view of the northern part of the valley, still nearly a thousand feet below at the foot of the alluvial fan.
We'd started later than we intended (that has never happened before!), so we didn't have time for my original plan, which was to drive the full length of the West Side Road to Warm Springs Canyon, at the southern end of Badwater. Instead we settled for the first of the trails up the western side of the valley into the Panamint range. The west side has always been tantalising - it probably can be driven in a regular car, but I've never done it. The east side has high cliffs and a steep drop from the 5000 feet of Dante's View, but the west side has a huge alluvial fan that rises from nearly 300 feet below sea level in the valley, to over a thousand feet.
In the past several of these canyons led to passes that would eventually take you to the Panamint valley on the other side of the range. The southernmost was Wingate Wash, a long, gentle climb without any real mountaineering. Unfortunately it now leads only to the China Lake naval weapons research center - which, as you can imagine, is not open to the public. Nowadays there isn't even a road up the wash - it has become part of the designated wilderness, which means you can only get there on foot or by horse. Given the heat, terrain and drought, that isn't a very practical option either, so you can't really get there at all.
The next trail northwards, Warm Springs Canyon, was the first path that the Bennet-Arcan party, who gave Death Valley its name, used unsuccessfully to try to escape. It's the only that still provides a through vehicle route, via Butte Valley, Mengel Pass and Goler Wash. That is firmly on the list to try another time.
This time, though, we tried Trail Canyon, which starts just a mile or so from West Side Road's crossing of the valley floor. It also used to be a crossing, thanks to a dramatic road built to provide access to a tungsten mine in the 1950s which led right up to the ridgeline at Aguereberry Point (which incidentally is one of the few Basque place names in the US). In the 1990s the road was badly damaged by a flood and the Park Service decided not to repair it.
The valley floor crossing is spectacular. This area is called the "Devil's Golf Course", consisting of hard salt-infused mud which, by some physical process, turns into foot-high ridges and spires with sharp peaks of salt crystal. It would be extremely difficult to walk over, but the road is good and gives a sweeping panorama of the whole valley.
Shortly after turning south again, a small wooden sign points to a barely-visible gravel track that leads up the alluvial fan. The first mile or two is in reasonable condition, but after that it gets rockier and the ride gets worse and worse, until even at a walking pace it was too much for Isabelle's back. Just when she was asking me to give up, she spotted a big rock and asked to be left for a while. I was hesitant, but with a gallon of water and one of our two satellite beacons, and within hiking distance of the valley floor, it didn't seem too risky.
A short drive took us back to the valley crossing, with a spectacular view of the Artists' Palette. Then it was back to the airport.