Thursday, July 16, 2015

Con artist builds a crooked road in Death Valley

Feb. 9, 1969: Death Valley naturalist Dwight Warren checks a portion of Titus Canyon Road, which had been closed by a cloudburst. This photo by staff photographer Frank Q. Brown was published in the Feb. 21, 1969, Los Angeles Times.

Posted By: Scott Harrison
Los Angeles Times Framework

The history of Titus Canyon Road was explained in a May 22, 1977, Los Angeles Times article by staff writer Charles Hillinger:

DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL MONUMENT – It is undoubtedly the longest one-way, no-other-way road in the country.

The 27-mile road winds its way west through a scenic gorge in two states – California and Nevada.

It is so narrow in spots there is barely enough room for a car to squeeze between the 500-foot-high sheer limestone walls that rise spectacularly from the canyon floor.

Titus Canyon Road is, for good reason, the least used of nine roads into Death Valley, America’s hottest and driest place.

Its 27 miles are miserable, none of it paved, strewn with dirt and rocks.

The road was built by a con artist who pushed it through the canyon in 1925 to provide access to one of the most notorious mining hoaxes of the century.

It was in Titus Canyon that Chauncey C. Julian “salted” the Grapevine Mountains and spawned a town near Bloody Gap he called Leadfield.

He proclaimed the hills in “his” canyon were alive with pockets and veins of lead, and published brochures showing ships steaming up Death Valley’s Amargosa River to the mouth of Titus Canyon to take on ore.

The Amargosa River is bone dry.

In March, 1926, Julian ran a 15-car “Leadville Special” train from Los Angeles to Beatty, Nev., for 340 investors – 24 of them women – to visit their diggings. The investors were driven from Beatty through the winding gorge to Leadfield in a caravan of cars.

A hotel, stores and homes were built in Leadfield. But the town lasted only two years. There was a post office from August, 1926, until February, 1927.

Then the bubble burst.

Julian skipped the country and fled to Shanghai where he committed suicide in 1934.

A handful of decaying structures still stand at Leadfield on the Titus Canyon Road, named after Morris Titus, a miner who entered the narrow canyon to do some prospecting in 1906 and never was seen again.

It gets so hot along the road that the National Park Service closes the canyon from mid-May to mid-October – so that nobody gets stranded and perishes in the scorching sun.