Death Valley National Park: Mosaic Canyon

Fascinating rock walls and formations make for an interesting hike up this canyon near Stovepipe Wells Village in Death Valley National Park.
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Fascinating rock walls and formations make for an interesting hike up this canyon near Stovepipe Wells Village in Death Valley National Park.

While Stovepipe Wells lies at sea level, the trail head for this hike is a two-mile drive mostly uphill. The road is unpaved, so a high-clearance vehicle is a good idea and, depending on conditions, 4-wheel-drive might be, too. We were in a Toyota 4 Runner and made it easily without using the 4WD.
The first part of the canyon is narrow, with polished marble walls that require some scrambling. The name comes from fragments of rock cemented together by volcanic forces, and there are a number of these 'mosaics' along the canyon.
Make this hike in spring, winter, or fall; average high temperatures in May are 99 degrees F, and more than 100 degrees June through September. Even in October, highs can reach 92 degrees. In addition to camp grounds, there are hotel type accommodations at Furnace Creek (high-end), Stovepipe Wells Village, and Panamint Springs (budget).
From the parking lot kiosk, follow the gravel wash to the narrow mouth of the canyon. The trail is loose gravel and polished or layered rock, with many colors. The canyon curves to the right and narrows still more, curves to the right again, then bends to the left and widens out a bit before narrowing yet again, heading up hill all the way. Where it widens out again, you cross layers of tilted rock before the canyon opens wide into the sun. Along this stretch, the wash is loose gravel, but along the right side it is more packed and you can usually make out an actual trail. Just before a turn to the right, large boulders rest in the middle of the wash. After the turn, the walls narrow in again and a bit farther along, a large rock fall blocks the canyon. Those up for more adventure can scramble through the middle of the rock pile, but at this point you're about two miles from the parking lot, plus that two-mile drive to pavement. Pay attention to the light and plan accordingly so you won't be caught in the canyon in the dark.
On the way out, pause in the wide area to take in views in front of you of the valley below and mountains in the distance.

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 4.0

Waypoints

Trail head parking

Location: 36.571829, -117.144253

24-JAN-10 4:38:32PM

Turn

Location: 36.56996, -117.143405

Trail turns to the right into canyon

Bend

Location: 36.568533, -117.143572

Canyon bends to the right here. 24-JAN-10 4:48:30PM

Another bend

Location: 36.56833, -117.143623

Canyon bends to left and widens out.

Canyon narrows

Location: 36.5679, -117.141842

Rock layers

Location: 36.568008, -117.140942

Traverse layered rocks here

Boulders

Location: 36.566673, -117.134822

This part of the hike is through a wide wash; large boulders rest in the middle of it here.

Canyon narrows again

Location: 36.565065, -117.133505

24-JAN-10 5:10:27PM

Rock slide

Location: 36.561909, -117.132852

A large rock slide blocks the trail here, although it is possible to scramble over and continue.

Parking lot

Location: 36.571984, -117.144459

It's about 2 miles from the paved road to here.

From parking lot to the canyon.

Location: 36.571743, -117.144207

Entering the canyon.

Location: 36.570476, -117.143741

Polished walls.

Location: 36.56964, -117.143354

Narrow point.

Location: 36.56796, -117.141622

Climbing rock stairs.

Location: 36.568029, -117.140742

More packed surface on side of the wash.

Location: 36.567701, -117.136552

Into the wide open.

Location: 36.568382, -117.138306

Boulders in the wash.

Location: 36.566512, -117.134621

Rock slide.

Location: 36.562135, -117.132803

One of many 'mosaics'

Location: 36.564909, -117.13342

View on the way back.

Location: 36.567322, -117.135555