Mosaic Canyon ~ Death Valley National Park

Mosaic Canyon ~ Death Valley National Park

The Mosaic Canyon is located on a mountain crest next to Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley.  Mosaic Canyon is a massive mountain rock outcrop that has multi color patches that run for short lengths in all directions. This canyon literally looks like mosaic art, so the name is appropriate!

The Mosaic Canyon access point at the end of the dirt road that goes up the mountain is definitely on the high ground. The view from the crest line vantage point overlooks Stovepipe Wells, Mesquite Dunes and the Devil’s Cornfield way down below.  A nice view of the western section of Death Valley can also be seen from this place too.     

Mosaic Canyon is worth taking the time to do the short side trip, but the dirt road leading to this destination is too rough for an ordinary passenger car. A high ground clearance vehicle or 4×4 is best for doing this short trip up the mountain to Mosaic Canyon.   The Mosaic Canyon dirt road can be smooth after the road maintenance crew does a grading job, but after a rainstorm, the road becomes cluttered with large rocks that can damage small vehicles. This is because the dirt road to Mosaic Canyon actually borders upon a steep mountain dry wash and a rainstorm can quickly turn this pathway into roaring whitewater rapids. As one can imagine, Mosaic Canyon is not a safe place to be if rain is in the forecast.  If it looks like rain, then it is best to save this trip for another day!     

Another factor to keep in mind when planning a Mosaic Canyon side trip is the extreme heat.  The temperatures do get extremely hot in Death Valley, so be sure to bring a few extra gallons of water and nonperishable food, just in case the unexpected occurs.  Gas and groceries are available at Stovepipe Wells at the base of the mountain, so if worse comes to worse, rescue is within walking distance.  

On the day that I visited Mosaic Canyon, the outdoor temperature was about 120ºF by 11:00AM.  I toured Salt Creek, the Devil’s Cornfield, Mesquite Dunes and Stovepipe Wells before going to Mosaic Canyon, because all these destinations are in the same local area. By the time I got to Mosaic Canyon, the temperatures were well over 125ºF, so I decided to save canyon the hike for another day and settled for taking a few pictures of the views of Death Valley from the high ground.

After returning from the day tour to my job site residence in Death Valley, I started processing the photos. Immediately I noticed that the quality of the photos grew progressively worse as the outdoor temperatures increased throughout the day. I used an inexpensive pocket camera during the trip and the camera certainly could withstand the 125ºF heat of Death Valley. Every picture was blurry, just like an oil painting that started to melt. Saving the few fairly good photos ended up being the only option, because of time constraints.

On every Death Valley photography mission done after the Mosaic Canyon trip, I left the pocket camera behind and carried a big Nikon D90 that was designed to work in all extreme environmental conditions. Budget minded pocket cameras and smart phone cameras will not yield good photos in the extreme heat conditions found in Death Valley. This is good for visitors to keep in mind, so no frustrating moments occur after the trip is done.

Oddly enough, the day after I visited Mosaic Canyon, a big rain storm hit and a massive flash flood rolled down the mountain dry wash and flooded Stovepipe Wells Village.  Stovepipe Wells had to be evacuated, because of the flooding, so we accepted their guests at the resort where I worked just down the road. Three big rain storms flooded Death Valley that same week in the Furnace Creek region and to have three such events occur in a short period of time is a very rare occurrence.      

On another side note, while I was working at Furnace Creek, the world record high temperature of 136ºF that was set at El Azizia, Libya was finally officially declared invalid by the Geneva Convention. The world record was denied because faulty temperature recording equipment was used.  As a result, Furnace Creek was officially re-crowned by Guinness as being the place that owns the world record temperature for the hottest place on earth with a mark of 134ºF! All of us local Furnace Creek workers had a little celebration that day!  

They do call this place Death Valley for a good reason.  Death Valley is absolutely as hot as hell during the summer months and this place literally is hell for any kind of equipment or vehicle that is brought along for the trip.  Sneakers melt on the pavement and anything that glows with sunlight is too hot to touch. Cheap cameras and smart phones go on the blink, while cheap car batteries swell to the size of a soccer ball. Flash floods can quickly make roads impassible and cause dire situations. Death Valley can quickly turn a pleasant afternoon picnic into a survival situation, especially during the summer season, so it is always best to prepare for the worst when visiting this unique place!


Author: wildwestdestinations

I worked as a chef in remote resorts and National Parks, which provided the time to explore western travel destinations. I have a BA Degree in Culinary Management with high honors and currently I am working on a Masters Degree in Adult Education. My food and travel blog writing began as a means to generate income during college and now photo journalism has become my lifestyle.

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