RoadTrip America

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 There Was No Joy In Leadfield
All that remains of the big dreams that fueled Leadfield's meteoric rise and fall.


The predictions were unusually optimistic. "Tonnage of ore from new California district will be large," read a headline in March, 1926. It was perhaps no surprise that eager investors were happy to shell out hundreds of thousands of dollars to run a railroad line up Titus Canyon, one of the least inviting construction sights anywhere on earth. By August, three hundred people were living in Leadfield, and a genuine U.S. post office opened to serve the new town.

But Leadfield didn't last long. The post office closed only six months later, and the residents vanished, too. All the wild prognostications about the riches in Titus Canyon had produced nothing more than several mounds of tailings and a large number of depleted bank accounts. One of the men responsible for drumming up investors fled to Shanghai, China, to escape the wrath of the people he'd duped.

Mark Holloway
Mark Holloway, Death Valley explorer and guide

Leadfield may have had a short, ignominious history, but its legacy is a road that would never been built if the lure of wealth hadn't provided the necessary incentive. The canyon is the kind that road builders avoid whenever possible: a long, rocky, twisting gorge with steep drop-offs and abrupt elevation changes. Because it's narrow, the National Park Service has made the route one way heading east to west. A well-graded dirt track, the road is usually navigable by ordinary cars.

Forbidding but breathtakingly beautiful, the scenery in the canyon is other-worldly. The colorful strata and monumental roack formations make it easy to see why prospectors believed they'd stumbled across a mother lode. Titus Canyon looks like it's bursting with minerals worth mining.

The remains of Leadfield lie about halfway through the gorge. Two buildings are standing, and the foundations of others are scattered over the hillside. The only other manmade structures are a National Park sign and a fiberglass outhouse.

The forlorn remains of Leadfield's brief boom mean that the road is the town's only real gift to subsequent generations. It winds west down to the valley floor past boulders etched with Indian petroglyphs and water-carved chasms that prove it actually rains on occasion in Death Valley. A more memorable thoroughfare you'll rarely find— a respectable legacy for a town that never made it to its first birthday.


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