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Lower Mosaic Canyon Route
Hiking Around Las Vegas, Death Valley National Park
Mosaic Canyon
Mosaic Canyon
Mosaic Canyon Road at Hwy 190 (view south)

Overview

This short hike runs up a gravel wash into a narrow canyon with water-polished walls made of white marble and blue-gray conglomerate rocks in the Death Valley Wilderness Area. The water-polished conglomerate rocks look like mosaic tiles grouted onto the canyon wall, hence the name of the canyon. The bottom few feet of the canyon is a narrow slot that is only 2-3 feet wide in places, but the canyon generally feels open and airy. The best water-polished marble in the entire canyon is between 0.21 and 0.27 miles from the trailhead. For details of continuing up this geologically interesting canyon to a pour-over, see the Upper Mosaic Canyon Trail.

One-way distance: 0.27 miles. Net elevation gain: 70 ft.

Link to map.

Mosaic Canyon
Mosaic Canyon trailhead (view south)

Watch Out

Other than the standard warnings about hiking in the desert, ...the hike is pretty safe, but stay out of the canyon if it is raining or threatens to rain because of flash flood dangers. There are several small scramble-ups in the narrows that are easy to pass, but the rock is water-polished, slick, and covered with dust and gravel, so there is greater than usual risk of slipping.

While hiking, please respect the land and the other people out there, and please try to Leave No Trace of your passage. Also, this is a short hike, so just take what you need of the 10 Essentials.

Mosaic Canyon
Conglomerate cliffs at canyon mouth (view south)

Getting to the Trailhead

This hike is located in Death Valley National Park, about 3.5 hours northwest of Las Vegas.

From town, drive out to Death Valley. From the Furnace Creek Visitor Center (Table 1, Site 712), drive north on Highway 190 for 24 miles to Stovepipe Wells (Site 751). Continue west on Highway 190 for another 0.25 miles to Mosaic Canyon Road (Site 750), a graded dirt road just west of the campground road. Turn south (left) onto Mosaic Canyon Road, and drive for 2.3 miles to the end of the road at the edge of the mountains (Site 749). Park here; this is the trailhead.

Mosaic Canyon
Interesting geology

The Hike

From the trailhead (Table 2, Waypoint 01), hike south and up the wash towards the mouth of canyon. The trail starts at the top of an enormous alluvial fan that stretches all the way to the Stovepipe Wells sand dunes, which you can see in the distance below. Initially, the wash runs between 15-ft-tall alluvial cliffs, with the dark gray and brown cliffs of Tucki Mountain towering above them.

About 0.09 miles from the trailhead, you get past the alluvial cliffs and into bedrock at the mouth of the canyon. At that point, you can see that the rocks at the edge of the wash are white. This is water-polished marble (metamorphosed limestone). The white is exposed on the edges of the wash because it is water polished; above the wash, a thick patina of desert varnish darkens the marble.

Lower Mosaic Canyon

The vegetation here is sparse as usual, and dominated by creosote bush. Higher up the canyon, you get into vegetation that is more diverse that includes pygmy cedar, Ephedra, prickly Penstemon, other shrubs, and many little annuals.

Continuing up the canyon for another 0.11 miles, you get to the bottom of the narrows. Here, the east (left) side of the canyon is mostly white, water-polished marble, but the west (right) side is layered: the base layer is marble, but that is overlain by a cobbly conglomerate, which in turn is overlain by more-recent, finer-grained conglomerate alluvial materials.

Mosaic Canyon
Beginning of water-polished narrows (view south)

Scrambling up the winding narrows, the rock is water-sculpted and water-polished, and you can see many examples of the marble and conglomerate mosaic in the walls of the canyon. Here, long ago the bedrock was crushed into small pieces, perhaps as a result of earthquake activity or maybe it was just gravel in the bottom of the wash, and then dissolved limestone filled in the spaces around the rubble and solidified to form solid rock. Later, the wash cut down through the rock, exposing the mosaic appearance. There are places along the edge of the wash where you can see that either the infilling process was not complete or the infill material has eroded away, revealing the 3-dimensional nature of the original rubble.

Mosaic Canyon
Water-polished marble in lower narrows (view south)

Near the top of these narrows (Wpt. 02), the canyon bends sharply to the east (left). If you are not going to the Upper Mosaic Canyon pour-over, this is a good place to stop because there is a long section of wide, not-especially-interesting canyon before it gets narrow again.

Rest here in the narrows and relax for a spell, then follow your footprints back down through the narrows to the trailhead.

Mosaic Canyon
Details of the mosaic texture in the canyon wall
Mosaic Canyon
Wall formed of polished white marble and polished conglomerate
Mosaic Canyon
Wall formed of polished conglomerate rock
Lower Mosaic Canyon
Wall formed of polished white marble and polished conglomerate
Mosaic Canyon
A patch of mosaic in the marble wall is the result of filling a pothole with gravel, then cementing it in, and polishing it off.
Lower Mosaic Canyon
Historic metal steps and handrail on the side of the canyon. Due to changing erosion, this is no longer necessary
Lower Mosaic Canyon Lower Mosaic Canyon
Mosaic Canyon more to come ...

Table 1. Highway Coordinates (NAD27; UTM Zone 11S). Download Highway GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Site # Location Latitude (N) Longitude (W) Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
0712 Furnace Creek Visitor Center 36.46159 116.86574 512030 4034954 -186 Yes
0749 Mosaic Canyon Parking 36.57194 117.14349 487161 4047195 942 Yes
0750 Hwy 190 at Mosaic Canyon Rd 36.60457 117.14758 486801 4050816 32 Yes
0751 Hwy 190 at Stovepipe Wells 36.60654 117.14594 486948 4051034 0 Yes

Table 2. Hiking Coordinates Based on GPS Data (NAD27, UTM Zone 11S). Download Hiking GPS Waypoints (*.gpx) file.

Wpt. Location Easting Northing Elevation (ft) Verified
01 Mosaic Canyon trailhead 487161 4047196 942 GPS
02 Top of the narrows 487206 4046796 1,122 GPS

Happy Hiking! All distances, elevations, and other facts are approximate.
copyright; Last updated 130212

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