On our last day in Death Valley National Park, we drove Titus Canyon Road, a 27 mile dirt road that more of an adventure than a drive! As the most popular back-country road in Death Valley National Park, Titus Canyon Road has astounding mountains, steep twisting roads with hairpin turns, gorgeous colorful rock formations, bighorn sheep, lush plant life and cacti, a ghost town, abandoned mines, a dry waterfall, ancient petroglyphs, and breathtaking canyon narrows.
It takes an average of three hours to drive Titus Canyon Road from its start near Beatty, Nevada to it’s finish in Death Valley. But because things like this always take us longer than everyone else because we stop a lot more to take photos and explore, we planned on it taking up most of the day. And, because we had to drive all the way out to Beatty to start the drive anyway, I made sure we stopped at the Goldwell Open Air Museum and the Rhyolite Ghost Town before heading back toward Death Valley! It was the perfect start to the day that brought us to another Ghost town!
As we came upon the ghost town known as Leadfield, we parked in the gravel parking are on the right side of the Titus Canyon Road and walked across the road to check it out.
Leadfield Ghost Town
Leadfield is one of several Death Valley ghost towns and all that remains today of the boom town are a few rusted wood and tin buildings, a rusted barn, the old mill foundation, two locked abandoned mine shafts, prospect holes, and mine tailings. But don’t let that stop you from exploring the town remnants. We had a blast poking around the old buildings and peeking into the mine shafts.
Famous For A Notorious Mining Scam
The significance of Leadfield is its representation of the famous get-rich-quick schemes of the 1920s.
Copper and lead claims were filed in the remote area of Leadfield area as early as 1905, but the area wasn’t heavily mined until 1926 for good reason.
In February 1926, Charles C. Julian, a well known oil promoter of Southern California bought into and became president of Western Lead Mines, the town’s leading mining company. Advertising by the Western Lead Mine Company and C.C. Julian showed bountiful ore being hauled out of his mines and steamboats navigating the Amargosa River to Leadfield, nevermind the fact that the Amargosa River is usually dry and is located almost 20 miles away from Leadfield. Some reports even say Julian salted the mines with ore collected from other locations to make the mines seem richer than they really were.
The advertisements and handbills were distributed, sales events were held, and both investors and miners flocked to Leadfield. By April, 1926 the town was laid out with 1749 lots, 15 miles of road were built to connect Leadfield with the road to Beatty, Nevada (now part of Titus Canyon Road), a concrete foundation for a stamp mill was poured, and the beginning of a series of power poles for electric lines were installed. By August a Post Office was built.
The population peaked at around 300 in 1926, but by February 1927, the post office closed down, Julian disappeared, the inhabitants became disillusioned, and the town died.
The only good thing to come out of rise and fall of Leadfield was the construction of 15 miles of Titus Canyon Road from Leadfield to the Beatty Highway by Julian’s company — I road that I can honestly say is one of the most beautiful in all of Death Valley National Park.
The History of Leadfield
In late 1905, two miners staked out nine lead and copper claims in Titus Canyon and came to Rhyolite with ore samples that assayed as high as $40 to the ton. Death Valley Consolidated Mining Company bought the claims, immediately began a development campaign, and shares of its stock were sold for 2.5¢ each.
News of the strike traveled fast and claims were filed for miles around the Death Valley Consolidated property. By May 1906, Death Valley Consolidated progressed far enough to start mining operations. The company soon realized however, that shipping ore from its mine to Rhyolite and the smelters was unprofitable and the company closed.
In March of 1924, three prospectors once again staked out claims on lead deposits in the area and a year later, sold the claims to John Salsberry, a former promoter of mines on the west side of the valley. Salsberry purchased twelve claims and formed the Western Lead Mines Company. By the end of 1925, Western Lead Company had accumulated more than fifty claims in Titus Canyon and had began work. A compressor plant was installed to power the company’s air drills, and eighteen men and six trucks began to build a long and steep auto road out of Titus Canyon towards the Beatty highway.
Leadfield Was Formed In January 1926
In January of 1926, the company built a boarding house, and began to lay a pipe line from Klare Spring to the mine site. By the end of January, 1926, the town was named Leadfield, and half a dozen mining companies were in operation. Sales of Western Lead Mines Company stock opened on the San Francisco exchange and within 24 hours 40,000 shares sold.
In early February, Charles C. Julian bought into the Western Lead Mines Company, and became its new president. Western Lead Company soon reported 100 men working in its mines and on Titus Canyon Road. When the road was completed at the end of February, trucks began entering the canyon, carrying timber, machinery, and supplies. Western Lead Company expanded its payroll to 140 men and at least six other companies were engaged in serious mining.
On March 15th, the first of Julian’s promotional excursions arrived in Beatty. A train unloaded 340 passengers (selected from 1500 applicants) who joined 840 more visitors from Tonopah and Goldfield and all were loaded into automobiles for the trip through Titus Canyon to Leadfield.
Upon arrival, visitors were served an outdoor feast with live music by a six-piece band imported from Los Angeles. The Lieutenant-Governor of Nevada gave the keynote speech and during the afternoon the Tonopah orchestra played while serious visitors toured the Western Lead Mine. The promotional event was a success, and Western Lead stock advanced 25¢ the next day.
Leadfield was booming, plans were announced to build a forty-room hotel, the town now had its own newspaper, the Leadfield Chronicle. By the end of the month of March, Western Lead stock had soared to $3.30 a share, and over 300,000 shares in the company had been sold. But Julian’s reputation was damaged by investigations by the State of California into unscrupulous actions by his former company Julian Petroleum Company. The price of Western Lead dropped 175 points and the company never recovered.
In late May, the New Roads Mining Company opened a good strike of lead ore and Julian bought into that company, giving him control of the two largest mines in Leadfield. As summer approached, more companies came into the district and began operations, but in late June of 1926, the California Corporation Commission ordered that sales of Julian’s personal stock in the Western Lead Mines must immediately cease on the Los Angeles stock exchange because it was a Nevada corporation. Mining in Leadfield however, continued to grow and in August, the U.S. Postal Service opened a post office.
Leadfield Busts In January 1927
Unfortunately, in late October, the main tunnel of the Western Lead Mine finally penetrated the ledge which the company had been tunneling towards and instead of finding high-grade lead ore, the company found almost nothing. At the same time, the California Corporation Commission halted sales of stock in the Julian Merger Mines, Inc. (his back up financing plan) and Julian’s empire fell apart. The collapse of Western Lead Mines Company had a domino effect and one after another, the other mines closed and Leadfield became a ghost town in just a few months, with the Post Office closing in January 1927.
Julian moved on to the Oklahoma oil boom, creating the Julian Oil and Royalties Company. Eventually, he was charged with using the mail to defraud investors, but he fled to China in 1933 and a year later committed suicide.
Know Before You Go
- Leadfield Ghost Town is located on Titus Canyon Road, the most popular back country road in Death Valley National Park
- The ghost town remains include a few rusted wood and tin buildings, a rusted barn, the old mill foundation, two locked abandoned mine shafts, prospect holes, and mine tailings.
- Leadfield is recognized as a United States Historic district and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.
- Titus Canyon road is a one way high clearance unpaved road that sometimes requires 4-wheel drive. The drive is 27 miles on a narrow, one-way dirt road that travels east to west. It starts two miles outside the park boundary near Rhyolite, Nevada off HWY 374 (Daylight Pass Road) and ends in Death Valley, California. The starting point is 6 miles from Beatty, Nevada and almost 25 miles from Furnace Creek.
- You’ll need to drive slowly and carefully! While the road is dirt, at times it is very rocky and uneven with deep pits and potholes. There are also tight hairpin turns on steep grades and sheer cliffs that drop hundreds of feet.
- There are no restrooms in Leadfield or on Titus Canyon Road.