The Long Road to Titus Canyon – Ryan Wilson

The Long Road to Titus Canyon
Photos and words by Ryan Wilson

It started for me two years ago when I made my first trip to Death Valley National Park. I was rolling along the road to Ubehebe Crater when I passed a little dirt road named “Titus Canyon” that gradually sloped out of the valley floor until hitting a seemingly impassable rock wall a few miles in the distance. No signs of the road switching back and climbing over it… just abruptly ending.

Fast forward to a year later, I had done a bit of research and found that the road does in fact go through the range and over the Nevada border. It’s a 25 mile stretch of dirt that is a one-way road from the Nevada side into California. Plans were set, and I was going to give it a shot. Only hitch was that I wanted to climb it rather than descend it (on a road bike), so I would be heading up going the “wrong” direction, then looping around over a paved pass back into Death Valley…

Rock Formations

It was just about one year ago as I write this that I finally turned onto Titus Canyon, climbed the few miles of gravel to the mouth of the canyon, and something happened that I’ve only told a few about to this day. I wound through the first few corners of the slot canyon until I saw a man lying on the ground, not breathing, no pulse, nothing. Roughly 10 minutes prior to my arriving, he had died of a heart attack. To make a long and depressing story short, the ride did not happen that day…the last day of the trip before heading back to Los Angeles.

Fast forward 10 months later to December 2014… Weather was cooling down again in Death Valley, and I had an open weekend to give it another chance. The initial plan was to head straight to Death Valley, but as I hit the 395 heading north, patches of clouds lingering in the Sierras to the west made it impossible to resist spending a day at Whitney Portal and Horseshoe Meadows. Both are classic Sierra Nevada climbs which I’ve done numerous times and are closed during the winter, but why not see just how high I could go past the road closed gates? Last minute detours like this typically lead to some of the best rides, and this was no exception.

Starting the descent into Nevada.

After finishing up in the Sierras I headed toward Death Valley to set up camp and get ready for a re-match with Titus the following day. As it turned out, I had no idea, but the road had flooded a few days prior with the first significant rain that area had seen in almost a year, and the nature of the narrow canyon meant that some sections had essentially turned into a dry river bed with a few inches of soft “debris” overtop that made riding up steep grades on skinnies a bit of a challenge. It only delayed the inevitable though, as I eventually squirmed my way to the top and barreled down a bit of classic Death Valley washboard to the main road. It was absolutely one of the toughest stretches of a ride that I’ve ever done.

The end of a long day.

Without a head light (channeling my inner Sean Talkington), I had to haul ass back over the range before the fast and smooth 5000+ foot drop into the valley from Daylight Pass. A handful of times per year I’m lucky enough to get those moments when everything seems to come together on a ride, but nothing touches the moment I crested the final hill and a full nuke sky lit up that descent to finish off a ride I’d spent two years dreaming about.

Routes on Strava:
Titus Canyon
Whitney Portal and Horseshoe Meadows


Follow Ryan on Instagram and at his Tumblr.


  • Off. The. Hook.

  • aifos

    Ryan Wilson is my hero!

  • Callaghan


  • Tony Abate

    These pics are amazing.

  • Ultraclyde

    Holy wow. Great images and a ride of which to be envious.

  • Eric Bones

    Man, this is beautiful. Have to add this to the list of must rides…

    • Do it! Eastern Sierras and Death Valley in general are filled with must-rides!

  • Dylan Buffington

    Oh shit.

  • Gábor

    I want to be there

  • philip vondra

    wow amazing photos

  • Chris W

    Incredible stuff as always Ryan. I’d love to know what goes into planning a ride like this. Seems like you just go out there and crush it but you must have plans for food, shelter etc. It doesn’t look like you pack a whole lot on the bike – sin dawgs stuffed in jersey pockets? Tell us your secrets!
    Looks like killer terrain for a road bike.

    • I try to always have some sort of idea for where I can get food/water. Obviously in Death Valley you’re limited. The first time I was set to attempt Titus I had food/water stashed, etc. This time I said screw it and brought plenty of food (jersey pockets, handlbar bag), and an extra water bottle. Someone in a car topped me off along Titus otherwise it may have gotten a bit tricky.

  • Matt Long

    Good god these are so good. Inspiring stuff, Ryan!

  • Forrest Cobb

    That last pic has got to be one of my favorites on the site. Rad doesn’t even begin

  • hans

    fantastic as always Ryan!

  • charlesojones

    #3 – Lone Pine Peak???

    • You are correct! I always mix those two up for some reason. Something about the shape always brings Williamson to mind.

      • charlesojones

        Great shots BTW

  • Sean Talkington


  • gutenbergler

    Dude this is just epic. The photos really had an emotional effect on me… Makes the South Texas roads I ride look pretty mundane

  • Matthew Izen

    Perfect article. Makes me want to go out and ride.

  • Matthew Izen

    Also, those pictures… The long exposure with the stars is incredible.

  • Richard Dreyer

    Stunning geography and photography.
    Impressive to do it all on a road bike, solo. Would love to see a bike & gear check gallery.

    • Thanks! In the future I’m going to try to get into more details like this.

  • Gui

    Beautiful images, breathtaking!

  • OGG_7619

    amazing photos, thanks a lot. Having ridden Horseshoe and Whitney (but in June) I can only imagine what they are like in the winter!

  • stefanrohner


  • Ad Vermaas

    Awesome photos, Ryan, as usual. Can’t get enough of your IG feed.

  • Salim Riley

    An epic road through hard lands.

  • Richard Smith

    Like a different planet!

  • Absolutely incredible images and inspiring as always, don’t ever stop making the rest of us envious!

  • @ryanwilson313:disqus Prometheus!

  • Andy Jon

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    ========>>>>> http://CASHPAY.html/……

  • Mark Prince

    Superb. Must. Go. Ride.

  • Karolis

    Sweet ride! Just came back from a marathon across Titus Canyon – incredibly special place. Can’t wait to go back there on the bike.