Death Valley: Mosaic Canyon

After the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes, we hiked through Mosaic Canyon, the most interesting hike of our Mojave Desert road trip, with polished marble, a bit of wildlife, and the first cactus of our trip. Click on any photo to view an enlarged image.

Shown above, layers of marble have been formed, upended by tectonic forces, and polished by flash floods carrying stones down the canyon. The marble started as sedimentary rock high in calcium that was deposited horizontally. The rock was subsequently covered by more rock and heated, thereby changing to marble. A kind of metamorphic rock, marble is prized by masons and sculptors because it can be polished.

A wall near the canyon mouth has several layers of pink marble. Mosaic Canyon drains a large area of Tucki Mountain, increasing the water and gravel washed down the canyon during a flash flood, which erode and polish the stone.

canyon wall with layers of pink marble
canyon wall with layers of pink marble

My wife spotted several pink cactus growing high on a rocky, west wall of the canyon, shown on the left below. The cactus are pretty, a cluster of thick stems, each with a pink halo. I hiked up the canyon wall as best as I could to take a closer photo on the right, using a normal lens (105 mm). Consulting Mojave Wildflowers that evening, we thought they’re cotton top cactus, a California native plant, but we were too far away to be sure.

Plants grow where they can take root. A pine tree grows from a canyon wall, above most floods.

pine tree growing from rock wall
pine tree growing from a steep canyon wall

zebra-tailed lizard darted around when we crossed a dry stream bed.

This marble wall near a canyon narrows is polished to a high shine by rocks and gravel washed down the canyon during flash floods. The colored veins in the marble are due to impurities. At a narrows the water and gravel wash higher against the canyon walls to better polish the marble. The polished marble reflects a lot of light, so I used a polarizing filter to reduce the reflected light.

marble polished by flash floods
marble polished by flash floods

Below, rocks suspended in the aggregate of a canyon wall form a natural mosaic, for which the canyon is named.

mosaic in the canyon wall
mosaic in the canyon wall

We enjoyed the beauty and variety of polished rock at Mosaic Canyon. The plants, lizard and cacti were unexpected treats.


Published by


I enjoy travel, art, food, photography, nature, California native plants, history, and yoga. I am a retired software engineer. The gravatar is a Nuttall's woodpecker that visited our backyard.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.