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Death Valley National Park Flood Damage Assessment Underway

Flooding in Death Valley on Friday turned Mud Canyon into a river / NPS

As Saturday dawned over Death Valley National Park, the impacts of the previous day’s flooding could be seen in most directions: vast mud and gravel debris flows, undercut roads with damaged asphalt, pipe broken water. Above, planes searched for any vehicles stuck in remote areas of the 3.4 million acre park, while below, law enforcement provided escorts to visitors leaving the park.

Despite Friday’s monsoon showers, which dumped 1.46 inches of rain on the desert park in a matter of hours, causing flooding that piled up gravel beds around dozens of vehicles in Furnace Creek parking lots and transformed the roads in streams, there were no injuries or stranded visitors. .

Recovery work was underway, but it was going to take time. Highway 190 between Furnace Creek and Pahrump, Nevada, was not expected to open until Tuesday. It remained to be seen when the park could reopen.

Rainfall had trapped about 1,000 park visitors and employees Friday afternoon as all roads in and out of Death Valley were closed by rubble washed away by floodwaters.

Monsoon rains this year have been heavier and longer than usual during the summer months. Heavy rain earlier this week in the park washed away cars in some cases and closed roads. On the west side of Death Valley, floodwaters swept away a vehicle as it traveled Highway 190 a few miles west of Stovepipe Wells.

The return of torrential rains on Friday caused the failure of the Cow Creek water system, which supplies water to the Cow Creek area for residents and park offices. Park staff identified a major break in the line due to flooding and worked to repair it.

On Friday, the park received at least 1.46 inches of rain at Furnace Creek, nearly an entire year of rain in one morning; the park’s annual average is 1.9 inches of rainfall. While the park originally reported 1.71 inches of precipitation, that was an unofficial measurement. Friday’s rainfall set a record August rainfall amount; previous mark was 1.35 inches received August 1936.

Flooding stranded many vehicles at Furnace Creek in debris / NPS

A statement from the park on Saturday morning listed some of the known damage:

  • Highway 190: areas of undermining, complete loss of shoulder and damage to asphalt. About 20 palm trees fell on the roadway near the Furnace Creek Inn. Debris is flowing in many areas and flood waters are still on the road in Devils Cornfield this morning. California Department of Transportation crews are working hard to clear travel zones, with estimates of a partial opening by Tuesday.
  • Water damage to NPS Emergency Operations Center building.
  • Residential water lines in Cow Creek were blown in several places. Some water availability has been returned to housing, but offices (including the emergency operations center, maintenance buildings and residential dormitories) remain without water.
  • Water damage to park staff residences
  • Badwater Basin Road: large debris flows
  • Northern Highway: asphalt damage
  • Beatty Cutoff/Mud Canyon Roads: Major Asphalt Damage and Undercutting
  • Artists Drive: Debris Flows
  • Titus Canyon Road: The Washes
  • Emigrant Canyon at Wildrose: debris on the roadway
  • Lower Wildrose Road: pavement damage
  • 20 Mule Team Canyon Road: washes
  • Salt Creek Road: flooding on the roadway
  • Cottonwood/Marble Road: major flooding

Staff noted, however, that this is not an exhaustive list, as Death Valley contains over 1,000 miles of roads and access issues have prevented updates to Scotty’s Castle in the north-corner. east of the park and other areas.

“I want to thank park staff, the California Department of Transportation and other partners who are working hard to reopen major travel routes and manage this incident,” said Death Valley Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “With the severity and widespread nature of this rainfall, it will take time to rebuild and reopen everything, and we appreciate your support and patience as we continue this work.”