Those wanting to visit Death Valley National Park may want to pause planning. Find out whyZitat
Death Valley National Park is undergoing $6 million in repairs after Tropical Storm Hilary.
Death Valley National Park National Park remains closed after being hit by the remnants ofTropical Storm Hilary.
Wednesday, I traveled to Death Valley for a first-hand look at the destruction and how this storm has reshaped this popular spot for visitors.
"[The storm] was historic," said National Park Service Ranger Matthew Lamar. "We had 2.2 inches of rain in 24 hours."
Lamar took me on a tour of Death Valley, showing the destruction up close.
"That is a year's worth of rain in one day," he said.
From erosion to damaged roads to debris still being removed, the park, which gets around 1 million visitors yearly, had its rainiest day ever on Sunday, Aug. 20.
Lamar says the historic flooding led to severe damage.
"How significant is that for you to see?" I asked.
"It really shows you the power of water. It comes down, it cuts along the bank, cuts away that shoulder and eventually, it cuts into the pavement," he said.
Significant damage can be seen on State Route 190, one of the main roads through the national park. Christopher Andriessen with Caltrans, the California Department of Transportation, says repairing it will take three months.
"Right now, your priority is to open these roads as soon as possible?" I asked.
"Absolutely," said spokesperson Andriessen. "Caltran's goal is to restore working order to SR 190 as quickly as we can."
Andriessen said two emergency contracts have been approved to repair the roads. He says the cost will be more than $6 million from California.
At one point during the storm, Andriessen said around 400 people, including visitors and park employees, were trapped and had to shelter in place.
He says Caltrans helped make a temporary road to get them out.
"It's fairly significant damage compared to recent storms," he said.
Lamar says two inches of rain in a place like Florida is a lot different than this much rain in the driest place in North America.
"We don't have the soils," Lamar said. "We don't have vegetation to absorb all that moisture."
Death Valley Could Be Closed Until at Least December Following Tropical Storm DamageZitat
Heavy precipitation left some of the park’s key roads in tatters.
New estimates by the National Park Service suggest that it could be December before the California side of Death Valley National Park can even partially reopen to visitor traffic thanks to severe damage from Tropical Storm Hillary.
After Hillary unleashed 2.2-inches of rain—about the average annual precipitation the park usually receives—on Death Valley last month, the park’s roads and infrastructure experienced unprecedented damage, leaving some roads in ruins and temporarily trapping visitors in the park.
Abby Wines, Death Valley’s Park Management Analyst explained that re-opening the park is going to be a difficult undertaking.
“That [December date] is a moving target,” she said, “A section of California 190 will probably open first, but Caltrans doesn’t even know which section and they haven’t given us a timeline on that. They’re trying to reopen all of 190 by early December…it’s not a promise. It depends on what happens between now and then.”
Park officials were still managing the devastation from a 2022 storm that unleashed 1.7 inches of rain on the region in about three hours when Tropical Storm Hillary struck. Although officials were able to complete the repair of the region’s paved roads after 2022’s storms, more remote areas of the park had not yet been fixed when Tropical Storm Hillary compounded the issues and caused a complete park closure.
Since the soil within Death Valley absorbs moisture at a slow rate, large amounts of rain quickly contribute to flooding. Last month’s storm dislodged large boulders and mudslides throughout the park, tearing apart roadways and trails.
At this time, both the roads and the park itself are entirely closed to the public since many areas are still covered with debris from the storm, and some regions experienced undercutting and shoulder loss.
Death Valley is “massive…a park the size of the state of Connecticut,” Wines told National Parks Traveler. “But every single one of the paved roads that are the major arteries through the park, all of those are damaged. Most of them had pavement loss,”
In other parts of the park, roads are covered with as much as 5 feet of debris. Even when that’s removed, fixing the asphalt will be a lengthy process.
Most well known for its extreme temperatures, Death Valley has been making the news for its “unprecedented storms” over the past several years. Wines explained that this could be the new norm for the park.
“The climate change models all predict that storms in this area are going to get more violent and more frequent. So that may be what we’re seeing,” she said.
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Death Valley National Park potentially reopening after its longest closure everZitat
The National Park Service and Caltrans announced a tentative reopening date for Death Valley National Park after its longest closure in history.
The park and parts of state Route 190 are tentatively scheduled to reopen on Oct. 15, NPS announced in a press release. The highway and park have been closed since Aug. 20 due to flash flood damage caused by Tropical Storm Hilary.
This reopening date could be delayed depending on how quickly repairs are made to roads in and around the park, Death Valley’s management analyst Abby Wines told SFGATE in an email.
“We need roads that the public can drive safely. Currently, every road in the park has some sections where flooding undercut pavement and collapsed roadways, many places where rocks were deposited on roads, and many places where shoulders were eroded leaving dangerous drop-offs,” Wines said.
Necessary repairs include clearing rocks and gravel off roads, filling in eroded shoulders, saw-cutting out damaged sections of asphalt, filling in parts of roads that have collapsed or eroded and re-paving those eroded sections, Wines said.
The potential reopening would only apply to the park’s western entrance coming from the town of Lone Pine, according to the press release. Eastern entrances to the park would remain closed. All hotels and most campgrounds inside the park will be open, the release said.
Though the 2.2 inches of rain brought on by Tropical Storm Hilary doesn’t sound like much — the rain totals at the park even garnered some laughs on social media — Wines said that the weather event was incredibly significant.
“2.2 inches of rain is a HUGE amount for Death Valley! It’s more than the park gets in an entire year on average,” Wines said.
Wines added that Death Valley’s landscape is not adept at absorbing rain: Steep, rocky mountains and hard-pressed soil prevent water from sinking into the ground, causing it to be channeled into flash floods.
“These floods are a natural process that shape the park’s dramatic scenery. But the roads we built for people to see that scenery are in the path of those same floods,” Wines said.
Caltrans and Park Service have hired contractors to conduct repairs on state Route 190 at either end of the park, while Caltrans is responsible for repairs inside the park. Portions of the road are expected to reopen with traffic controls before being fully repaired, Wines said.
Death Valley National Park will partially re-open October 15Zitat
Death Valley National Park will partially reopen on Sunday, October 15. Visitors will be able enter the park via CA-190 from the west via Lone Pine or from the east via Death Valley Junction. All other park entrances will remain closed.
“This was longest closure in Death Valley National Park’s history,” said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “I am excited to welcome people back to enjoy their park!”
The roads that are being opened are not yet fully repaired. Collapsed road segments have been filled in with gravel. Travelers should expect loose gravel on roads, lowered speed limits, and traffic delays. CA-190 will have one-hour delays due to an extensive section of one-lane traffic control between Panamint Springs and Father Crowley Vista. Several other places will have delays of up to 20 minutes for traffic control.
The following roads will be open starting October 15: CA-190, Badwater Road (only from CA-190 to Badwater Basin), Dantes View Road, Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road, Artists Drive, Natural Bridge Road, Mustard Canyon, and Mosaic Canyon Road. These roads provide access to many of the park’s most popular viewpoints and hikes. This includes Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, Zabriskie Point, Golden Canyon, and Mosaic Canyon.
All other roads in the park are closed to vehicular traffic.
“This is a really special time,” said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. “It’s pretty rare to see a lake in Death Valley!” Badwater Basin has a temporary lake that is several miles long. The lake is only a few inches deep and may dry up within a few weeks.
Lodging, food, and fuel will be available at Panamint Springs Resort, Stovepipe Wells Village, and the Oasis at Death Valley. Many NPS campgrounds will also be open.
On August 20, the park received over 2 inches of rain in one day, which is more than the area typically sees in an entire year. Extensive flooding washed away trails and undercut pavement, causing catastrophic damage to roads and trails throughout the park.
Over the last eight weeks, Caltrans, National Park Service (NPS), and contractors have made major repairs to many of the paved roads, including CA-190 running east-west through the park. More park roads will open as repairs continue.
Death Valley National Park now home to a lake after Tropical Storm Hilary ravaged areaZitat
From death came new life.
A previously dry area in Death Valley National Park is now home to a lake after extreme rainfall from Tropical Storm Hilary ravaged the area in August.
When the California park reopened on Oct. 15, after the brutal storm, visitors discovered that its normally flat and dry Badwater Basin now has a lake, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Park ranger Matthew Lamar told the outlet that they haven’t measured the lake’s depth yet, but they thhink it’s a little over 2 feet” at its deepest point.
“That’s what it was in 2005, the last time there was a significant lake there.”
He noted that the park is not only the hottest place in the world, but also has the highest evaporation rate, so the lake could dry up within weeks, depending on temperatures there.
With a heat wave descending on the region this weekend, the National Weather Service said temps were expected to top 100 degrees on Saturday.
Yellow and orange wildflowers that are not in season are also blooming around the Badwater Basin — the lowest point in the U.S., at 282 feet below sea level.
Hilary, the first tropical storm to hit California in 84 years, dropped a year’s worth of rainfall on the region in one day.
Due to flooded roads and trails, the park — which got a total of 2.2 inches of rain — was forced to close on Aug. 20.
The nearly two-month shutdown was the longest closure in park history.
Todd Robertson and Karina Shah, visiting from London, watched the lake’s colors change.
“We’ve been waiting 10 years to come and do the national parks,” Roberston told the outlet.
“We were praying all the way that this would be open. Last night, when we checked in [at the Ranch at Death Valley in Furnace Creek], they let us know it was wet.”
Beatty entrance to reopen Nov. 1Zitat
The National Park Service (NPS) will reopen Mud Canyon Road and Daylight Pass on November 1, 2023. Daylight Pass connects Death Valley National Park to NV-374 and Beatty, NV. Only emergency repairs have been completed, so drivers need to use caution.
Death Valley National Park endured severe flash floods on August 20. The remnants of Hurricane Hilary caused 2.2 inches of rain in a single day. This was the park’s rainiest day on record. That day’s rainfall was more than the park receives in an average year. Some mountainous areas in the park likely received more than six inches of rain that day. The mountains’ steep rocky slopes absorbed little of this rain. Most of it channeled into canyons as flash floods. Floods damaged the park’s utilities, some buildings, and 1,400 miles of roads.
The emergency repairs of Mud Canyon Road and Daylight pass were funded by the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads program (ERFO). A contractor cleared rocks and gravel off the road, filled in shoulder drop-offs, removed damaged pavement, and filled in collapsed road segments with gravel. A second contract will start in a few months to do permanent road repairs, including repaving and selective armoring to protect roads from future floods.
The park’s hotels, largest campgrounds, primary viewpoints and hikes are open. Drivers should expect gravel patches on paved roads and to encounter traffic delays due to continuing construction parkwide. Most of the park’s secondary roads and backcountry remain closed due to flood damage. Information is on the park’s website: nps.gov/deva.
Shoshone entrance and Badwater Road reopenedZitat
The southeast entrance to Death Valley National Park is now open. Badwater Road provides direct access from Shoshone, CA to the temporary lake at Badwater Basin.
Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads program (ERFO) funded emergency repairs of Badwater Road. National Park Service (NPS) employees cleared debris off the northern end of Badwater Road and contractors cleared the southern end.
Only emergency repairs have been completed. Drivers should use extra caution park-wide due to loose gravel. The park’s primary viewpoints, hikes, campgrounds, and lodging are open via CA-190, Badwater Road, Dantes View Road, and Daylight Pass.
Many of the park’s secondary roads and backcountry areas remain closed. NPS, FHWA, Caltrans, and Inyo County continue to repair flood damage.
Echo Canyon, Hole in the Wall, and Greenwater Valley open for camping with permitZitat
Death Valley National Park continues to repair and reopen flood-damaged roads. Roadside camping and backpacking is now available along Echo Canyon Road, Hole in the Wall Road, Cottonwood Canyon Road, Marble Canyon Road, and Greenwater Valley Road (aka Furnace Creek Wash Road). The free, mandatory camping permits are available at Furnace Creek Visitor Center, same day only.
Inyo County graded Greenwater Valley Road. The adjoining Deadman Pass and Gold Valley Roads are open, but have not been maintained. Conditions in Gold Valley Road may be challenging even for vehicles with 4x4 high clearance.
National Park Service (NPS) and NPS contractors used a bulldozers and graders to repair flood damage to Echo Canyon, Hole in the Wall, Cottonwood Canyon, and Marble Canyon Roads.
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Motorcyclist rescued after driving on closed Titus Canyon RoadZitat
Followed incorrect information on map app
Two men were rescued by helicopter after they illegally drove on a closed road in Death Valley National Park. The National Park Service (NPS) closed Titus Canyon Road temporarily due to hazardous conditions caused by flood damage.
On the afternoon of November 18, two men from California allegedly bypassed a locked gate, concrete barriers, and closure signs to drive motorcycles on Titus Canyon Road. They stated that they were following a map app that showed the road as open, so they bypassed the closure signs.
Many roads in the park have not been repaired yet after the remnants of Hurricane Hilary damaged them. Damaged roads are temporarily closed to due to safety and resource management concerns. The closures are listed at nps.gov/deva and marked with signs.
One of the men crashed his motorcycle. He broke his collarbone and had other non-life-threatening injuries. The men called 911 via a satellite phone just before sunset. Park rangers were not able to reach the injured man in a timely manner due to the road conditions, so they called for helicopter assistance. The US Navy’s VX-31 helicopter responded from Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake. They transported the injured man and his companion to Ridgecrest Regional Hospital.
Charges are pending.
Titus Canyon is one of the park’s most popular backcountry drives. When open, the 27-mile high-clearance road provides access to Leadfield ghost town, petroglyphs at Klare Spring, and spectacular canyon narrows.
Additional areas of Death Valley NP’s backcountry reopenedZitat
Sections of Eureka Valley and Saline Valley
Portions of Eureka Valley and Saline Valley opened on November 30. These are the most recent portions of Death Valley National Park to reopen after every road in the park was damaged by the remnants of Hurricane Hilary in August.
Many roads in the park are still closed due to flood damage. National Park Service officials state these temporary closures are necessary for safety and to prevent damage of natural and cultural resources when people drive offroad around damaged road sections. Travelers should review current status at nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.
Eureka Valley and Saline Valley can only be accessed by entering the park from Big Pine, CA. These roads were repaired by Inyo County.
Eureka Dunes are the tallest dunes in California. The Big Pine – Death Valley Road is open from Big Pine to Eureka Valley. It is closed east of the Eureka Valley junction. Eureka Dunes primitive campground is now open. Eureka Valley Road / Steel Pass Road is closed past the campground due to flood damage.
The soaking tubs and primitive campground at Saline Valley Warm Springs are now open. The only route open to drive there is from Big Pine, CA over Saline Valley Road’s North Pass. Saline Valley Road’s South Pass and Steel Pass Road past Palm Springs are still closed due to flood damage.