Hundreds Stuck Inside Death Valley By Hilary


Rocks, mud and floodwater being cleared from highway 190 after heavy rains hit Death Valley National Park early evening August 20, 2023/California Highway Patrol

Editor’s note: Updates with unofficial rain total at Furnace Creek, electricity back on, sewer line break.

Roughly 400 people were marooned inside Death Valley National Park on Monday due to road damage inflicted by storm Hilary, though crews were working to open some routes out of the park.

“We don’t have any exit routes for residents, employees, or visitors, a total estimate of 400 people,” park spokeswoman Abby Wines said in an email. “Caltrans is working hard to clear an admin exit route on Ca-190 from Furnace Creek to Death Valley Junction. NPS is clearing CA-190 from Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells.”

The residents, travelers, and employees were sheltering in place at Furnace Creek, Stovepipe Wells, and Panamint Springs until area roads were safely passable. It is not known when the first sections of the park will reopen. 

Damage assessments were ongoing Monday in parks impacted by the storm. Along with Death Valley, other parks closed Monday were Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Manzanar National Historic Site, Cabrillo National Monument, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

While heavy rains stopped around midnight at Death Valley, Wines said there has been no electricity since then. Teams from California Highway Patrol, Lake Mead National Recreational Area, and Southern California Edison were all scheduled to fly over the park Monday to assess damage, she added.

Late Monday afternoon Wines said the heavy rains came in two bursts, “with about an inch of rain Sunday morning and another inch of rain Sunday night. Preliminary data from the official National Weather Service rain gauge at Furnace Creek recorded 2.20 inches of rain — the park’s average annual rainfall. Once verified, this would be the single rainiest day in Furnace Creek history beating the record of 1.7 inches set August 5, 2022. Higher amounts of rain fell in the mountains.”

“Southern California Edison restored the park’s electrical service at 1:30 p.m. on August 21, which also restored cell phone service,” she added. “The NPS land line telephones are still down. The park is also responding to a broken sewer line releasing raw sewage into the desert below Stovepipe Wells.” 

Flooding from heavy rain damaged CA-190 between Zabriskie Point and Furnace Creek. Photo taken morning of August 21, 2023/NPS

The National Weather Service said “extensive areas of standing water remain across Death Valley National Park. Roads are closed due to severe flash flooding and debris flows yesterday and last night. Some locations that will experience flooding include Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek, Shoshone, Texas Springs Campground, Panamint Springs, Darwin, Mesquite Springs Campground, Scottys Castle, Death Valley Junction and Tecopa.”

At Mojave National Preserve, acting Superintendent Debra Hughson said maintenance crews were out in the park to assess storm damage.

“All employees are safe, although some of us were without power Sunday,” she added in an email.

Tropical Storm Hilary covered many roads in Mojave National Preserve with debris/NPS

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