The National Park Service has mostly good news for anybody with plans to visit Death Valley National Park.
Monsoonal rains and flash flooding caused millions of dollars in damage to Death Valley’s roads and facilities roughly 2 weeks ago, resulting in the park’s roads being closed. Now, however, some of the park’s roads and its most-popular attractions have reopened.
For example, while the recent flash flooding damaged miles of the road shoulder on State Route 190, the road was reopened at about 5 p.m. last Friday, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) announced, according to the Associated Press. Although the road has reopened, work crews will continue filling in sections of the road that had washed away and there may be lane closures at various times as they continue repairs, Caltrans explained.
“CA Hwy 190 through the park has reopened,” the National Park Service explains. “Many other roads within the park remain closed. Please stay out of closed areas so we can work safely!”
Why Flooding Occurs In Death Valley
Death Valley National Park, which is a 2-hour drive from Las Vegas, is the hottest, driest, and lowest national park in the U.S. In the summer months of May to September, temperatures average over 100 degrees — and often exceed 120 degrees. What’s more, the official highest recorded temperature in the world was 134 degrees in Death Valley on July 10, 1913.
Flash flooding from Southwest monsoon rains every August is a natural part of Death Valley’s ecology. Here’s why the flooding occurs: There is little soil to soak up water, so measurable rain can lead to flooding in low-lying areas. On the other hand, water from heavy rains makes its way into normally dry creeks, triggering flash floods.
For example, historic downpours from monsoonal thunderstorms in Death Valley earlier this month triggered flooding that damaged numerous roads and park facilities. Then, a few days later, 1.46 inches of rain fell on August 6 at Furnace Creek in Death Valley in just 3 hours.
The rain total, which was just shy of the all-time record high of 1.47 inches of rain, caused flash flooding that resulted in widespread damage and led to the National Park Service closing all of the park’s roads.
“The heavy rain that caused the devastating flooding at Death Valley was an extremely rare, 1,000-year event,” Daniel Berc, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Las Vegas, said, according to the National Park Service. “A 1,000-year event doesn’t mean it happens once per 1,000 years. It means there is a 0.1 percent chance of it occurring in any given year.”
To put that rainfall amount in perspective, Death Valley typically receives 1.94 inches of rain per year, according to the Washington Post. Of that, just 0.11 inches of rain falls in August on average.
Which Roads Are Open At Death Valley
California Highway 190 has reopened through Death Valley, which means visitors can travel to Zabriskie Point, Harmony Borax Works, and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.
Badwater Road has also reopened so visitors can travel to Golden Canyon Trail, Artists Drive, Devils Golf Course, Natural Bridge, and Badwater Basin. However, it must be noted that Badwater Road remains closed beyond mile marker 17.
Twenty Mule Team Canyon Road and Dantes View Road are both now open.
The flip side of the coin is that many park roads are still closed due to recent flood damage. This includes West Side, Daylight Pass, Beatty Cutoff, Mud Canyon, North Highway, Emigrant/Wildrose, Lower Wildrose, Titus Canyon, Mustard Canyon, and Salt Creek.
Consequently, there is no road access to Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, Keane Wonder Mine, Ubehebe Crater, and Salt Creek.
Finally, Bonnie Clare Road and Scotty’s Castle remain closed due to ongoing road work to repair previous flood damage. Both are now projected to reopen late next year.
Know Before You Go
If you plan to visit Death Valley soon, it’s important to remember that monsoonal weather is forecast for at least the next 10 days. Consequently, park roads and other areas may be open or closed based on the weather.
Also, “Backcountry travel is NOT recommended,” the National Park Service cautions.
“Not all roads have been assessed for current conditions due to the scale of the flooding impacts,” the National Park Service continues. “At this time, all dirt roads that have been assessed have had damage, and some are completely impassable due to washouts and rocks in roadways.”
You can stay up to date on which roads and attractions are currently open at Death Valley here.
Be sure to also read all of our Death Valley National Park content, including: