During only five hours on the night of October 18, 2015, Scotty's Castle received 2 3/4 inches of rain. This followed a half-inch of rain the day before. The rain and hail fell on steep, mostly-bare slopes in Grapevine Canyon, didn't soak into the ground, and quickly caused a flash flood of mud and rocks headed towards Scotty's Castle. This was part of a series of floods over two weeks that hit isolated sections of the park, seeminly at random.
Floods Shape Death Valley
Rainfalls that seem moderate by the standards of less arid regions can have major effects in a desert environment. Partially due to sparse vegetation, desert soils tend to be hard-packed and don't soak up water quickly. Steep slopes in Death Valley also tend to shed rain rather than absorb it. This water ends up channeled in low spots such as canyons and can very suddenly cause flash floods.
Flash floods can cause very expensive damage to roads and infrastructure. They can also be dangerous. Never drive across active flooding and avoid hiking in canyons when there is a risk of rain.
Yet these same flash floods are a major force behind the stark beauty of Death Valley. Flash floods moved debris to create the alluvial fans that spill out of canyon mouths. Flood erosion created the Natural Bridge and carved the graceful curves of Mosaic Canyon.
Flooding at Scotty's Castle
The 2015 flood was much larger than any flood event since the construction of Scotty's Castle in the 1920s. The maximum flow was estimated at 3,200 cubic feet per second and deposited debris over 10 feet high. Fortunately, the storm did only minor damage to the main house at Scotty's Castle, but many other buildings or facilities were heavily damaged.
Scotty's Castle Closed TemporarilyDeath Valley National Park staff are excited about the success so far in securing funding to repair utiltiies, infrastructure, and buildings at Scotty's Castle. However, these projects are large and will take time to plan and implement. The park is targeting to reopen Bonnie Clare Road and Scotty's Castle in the fall of 2021.
Last updated: November 22, 2019