Scotty's Castle Flood

Damage to Scotty's Castle Road
The flood washed away sections of the road near Scotty's Castle and historic fence posts. The picture shows a National Park Service employee for scale.

NPS photo

Unprecedented Rainfall

On the night of October 18, 2015, Scotty's Castle received 2 3/4 inches of rain— a year's worth of rain within a mere five hours. This followed a half-inch of rain the day before. The rain and hail fell on the steep slopes of Grapevine Canyon and quickly caused a flash flood of mud and rocks headed towards Scotty's Castle flowing at an estimated 3,200 cubic feet per second.

That night, park dispatch received word that visitors were stranded by flooding near Ubehebe Crater. Park rangers evacuated Mesquite Springs Campground and sheltered in place with 20 visitors at a high point on the rim of Uhehebe Crater. That night a park ranger watched power poles and metal dumpsters float out of Grapevine Canyon—an initial indicator of the flood's impacts.

 

Damage Done, Repairs Underway

The 2015 flood was much larger than any flood event since the construction of Scotty's Castle in the 1920s. Fortunately, the storm did only minor damage to the main house at Scotty's Castle, but many other buildings or facilities were heavily damaged.

 
Flood-damaged exterior wall
The flood forced its way into a storeroom in the back of the Scotty's Castle Visitor Center and pushed out this wall from the inside.

NPS photo

  • Visitor Center (historic garage/Longshed): The most severely damaged historic building was the garage, which functions as the site's Visitor Center. The flood broke through windows, doors, and even walls. The flood left four feet of mud and rocks inside the building. An architectural/engineering firm has designed repairs. In October 2019, the National Park Service and the California State Historic Preservation Officer signed an agreement on how to mitigate impacts to the historic building by a proposed widening of the breezeway door (to allow floods to pass through the breezeway instead of breaking into the L-shaped building) and a proposed flood wall. REPAIRS IN PROGRESS: The construction contract was awarded summer 2020. Construction is scheduled for November 2020 - November 2021.
 
The historic concrete bridge is seen in the background, viewed from the east side. In the foreground is an extensive area covered by articulated concrete blocks.
Albert Johnson planned for this bridge to be the formal entry to Scotty's Castle. The  articulated concrete block will prevent undercutting by future floods.

NPS photo

  • Historic Bridge: The bridge created a pinch point for the flood, which caused the water and debris to rush under the narrow bridge span like water rushing through a hose when pinched. The ground under the bridge and around its foundation was scoured down by about 8 feet. Articulated concrete block and other erosion-control features have been installed upstream and downstream of the bridge. Soil has been backfilled over the erosion control devices, so vegetation will disguise them. REPAIRS COMPLETED.
 
an unpaved road with gravel and boulders at the edge
K-rail was buried next to the road edges, and revet mattress made of interconnected cages filled add further protection from future flood damage.

NPS / Lou Rogers

  • Bonnie Clare Road: The flood destroyed most of the 8-mile-long Bonnie Clare Road Road (aka North Highway or Scotty's Castle Road). Bonnie Clare Road is closed from the park boundary (where it becomes NV-267) to the junction of North Highway and Ubehebe Crater road near Grapevine Ranger Station. Federal Highway Administration redesigned the road to increase its resistance to future floods. REPAIRS COMPLETED. However, Bonnie Clare Road will remain closed to the public until safety hazards from other construction projects are done.
 
a concrete post with a j and 2019 writing
Reproduction fence posts have been marked with the year to differentiate them clearly.

NPS / Abby Wines

  • Historic Fence: Albert Johnson marked his property boundary with straight lines of concrete fenceposts stamped with a "J" (for Johnson) and "S" (for Scotty, perpetuating the myth of Scotty's Castle). Over a mile of concrete fence posts were washed out. The section of the fence adjacent to Bonnie Clare Road has been reproduced and installed by the same contractors who rebuilt the road. Condition assessments are underway for the damaged portions of the fence not adjacent to the road. REPAIRS PARTIALLY COMPLETED.
 
a pipe being placed in a trench
Replacing the main water pipe.

NPS photo

  • Water system: The spring house, one of two reservoirs, and the 4,000-foot pipeline were destroyed. REPAIRS COMPLETED: The water main pipe was replaced from September 2019 to summer 2020. This included two sections of directional drilling to connect to a waterline installed under the newly-armored Bonnie Clare Road. REPAIRS NEEDED: Replacement of the destroyed spring collection gallery and reservoir tank is planned for 2021. Damaged water distribution pipes within the historic district is planned for winter 2020/2021.
 
a pool by a castle, filled with brown water
The castle pool was never competed, but filled many feet deep with mud and debris during the storm.

NPS / Abby Wines

  • Historic Pool: Was filled with mud and water, requiring removal by heavy equipment and hand tools. REPAIRS COMPLETED.
 
people in safety vests digging mud from around a building
Deep mud and debris was left around many buildings, including the Longhouse.

NPS photo

  • Grounds: Mud and rocks up to four feet deep surrounded several buildings and covered the parking lot and picnic area. This has mostly been removed by trail crews and fire crews loaned from other national parks. REPAIRS PARTIALLY COMPLETED: work is still needed on specific features like the watercourse, but hundreds of dumptruck loads of debris have been removed.
 
  • Electricity: Over 20 power poles were washed away. Lack of power and HVAC threatened the historic objects within the castle, which were removed for safe keeping. Southern California Edison replaced the power line to Scotty's Castle. REPAIRS COMPLETED: Work on the power distribution within the historic district was completed in summer 2020.
 
  • Sewer: The leach field and septic tank were destroyed by the flood. REPAIRS COMPLETED: the leach field and septic tank were replaced in 2020. REPAIRS NEEDED: a related project to damaged wastewater collection pipes within the historic district is planned for winter 2020/2021.
 
  • Museum collection: 139,000 archives, furnishings, and other artifacts are threatened by lack of heating, air conditioning, humidity control and fire suppression. The museum collection has been moved to temporary storage away from the park. The museum collection will be returned to display in the Castle after the HVAC is replaced.
 
  • Hacienda: This historic building serves as staff housing (top floor) and staff offices (basement floor). Damage due mud up to four feet thick that was deposited inside the building. An architectural/engineering firm designed repairs and the California State Historic Preservation Office has concurred with the designs. REPAIRS SCHEDULED: Construction is scheduled for November 2020 - November 2021.
 
  • Scotty's Castle (Main House & Annex): The roof leaked in several places, allowing moisture into the building. REPAIRS PARTIALLY COMPLETED: Minor repairs have taken place; more are needed.
 

Flood Photo & Video Gallery

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

For More Information:

General history of Scotty's Castle.

Scotty's Castle Environmental Assessment
Bonnie Clare Road Environmental Assessment

Last updated: October 19, 2020

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Death Valley, CA 92328

Phone:

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