Survey of Death
August 15, 2004
Extremely heavy rainfall on the evening of August 15, 2004 produced extensive
flooding in Death Valley National Park. According to park officials rainfall began along the eastern portions of
the park (over the Black and Funeral Mountains) between 7:30-7:45 PM PDT Flooding started to occur between 7:55-8:00 PM PDT
with intense flooding beginning at around 8:30 PDT. Park Ranger Charlie Callagan stated that this
was the heaviest rainfall he had seen in his entire life and his rough
estimates of rainfall were in the 1-2 inch range. This flood is being compared to the floods
from 1985, 1941 and 1939.
The area receiving the most flooding and damage occurred along
SR190 which runs along the Furnace Creek Wash. One arm of the wash runs along SR190 from the
pass (at an elevation of 3040 feet) between the Mountains and Greenwater Range. Runoff was evident from numerous channels
along the west side of the Funeral Mountains. Significant runoff and flooding was evident
just south of the pass along SR190 with the first signs of water over the
roadway near mile marker 126. Road erosion and damage was sporadic down to the merger with the main arm of the
Furnace Creek wash.
However, one vehicle was pushed off the road and flipped
just north of the merger of the two arms of the Furnace Creek Wash. The second, main arm extends along Dante's
View Rd., which later becomes Furnace Creek Wash Rd. in the Green Water Valley between the Greenwater Range
and Black Mountains. Mel Essington from the National Park Service observed evidence of flooding and significant
road erosion on Dante's View Rd. Heavy runoff was evident along many channels
along the east side of the Black Mountains (in excess of
ten channels as observed by Mel Essington) and to a lesser extent from runoff
from channels along the west side of the Greenwater Range.
Both arms of the Furnace Creek Wash merge approximately 10
miles from the Death Valley bottom at SR190.
The flooding was then significantly enhanced at the merger
of both arms with flow crossing back and forth along the roadway initially,
then running along both sides of the road causing substantial erosion, and
additionally washing out entire sections of the roadway.
Additional runoff was provided from multiple channels along
the west side of the Funeral Mountains. One location where several power lines were knocked
over was near/just south of the merger of the washes.
The section between the entrance of 20 Mule Team Canyon Rd. and Zabriskie Point is where
the two fatalities had occurred.
Gower Gulch, just to the north of Zabriskie Point is where a
diversion for runoff was created after the 1939 and 1941 floods. Runoff generally follows the diversion
westward through Gower Gulch but the excessively strong flow jumped over the
diversion to continue down along and/or over SR190. Significant flooding occurred in the vicinity
of Zabriskie Point. The restrooms at the Zabriskie Point viewing area can be seen to have dirt/debris to nearly their
rooftops and the terrain along several nearby trails shows substantial
Miles (rough estimate in excess of 3 miles) of SR190
received extensive damage/and or were completely washed out.
There were also multiple regions along SR190 where damage to
the water supply pipes was evident.
As the floodwaters moved downstream to near the Furnace
Creek Wash additional damage observed to the roadways and to the Annex which
serves as a dormitory for some of the NPS staff. Eight cars parked in the parking lot near the
Furnace Creek Inn and Annex and were washed several blocks away and sustained
severe damage. A high water mark can be seen on the annex building and indicates a level of approximately 8-10 feet.
A wall in front of the Furnace Creek Inn which was built since
the 1985 flood helped divert much of the floodwaters southward toward Badwater,
whereas, the floodwaters of 1985 continued westbound causing damage to the Timbisha
Shoshone Indian Village and the Furnace Creek Ranch. Power and water supplies
have also been damaged. The intersection where SR190 goes north to Furnace Creek
and SR178 goes to the south toward Badwater
sustained substantial damage and deposition.
Elsewhere in the park, there are additional reports of
damaged vehicles on some of the back roads. Due to the vastness of the park not all areas were visited and there are
discrepancies at this point in the level of additional damage to roads and
property. Flooding was reported (debris flow and deposition) on SR374 (Mud Canyon Rd.)
with portions of the road being eroded away. Flooding occurred on SR190 north of SR190 where sheet flow produced
deposition along the roadway to depth of 1-2 feet in locations. Southwest of Stovepipe Wells along SR190
also experienced minor flooding and had areas of sheet flow which produced some
deposition on the roadway.