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Death Valley Making Changes Due to COVID-19

PRESS RELEASE FROM DEATH VALLEY NATIONAL PARK:

Death Valley, CA– Death Valley National Park, in response to Executive Order N-33-20 issued by the Governor of the State of California and the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), is announcing additional modifications to operations to support federal, state, and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

As of March 21, 2020, Death Valley National Park will offer very limited services outside those that support visitor or resource protection. At Death Valley National Park, the following services and operations will be suspended in order to comply with the California order:

  • The park will no longer provide public restrooms at most trailheads and viewpoints.
  • Parking lots at Zabriskie Point, Badwater, and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes are closed.
  • The following campgrounds are closed: Furnace Creek, Mesquite Springs, Texas Springs, Emigrant, Sunset, Stovepipe Wells, Thorndike, and Mahogany Flat.
  • Visitor centers are closed
  • The Oasis at Death Valley has closed lodging, camping, stores, and restaurants.
  • Stovepipe Wells Resort has closed lodging, camping, and restaurants.

The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners at Death Valley National Park is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working with the federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) situation. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website (nps.gov/deva) and social media channels.

Outdoor spaces at Death Valley National Park remain accessible to the public in accordance with the latest federal, state, and local health guidance, in addition to entry fees being waived for visitors.

  • Restrooms are available outside Furnace Creek Visitor Center and at Emigrant, and at the Stovepipe Wells store.
  • Fuel is available at The Oasis at Death Valley (pay-at-pump only), Stovepipe Wells (pay-at-pump only, and only during calm winds), and Panamint Springs.
  • Stovepipe Wells General Store is open.
  • Panamint Springs Resort is open for camping and take-out dining.
  • Regulations for backcountry camping or dispersed road-side camping are online at: www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/backcamp.htm.

The NPS encourages people who choose to visit Death Valley National Park during this pandemic to adhere to guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local public health authorities to protect visitors and employees. As services are limited, the NPS urges visitors to continue to practice Leave No Trace principles, including pack-in and pack-out, to keep outdoor spaces safe and healthy.

The NPS urges visitors to do their part when visiting a park and to follow CDC guidance to prevent the spread of infectious diseases by maintaining a safe distance between yourself and other groups; washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze; and most importantly, staying home if you feel sick.

For high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying conditions, we ask that they take extra caution and follow CDC guidance for those at higher risk of serious illness.

Updates about nationwide NPS operations will be posted on www.nps.gov/coronavirus. Death Valley National Park’s current conditions can be found at: www.nps.gov/deva/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.

 

Death Valley Hosting Naturalization Ceremony

DEATH VALLEY, CA – Death Valley National Park will be hosting a Naturalization Ceremony on March 13th at 11:00 am at the Mission Gardens of The Inn at Furnace Creek. Everyone is invited to attend this special event.

This unique event will welcome the newest citizens to America.  The 20 applicants are from Argentina, India, Mexico, Philippines, and Yemen and have often spent months or years going through the naturalization process.

Death Valley National Park Superintendent Mike Reynolds stated, “Death Valley is a spectacular setting to host this Naturalization Ceremony.  I am honored Death Valley can play a small roll in this important step for our nation’s newest citizens.”

The ceremony is free, open to the public, and does not require registration. However, the standard park entrance fee of $30 per vehicle is still applicable. Those wishing to attend the event should arrive at least 15 minutes early and park at The Inn at Furnace Creek. For a list of programs and lodging options, visit the park’s website at www.nps.gov/deva.

Furnace Creek Airport Runway is in Bad Shape

DEATH VALLEY, CA – The National Park Service warns pilots to be careful when landing or taking off at Furnace Creek Airport, due to numerous cracks and bumps in the runway. Repairs will be costly and are not likely to happen soon.

Furnace Creek Airport is located at 210 feet below sea level in Death Valley National Park. The runway pavement is very close to the water table. Ground movement and salt heaving, similar to frost heaving cold environments, have caused damage to the runway.
The airport remains open, but pilots have been warned about the poor condition of the runway by a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) advisory through the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Stovepipe Wells Airport is in better condition and is an alternative for pilots flying into the park.

The National Park Service does not have a timeline for full repairs, which would include subsurface work, moisture barriers, and repaving. Repairs are estimated at $3 million.

Death Valley Prepares for Annual Bird Count

Death Valley National Park invites the public to a fun day outdoors counting birds on Saturday, December 21. All skill levels are welcome for this opportunity to meet new people and learn about birds while contributing to a citizen-science effort continuing for over a hundred years.

The Christmas Bird Count will begin at 7 a.m. on Saturday, December 21 at Furnace Creek Golf Course parking lot in the Oasis at Death Valley. No experience is necessary! This is a great opportunity to learn about birds, get identification tips, and meet others interested in birding. Participants should dress in layers and wear sturdy shoes. Bring a hat, sunscreen, water, and snacks. Binoculars are recommended. Participants do not need to commit to the entire day, but must be there at 7 a.m. Contact Carol Fields at 760-786-3252 or carol_fields@nps.gov to sign up for the count.

This event is part of the nation-wide National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count (CBC). This year will be the 120th year of the national Christmas Bird Count, making it one of the longest-running citizen science events in the world. Death Valley National Park has been collecting CBC data since 1957. The data collected helps demonstrate the important role national parks serve for migratory and overwintering bird populations.

The data collected by CBC participants documents the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America. When combined with other bird surveys, it provides a picture of how the continent’s bird populations have changed over the past 120 years. The long-term perspective made possible by the Christmas Bird Count is vital for conservationists. It helps guide strategies to protect birds and their habitat, and helps identify environmental issues with implications for people as well. Each year, the CBC mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations. Results from past counts can be viewed at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

Hiker Missing in Death Valley

HUNTER CANYON, CA. December 4, 2019 – On November 27 (evening), Inyo County Sheriff’s Office received notification by Death Valley National Park of a missing hiker, Rolin Bruno, a 76-year old man from Arrowbear, CA. Bruno planned on hiking up Hunter Canyon out of Saline Valley to cache water for a future hike in the Spring, prior to meeting family members at Saline Valley Hot Springs on November 27. When Bruno did not arrive, family members notified the campground host. Bruno was hiking alone. (It is unclear whether Bruno’s hike occurred on Monday November 25 or Tuesday November 26.)

 

On Thursday November 28 a severe winter storm impeded search efforts. Aerial reconnaissance was requested for Friday November 29; CHP Inland Division Air Operations initially responded, however a fog layer made flying impossible in the morning. China Lake Naval Air Station was requested to provide aerial support once the fog layer lifted; Inyo Search and Rescue (SAR) members were on board providing additional assistance.

 

Saturday November 30, 11 Inyo SAR members conducted extensive search assignments in the area. Aerial searching was provided by CHP Inland Division Air Operations. A drone was deployed in order to reach more remote areas and provide additional search information to the team.  Due to extremely icy conditions on Saline Valley’s “South Pass”, the team was almost unable to drive out of the search area.  Sunday December 1, winter weather disallowed flying or driving into the search area.

 

On Monday Dec 2, as weather cleared, two Inyo SAR members were hoisted from CHP H-80 into more remote areas high in the search zone to check structures and mining ruins. Additional aerial searching was provided by CHP Inland Division Air Operations with Inyo SAR members on board.

 

Tuesday December 3, six Inyo SAR members were inserted into the search area by Kern County Air Operations.  SAR members from China Lake Mountain Rescue Group drove into the search zone and combed lower segments of the area. Inyo Sheriff’s Office deputies also drove to the sight and conducted investigations at the vehicle and searched nearby mining cabins.

 

Today winter weather has hampered search efforts.  Overhead planning teams are working on the next phase of the search operation. If anyone from the public has seen Bruno you are encouraged to contact Inyo Sheriff at 760-878-0383 option 4. Bruno is 5’11”, 170lbs, white male, long grey hair, grey beard, brown eyes, possibly wearing a flannel or denim shirt and blue jeans.

 

Aerial assistance has been provided by: CHP Inland Division Air Operations H-80, China Lake Naval Air Station VX-31, and Kern County Air Operations Air 5. Ground searching has been provided by: Inyo SAR, Kern County SAR, and China Lake Mountain Rescue Group. Additional support has been provided by Death Valley National Park and CalOES.

 

Salt Creek Boardwalk and All Campgrounds Open

DEATH VALLEY, CA – Salt Creek Boardwalk and all campgrounds are now open in Death Valley National Park. However, visitors should be aware of severe winter weather forecasted for Thanksgiving week.

Salt Creek Boardwalk, which has been closed for months due to safety hazards, recently reopened. Park employees and volunteers from Apple replaced over one hundred broken or sagging boards.
Death Valley generally welcomes a large number of visitors during the week of Thanksgiving. However, travelers this year should be cautious of winter storms that might bring snow as low as 3,200 feet in the park.

All park campgrounds are now open. However, Mahogany Flat Campground (elevation 8,200’) and Thorndike Campground (elevation 7,400’) will close if snow makes them inaccessible.

Scotty’s Castle Renovations Continue

Death Valley, Calif.— Scotty’s Castle located in the northern region of Death Valley National Park has been closed since October 18, 2015 when almost three inches of rain fell on the Scotty’s Castle area in Grapevine Canyon. The flash flood that ensued dramatically changed the landscape, the road and utilities were destroyed and some buildings damaged. Repairs are estimated at $47 million. Repairs are being funded over multiple years from a number of sources: park entrance fees, Federal Highways Administration, National Park Service deferred maintenance accounts, and donations.

Post flood, Death Valley National Park has requested funding from the Death Valley Natural History Association (DVNHA) to assist with funding several curatorial projects at Scotty’s Castle including: treatment of the silver collection, conservation of the Scotty’s Castle Upper Music Room Curtains, and repairs to the Scotty’s Castle Welte-Mignon Theatre Organ currently underway.

The Death Valley Natural History Association presented a check this week in the amount of $41,420 to fund the
reproduction of eight leather curtains in the Great Hall of Scotty’s Castle. The original painted and tooled sheepskin curtains are severely deteriorated. After 90 years of use in the desert, they have desiccation, tears, fading, cracking and loss of tassels. A professional conservation examination in 2012 determined that the
curtains are beyond repair. All curtains at Scotty’s Castle have an important function in protecting sensitive historic furnishings and textiles from further UV damage and also allow visitors to visualize the space as it was when occupied by the Johnson’s in the 1930s.

A complex project, leather stamps for this project were manufactured in 2018 using NPS funding and artisans
capable of stamping, cutting, coloring, and sewing the fully replicated reproductions took years to find. Appropriate weight and color matched leather is being sourced and artisans are now ready to begin work.

“This is the perfect timing for preservation and conservation work to take place while the collection has been taken out of Scotty’s Castle. Due to lack of temperature and humidly controls the entire collection normally housed within the Castle was removed for its protection. We have been working as fast as we can to raise
money so that necessary repairs to collection items can be made and so that the historic house can be reopened as complete as possible,” said David Blacker Executive Director of the Death Valley Natural History Association. “It all takes time and people willing to contribute.”

The Scotty’s Castle Historic District is scheduled to reopen in October 2021. During the closure, there are limited opportunities to visit Scotty’s Castle with a park ranger and see first-hand how the power of water shapes the landscape of Death Valley, listen to the stories of this unique palace in the desert, the people who called it home, and the projects underway to reopen this unique historic district. This season’s tours are offered on Sundays from December 8, 2019 through April 12, 2020. Reservations are required in advance. Tickets are $25 per person, available at www.dvnha.org. Proceeds from the tour benefit the Scotty’s Castle Historic Preservation Fund to support projects like the aforementioned. An additional $25,000 is needed for conservation treatment of the Scotty’s Castle Dining Room Curtains.

For more information on the Death Valley Natural History Association or to make a donation to the Scotty’s Castle Historic Preservation Fund please visit: www.dvnha.org.

Man’s Life Saved by CPR and AED

DEATH VALLEY, CA – Visitors, park rangers, and Mercy Air combined efforts to successfully save a man’s life after an apparent cardiac emergency in Death Valley National Park.

A 77-year-old man from Singapore collapsed at Zabriskie Point on September 19. Fortunately, a bystander at the popular viewpoint was a vacationing medical provider, who with the assistance of other bystanders quickly started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) after determining the man had no pulse and was not breathing. National Park Service rangers received notification from a 911 call and were on location within 10 minutes.

Upon arrival park rangers deployed an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to apply electric simulation to the man’s heart. After defibrillation and more than 10 minutes of CPR the man’s pulse returned and he was able to speak.

He was transported by park ambulance to a landing zone and taken to a Las Vegas area hospital by Mercy Air helicopter.

Death Valley National Park’s Chief Ranger, Rob Wissinger, said, “This incident is a great reminder of how the links in the chain of survival starts with bystander CPR and continues all the way to definitive care. This is something that we train for with our partners and it is great to see these links come together to provide the best possible service to someone in need.”

Saline Valley Warm Springs Management Plan Update

Record of Decision for the Saline Valley Warm Springs Plan

DEATH VALLEY, CA – The National Park Service announces the availability of the Record of Decision (ROD) for the Saline Valley Warm Springs Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (plan/EIS). The Record of Decision outlines the agency’s actions for managing visitor use, natural resources, cultural resources, and facilities at this backcountry site.

The selected alternative will allow for the continued recreational use of the warm springs, while balancing the protection of natural resources and historic and ethnographic values. The selected alternative incorporates community engagement through Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) with interested organized groups.

Saline Valley Warm Springs are located in a remote northwest corner of Death Valley National Park, 35 miles from the closest paved road. The springs have been important to the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe since time immemorial. Recreational users developed soaking tubs and art installations starting in the 1950s. The site was managed by the Bureau of Land Management until it was transferred to NPS with the California Desert Protection Act in 1994.

The NPS started working on a management plan for the site in 2012. Inyo County, the BLM, and the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe participated in the plan as cooperating agencies. Several organizations were heavily involved in providing comments, including the Saline Preservation Association and Recreation Aviation Foundation.

The National Park Service posted the completed Saline Valley Warm Springs plan/EIS on May 10. The Record of Decision is the formal approval of the plan and makes it effective as of June 14.

Scotty’s Castle Projects Pass Environmental Assessment

DEATH VALLEY, CA – The National Park Service (NPS) has completed its final environmental reviews of proposed projects to repair flood damage at Scotty’s Castle. Meanwhile, work has already started on projects approved earlier. The popular historic site could be partially open by late 2020 and is expected to be fully open by late 2021.

A severe flash flood on the night of October 18, 2015 sent water, mud, and rocks rushing down Grapevine Canyon. The flood broke through the walls of the historic Garage, in use by the NPS as the site’s visitor center, and filled it with four feet of debris. Two other historic buildings were damaged by the flood. The main house escaped the path of the flood, but bore lesser damage from water intrusion from heavy rain.

The NPS prepared two environmental assessments (EAs), each of which addressed different proposed actions to repair flood-damaged infrastructure in Grapevine Canyon. The Bonnie Clare Road Reconstruction EA was finalized in May 2018, and approved proposals to reconstruct 7.6 miles of Bonnie Clare Road, install 4,000 feet of waterline under the road, reconstruct damaged portions of the historic concrete and wire fence, and stabilize the historic bridge and gatehouse.

Road and Highway Builders started work in December 2018 on all four of these projects under contract managed by Federal Highways Administration.

The Scotty’s Castle Flood Rehabilitation EA was finalized on March 12, 2019. Some proposed actions approved in this EA include repairing historic structures, replacing components utility systems, building a second public restroom, building flood control structures, and building a cooling tower for a replacement heating, ventilation, and cooling (HVAC) system. This EA completes the legal requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), but each project will need additional review to meet requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The National Park Service cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage. “This is where things can get tricky,” said Abby Wines, spokesperson for Death Valley National Park. “Sometimes we have to make trade-offs. In a few cases, we are proposing significant changes to the historic district in order to protect the historic district. A purest might say that we shouldn’t build any berms, flood walls, or shallow channels because they weren’t in the historic district during the 1920s. But if we don’t build flood control structures, we risk losing a lot more in the next major flood. It would be great if we could magically protect the site without changing a thing, but it’s not possible.”

If things go smoothly, several major contracts should be awarded within the next 6 months.

The EA and Finding of No Significant Impact documents can be viewed at https://parkplanning.nps.gov/castle.