Death Valley National Park is under a full park closure, due to the fringes of Hurricane Hilary that brought over a year’s worth of damaging rain on August 20. While Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek have not sustained any notable damage from the flooding, at Chicken Strip in Saline Valley, 60% of the runway experienced a complete washout. The airstrip is closed and marked with X’s until further notice.
For years, RAF California Liaisons Rick Lach and Katerina Barilov have organized work parties to maintain Chicken Strip, but given the extent of the damage to Saline Valley access roads, the timing for this year’s effort is yet to be determined. “We expect seasonal flooding and have no trouble getting volunteers to either drive or fly in to get the strip back to a condition the park will approve for reopening. But this year presents a bigger challenge, since all road access is closed,” Lach said.
Inyo County, the State of California, and the Park Service are working through emergency contracts to re-open all primary roads that are the highest priority. Two hundred and three miles of NPS roads were completely destroyed, and 126 were significantly damaged. Officials hesitate to guess on the timing of re-opening secondary roads, such as the Saline Valley passes.
Park rangers reported that the 2.2” downpour at Furnace Creek broke the record for the rainiest day in Park history. Chicken Strip lies at the base of a mountain range that recorded 5.46”, and Park Ranger Abby Wines reported, “The rocky slopes don’t absorb much water. The canyons function like a rain spout, channeling that runoff. However, in Death Valley that runoff is a fast-moving muddy soup carrying rocks.”
Watch the Airfield Guide and Park resources below for further notices. Contact Katerina Barilov to express interest in future maintenance and work party coordination if you have a vehicle capable of accessing Saline Valley once the roads re-open (4×4 with high clearance).
By Carmine Mowbray
Submitted on August 29, 2023.