Scotty’s Castle repair cost could reach $20 million

Abby Wines’ eyes filled with tears when she saw a flash flood-ravaged Scotty’s Castle on her first day of work after a powerful storm swept through the historic district of Death Valley.

“Yesterday was my first day coming up, it was hard enough hearing the descriptions, seeing the pictures, but when I came up on Monday, I just cried,” said Wines, a spokeswoman for Scotty’s Castle. “I cried when I saw the parking lot. It’s a different thing to see a picture of one part damaged, another part damaged, and another (thing to) see the total swath of destruction that is here.”

The severe flash flooding dumped 2.7 inches on the northern part of Death Valley on Sunday, Oct.18, trapping some of the tourists in nearby areas and causing millions of dollars in damage to the infrastructure, officials said.

“I would say $10 million would be a very conservative estimate, $20 million is probably conservative,” Wines said.

The courtyard between the castle and the garage long house was still littered with rocks and debris a week later. Nearby lay a broken pipe that had been torn apart by the gushing torrents of water, dozens of broken tree branches lined the ground.

Inside the garage long shed that houses the visitors center, a layer of foot-deep mud surrounded stands with souvenirs. Outside the front door sat a washed out post card rack.

“It rained here for like five hours straight. The storm just sat here and pounded this area for five hours. The rainfall was 1 to 2 inches, I can never remember 2.7 inches. For the desert, that’s huge,” said Linda Slater, chief of interpretation for the park.

An engineering report described the flood as the “probable maximum” flood event for Grapevine Canyon in which Scotty’s Castle is located, according to the press release that was put out by the park’s officials.

While the restoration process is yet to get underway, Wines said the Thanksgiving holiday will kick off the peak tourist season at Death Valley. Ticket sales for Scotty’s Castle average $560,000 a year, she added.

The damage in the five-mile road stretch from the Grapevine Ranger Station to the Scotty’s Castle varies from minor, with rocks and gravel washed atop the road, to moderate and extreme, where the flood cut 10 feet below the road level, officials said.

With over 20 missing power poles, Wines said it could take a month to restore the electricity.

“All of the employees here at Scotty’s (Castle) and the rest of the park want to help clean up the castle, but this is a bigger job than we are capable of. We are going to need a lot of assistance,” she said.

In the past week, numerous employees from Joshua Tree National Park, Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area, Sequoia National Park and Yosemite National Park have been helping with recovery. Another crew of workers from multiple parks will arrive on Tuesday to assist with road work and initial assessment.

Joel Freidank came to Death Valley from Sequoia National Park to assist with country road patrol.

“I worked down in southern Arizona for a bit, so we used to get flash floods all the time, but we didn’t have structures, so like we would get the crazy flooding that would kill the roads and the bridges and stuff but nothing with the structures,” Freidank said.

Meanwhile, Scotty’s Castle could be closed for visitors for next year, officials said. The sign posted in the park warns of a $5,000 fine or six months in jail for trespassing.

“The area is legally closed to the visitors, they can’t come, they can’t even walk on foot to Scotty’s Castle right now. It could be closed for a year,” Wines said.

Another section of impact includes the southernmost end of the Badwater Road that has portions of missing pavement. The 17-mile stretch of the road from California State Route 190 to Badwater could be reopened within two weeks, officials said.

“It’s just earth moving is all we need to do. The section from Badwater to the town of Shoshone is much more heavily impacted and that’s going to need a real full road construction project. So that would be longer, could be six months or more,” Wines said.

With the upcoming restoration, Wines said she is unsure what the next year is going to be like for her and other employees at the castle.

“That can be a silver lining. We already wanted to do a restoration on the visitor center, the garage long shed building, except before the flood, we would have had more to salvage than we are going to now. But maybe we will be able to get the funding now,” she said.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at Follow @dariasokolova77 on Twitter.