Get an early peek at Death Valley’s flood-damaged Scotty’s Castle

The elegant living hall of Scotty’s Castle in Death Valley National Park will receive visitors this winter during special, ranger-led tours. The mansion’s artifacts, including period furnishings, have been removed while repairs from a 2015 flood are made.
(Kurt Moses/National Park Service)

You can tour flood-ravaged parts of Death Valley National Park from late fall through spring three years after a flood did major damage.

On Oct. 18, 2015, a flash flood raced through the park’s Grapevine Canyon, ripping up roads and sending water crashing through buildings surrounding Scotty’s Castle. It left behind massive piles of mud and rock — as much as 4 feet deep in the visitor center —that had to be cleared using hand tools.

Set on slightly higher ground, the mansion itself escaped the worst of the flooding, but it is still two years away from reopening.

Two-hour ranger-led tours are scheduled every Sunday from Dec. 2 to April 14. The start times will alternate between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.


Major repairs from the storm, which unleashed record rainfall, will not begin until next month and are not expected to be completed until 2020.

“We lost all the utilities, including the water and the sewer system. We have to repair several historic buildings and replace the road,” said Abby Wines, a park spokeswoman who spent 10 years working at the historic castle.

The projected cost is astonishing.

“Right now, it’s at $49 million,” Wines said. “And that’s a moving target. Most of these [projects] haven’t gone out to bid for contractors yet.”

Federal funding for most of the repairs is already appropriated or promised, but revenue from the tours will cover the cost of smaller, projects, such as repair of the mansion’s pipe organ.

Work on the first of the major projects, including replacement of several miles of washed-away road, is scheduled to begin next month.

Park service employees use shovels and other hand tools to remove mud and rock deposited outside and inside outbuildings at Scotty’s Castle during a flash flood in October 2015. The historic attraction has been closed ever since.
(National Park Service)

Those taking the tour will reach the castle in park vans. Once there, the walking distance is less than a quarter-mile but is over uneven terrain.

The tours will include a peek inside the majestic, wood-paneled and beamed rooms. The historic furnishings, however, won’t be returned until a new heating and air conditioning unit provides the needed climate control.

Reservations are required. Tickets, now on sale, cost $25 per person, plus a $2 ticketing fee.

Scotty’s Castle is named for Walter Scott, a crook who never lived there.

“Most of his life, he was a professional con man and how he made most of his money was by claiming to have a gold mine in Death Valley,” Wines said. “The truth was he didn’t even have a hole in the ground in Death Valley. He had nothing. All he had was a story.”

Construction of Scotty’s Castle began in 1922, with funding from Albert Johnson, a Chicago millionaire who wanted a vacation home in Death Valley. Johnson, an early investor in Scott’s scam, later befriended him.

Scott’s much more modest home, Lower Vine Ranch, still stands within the park. Rangers occasionally lead tours to the house, about five miles from the imposing home named for him.