This report covers the Steele Pass Road from the Bat Rock intersection through DeDeckera Canyon, as we found it on September 14th.
Starting at the Bat Rock turnoff, and continuing most of the way to the Bat Pole, the road across the valley was obliterated by the floods. Washouts too numerous to count have removed most traces of the old road and deposited tons of flood debris all across the valley. Many of these washouts are very abrupt, with sharp drop offs and ledges up to a foot deep. High clearance vehicles are recommended for this road. Bright red ribbons tied to bushes mark the route to the Springs. I followed my GPS, which had the old road programmed in it, and found the ribbons to be almost exactly along the old route. Nice work, whoever did that!
There have been enough vehicles in and out since the flood that the road is fairly well defined during the daytime. Please try to stay in the existing tracks. Also, remember that gathering firewood is prohibited in the National Park. Even though it's driftwood that was washed down from the canyons across the valley, you're still liable to be cited if caught gathering it.
If that wasn't bad enough, the road conditions really take a dive between the Bat Pole and the Springs. The old road is completely gone, and again, red ribbons mark the trail. You're really just driving up the wash at that point. The road surface is mainly rock and debris washed down from upstream. Use extreme caution on this stretch to avoid flat tires, punctured oil pans, etc.
The Lower Warm Springs camp area suffered minor damage to the campsites on the flat above the Camp Host's residence, as well as moderate to severe damage to the campsites along both edges of the arrow weed. The tubs, source, lawn and campfire area were unaffected.
The road to Palm Spring was damaged as well. The washout shown below is just above the tufa hill, just below the main camping area. There is a way around it, but it involves going off the road for a short distance.
The Palm Springs camp will need quite a bit of work. Most of you have seen the picture of the shower. That's not really that bad. The shower still works, although some jerk stole the showerhead, and the bench is still secure. The floodwater stuffed a bunch of rock and gravel under the platform, wedging it up almost to the height of the bench. We'll need to lift the platform, remove the gravel and rock, and reset the platform at the desired level. The material removed from there can be used to fill in the big ditch in front of, and under the sink. The drain trap and pipe were broken during the flood, and will need to be replaced. Both faucets still work, however, so all the underground plumbing survived.
Both pools were in sad shape when we got there. We drained, cleaned and scrubbed the Volcano Pool so we could soak. Ken shoveled a bunch of debris out of the Wizard Pool and did a partial water change. It still needs a lot of help!
The road from Palm Spring to the Upper Spring has been completely relocated. The flood destroyed the plateau that the old road was on top of. The new road now just follows the wash. It is also marked with red ribbons. As you can imagine, driving over that terrain after a flood is not ideal. This washout is about 100 yards above the last campsite along what's left of the old road.
Driving up to the Upper Spring is slow and tedious, to say the least. Good tires and patience are essential. The Upper Springs themselves survived the flood, although the surrounding area took quite a beating. Standing in the wash north of the fence, we could see debris seven feet above the floor of the wash. The force of that flow must have been incredible!
Another couple miles up the wash brought us to Geo Mitch's van. I'm happy to report that it remains undisturbed, just waiting for rescue.
By now the surface has smoothed out a bit, as we're driving on more and more gravel and sand, and less and less rock. That's a welcome relief, as we were able to get up to 5 MPH for a while! The red ribbons stopped at the van, and for a while we had a tough time picking from the many forks in the wash. Some of them were dead ends, while others started to lead off away from the main wash. Finally, we started to see some green ribbons tied to bushes along the side of the wash. We followed them and they led us in the right direction. I'm not sure why they used green, as they're tough to see at times, but we're glad they were there!
The trail stays in the wash for another two to three miles until we started finding short sections of the old road again. We went back and forth between the road and the wash for a while, then finally rejoined the existing road for good. That was just above the old turn off to the petroglyphs.
From there the trip was uneventful all the way to the top. It seemed that little or no rain had fallen at the top of Steele Pass, as there was absolutely no road damage for the last few miles to the top.
Lunch at Steele Pass
After lunch we headed on through DeDeckera Canyon and down through “The Narrows”. We drove through with no trouble at all. In fact, Mark thinks the steps are as mild as he's ever seen them, and I'm inclined to agree.
We relaxed in the shade of the canyon and admired the view of Eureka Dunes for a while, we turned around and headed back up through DeDeckera.
Ken getting a little "Air Time" on the climb.
We made it all the way back in exactly three hours. (You can go much faster when you know where you're going!) We arrived in camp just as the sun was dropping behind the Inyos. It was a long day and we thoroughly enjoyed a soak in the newly cleaned Volcano Pool before bed.
The Park Service has this route listed as “Impassable”. Obviously it's not impassable. That said, if you've been over Steele Pass in the past, you know that it was already a rough road through the most remote part of Death Valley National Park. It's even rougher now! Don't try this alone, without telling someone where you're going. A group of two or three reliable vehicles would be the best way to attempt this route. We found that our 2-meter ham radios could reach the repeaters in the Owens Valley from several spots along the road. It's very reassuring to have that resource available in the event of an emergency!
Finally, if you choose to try this trip without heeding the advice above, and you die, don't say I didn't warn you!