Gower Gulch used to be a minor drainage in the Furnace Creek Formation badlands near Zabriskie Point which debouched onto the floor of Death Valley, forming a small alluvial fan. Badwater Road crossed the fan, which consisted of mostly fine-grained materials like silt and clay.
The problem is that nearby Furnace Creek drained a much larger region than Gower Gulch (170 square miles versus 2 square miles), and was prone to violent flashfloods and mudflows that damaged facilities at the Furnace Creek Resort about five miles downstream. Around 1941 someone thought to blast through the low ridge that separated Furnace Creek and Gower Gulch, forcing the entire drainage to flow through the badlands and onto the Gower Gulch fan downstream. The diversion caused profound changes upstream and downstream.
At the diversion point (above), the flash floods cut through the soft siltstone and shale like a hot knife through butter, cutting 40 feet or more in seven decades. The floods carry a heavy load of coarse-grained debris and gravel that acts as an abrasive on the channel floor. The canyon changes year to year as each flashflood causes slopes to be undercut, causing rockfalls and slope failures.
Death Valley is a monument to geologic changes over billions of years, but it is also a dynamic environment where geologic change happens on a daily and yearly basis as well. We saw plenty of evidence during our February trip.