Get Ready for Road Closures: Monsoon Season is Happening in the Desert

Kelbaker Road | Photo: MortAuPat/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Monsoon season has started a little early in the Mojave Desert, and thunderstorms have been making their mark on the landscape. And as a result a major thoroughfare through the Mojave National Preserve is closed to traffic for at least a week.

Kelbaker Road, the Preserve's major north-south highway, will be closed for at least a week between between the Preserve's Kelso Depot Visitor Center and the town of Baker as crews struggle to repair two sections of pavement damaged by torrential rains on Sunday, July 6.

That closed section means at least a 30-mile detour for travelers hoping to get from the restored train station that houses the Preserve's visitor center to the nearest chocolate milkshake. And according to Preserve spokesperson Linda Slater, the closure could actually end up lasting longer than a week.

Drought Prompts Hearst Castle to Close Restrooms, Drain Pool

Porta Potty on side of Hearst Castle. | Photo: Courtesy CA State Parks

The toilets are closing at Hearst Castle, but don't worry, not all is lost. Starting next Monday, the castle's visitor center transition to porta potties outside the building.

The move by castle, which is run by California State Parks, is to comply with Governor Jerry Brown's Executive Order to redouble drought actions across the state. In January, he declared a drought State of Emergency as the drought entered another year, making it one of the most severe in recent California history.

"We're the biggest account and customer for the local water districts," said Doug Barker, State Parks District Manager for the region. "800,000 people visit every year. Each visitor using the restroom is a major demand on the system." The castle and visitor center is served by one water district, with nearby campgrounds served by another.

43 Free Campgrounds This Saturday in Southern California

It's time for another fee free event in national forests, this time in celebration of National Get Outdoors Day, which is this Saturday, June 14. For Southern California, this means adventure passes won't be needed and lots of campgrounds, mostly in Los Padres National Forest, will be free. Details below.

Adventure Passes

The hotly debated Adventure Pass program that is unique to California's four most-southern national forests, recently took a hit in court, but they're still around. Casey Schreiner at Modern Hiker explained what's going on in depth last month. What you need to know for Saturday is that there's no need for them. Come Sunday, they'll be required again.

Still Plenty of Wildflowers to See in Joshua Tree

Desert dandelion and pincushion line the roads into Covington Flat | Photo: Chris Clarke

If you miss the peak floral display in progress at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve you still have a couple weeks to catch a truly fine bit of bloom farther east in the Mojave.

Despite the desert having endured the same bone-crushing drought as the rest of the state, a single bout of torrential rain that washed over Joshua Tree National Park at the end of February has brought out some really wonderful spring wildflowers.

Desert dandelions and cacti have been blooming in the park's lower elevations for a couple of weeks already and other species are already adding their own color as well, but if you plan your visit properly you should be able to catch some nice color well into May -- and we've got a suggestion of a floral spot you might not have thought of.

Yosemite's Tioga Road Open to Bicycles This Weekend

As I hinted last week, the announcement for the annual bicycle takeover of Yosemite National Park's Tioga Road, a precursor to the artery's opening to vehicles after all the snow is plowed, would happen last-minute. So here it is: Bicycle-only access will happen this weekend between 6 a.m. Saturday, April 19 and sunset on Sunday, April 20.

The information was quietly posted to the park's snow plowing update webpage this afternoon.

Go Now: Poppy Reserve Bloom Probably at its Peak

A photo at the Poppy Reserve on April 10, 2014, before officials announced peak bloom. | Photo: Courtesy CA State Parks

It looks like it's time to head out to the Antelope Valley. For the past few weeks, areas outside the state's official poppy reserve, like the so-called Boulevard of Poppies, have been displaying a nice bloom. Now, officials at the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve are saying their flowers appear to have hit peak bloom and will last throughout the rest of the month (the nearby Poppy Festival is next week).

But if you're expecting one of those jaw-dropping sights like we had four years ago, when fields were awash in orange, don't. Rick Reisenhofer, State Parks Superintendent for the area, tells me that this year's bloom is at about 50 percent in his estimation. That's not bad when the past few years felt more like zero percent. And with springtime green grass to accentuate the colors, it's enough for me to head up, as well as many others: the reserve's parking this week has been filling up.

17-Mile Yosemite Road Open to Bicycles Only This Weekend

[Update: Tioga Road will be open to bicycles on April 19 and 20. Details here.]

Californians might be familiar with a growing trend of car-free events where big city streets are closed to vehicles to allow for pedestrians and cyclists to take over. Think CicLAvia in Los Angeles, Sunday Streets in San Francisco, or CicloSDias in San Diego. Add to that Yosemite National Park, where a variation on that concept has been happening for years.

Each spring, between snow removal and the opening of two key park roads to traffic, officials have been letting cyclists take over for a few days. Such an opportunity was announced today with the opening of Glacier Point Road to vehicles pegged for Monday at noon. That means from today through Monday morning, the curvy 17-mile road up to one of the park's most famous views can be considered one big bicycle path.

Bloom at Poppy Reserve, Surrounding Area Starting to Show Promise

California poppies curled up during windy and colder temperatures on the morning of April 5, 2014. | Photo: Courtesy California State Parks

A correction has been made to this story. See below for details.

I wouldn't call it a banner year yet, but the California poppy bloom in Antelope Valley is starting to look like it's worth the drive. On Saturday morning, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve officials posted the above photo on Facebook and wrote, "The hills are green with rivers of orange around the park! With the periodic rains we got in March we should have a good (maybe great) bloom spread through all of April." Patches of other wildflowers -- white forget me nots, purple lupine, lacy phacelia, yellow goldfields, and fiddleneck -- could also be found, they added.

Hike This Now: Wildflowers Blooming at Saddleback Butte State Park

Hike This Now: Wildflowers Blooming at Saddleback Butte State Park
It's happened again. Wildflowers have carpeted a section of the Mojave Desert and there's no telling how long it will last, say park rangers. It's been three bad seasons -- one year with too much rain, the other two drought -- for the big crowd pleasing displays of wildflowers in Southern California, so when I read about the yellow coreopsis bloom at Saddleback Butte State Park, I quickly headed out to the Antelope Valley.
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