After emergency work to repair washouts that hit during September's violent storms, Joshua Tree National Park reopened about a third of Pinto Basin Road Friday, providing access to the huge valley that makes up much of the park's eastern half. But opening the rest may take considerably longer.
Visitors can now travel from the White Tanks Campground, where the road had been closed since September 13, to the Ocotillo Patch near Fried Liver Wash. The reopening means that cactus fanciers can once again visit the popular Cholla Garden and its short interpretive trail -- a main attraction in the Pinto Basin.
The Cottonwood entrance to the park at the far end of the road, however, may be closed for a month or longer. "Park staff are working with Federal Highways Administration engineers to determine how quickly and under what circumstances the Pinto Basin Road can be safely reopened," said Superintendent Mark Butler in a Friday press release.
A Park Service worker who was greeting would-be visitors at the closed Cottonwood gate last weekend told me that the storms had carved a 20-foot-deep gulf in the road in a canyon between the Cottonwood Visitor Center and Interstate 10, and that engineers were at that point still discussing how best to approach repairs. The nearby Cottonwood Campground also sustained damage in the storm.
However long it takes, park visitors who expect to enter Joshua Tree through the southern entrance will find themselves taking a detour of about an hour and a half to the entrances at the cities of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms north of the park. Other roads in the eastern Pinto Basin are closed as well, not that you could get to them with the main road shut down anyway.
Road closures notwithstanding, the Park Service also announced Friday that campgrounds that had been closed for the slow summer season are now open. With the exception of Cottonwood, all campgrounds in the park are now available for you to use. Just plan to get there by way of the communities of Joshua Tree or Twentynine Palms.