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.

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According to Slater, the crews working to repair the washed-out sections of road offered a tentative best-case estimate of July 17 for reopening the road, and that's if they don't find as they work that more extensive repairs turn out to be necessary.

Besides, adds Slater, the storm on July 6 wasn't the end of monsoon season. Torrential storms have been rolling across the Mojave every day since, and there's always a chance that a gullywasher could come along and take out yet another section of Kelbaker Road on Wednesday afternoon.

For those curious readers who are familiar with Kelbaker Road, a highly scenic section of KCET's Outback Highway, the two washed-out sections are just south of Baker and Interstate 15, and just north of 17-Mile Point in the vicinity of the old Mojave Road.

Other roads in the Preserve remain open, though some major routes such as Cima and Kelso-Cima roads suffered significant flooding during the storm. It's always a good idea to keep an eye out for debris, gravel, and rocks washed onto the road.

And remember: never attempt to drive through water flowing over the road.

And speaking of good ideas, take Linda Slater's reminder to heart if you plan a trip to the Preserve: a storm could easily be taking out a new section of road as you read this, and you should always make sure you have the most current information possible before setting out. You can get updates on road conditions in the Preserve on the National Park Service website.

Meanwhile, in Death Valley National Park, weekend flash floods briefly closed Badwater and Dante's View Road, and popular side roads such as Titus Canyon, Mosaic Canyon, and the road to Wildrose Campground remain impassable for the time being. You can keep tabs on Death Valley driving by checking out the Death Valley Road Conditions Facebook page.

In Joshua Tree National Park the only traffic advisory at the moment is due to road construction on Pinto Basin Road, but that could also change at any time: the area just north of Joshua Tree has been hit hard by storms, and it's likely just a matter of time until one does some damage in the park itself. Keep tabs at Joshua Tree NP's website before you grab the car keys: visit the Park's main page and click on "show alerts."

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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