Death Valley Could Be Closed Until at Least December Following Tropical Storm Damage

Heavy precipitation left some of the park’s key roads in tatters.

Photo: Robert Gauthier / Contributor

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New estimates by the National Park Service suggest that it could be December before the California side of Death Valley National Park can even partially reopen to visitor traffic thanks to severe damage from Tropical Storm Hillary.

After Hillary unleashed 2.2-inches of rain—about the average annual precipitation the park usually receives—on Death Valley last month, the park’s roads and infrastructure experienced unprecedented damage, leaving some roads in ruins and temporarily trapping visitors in the park.

Abby Wines, Death Valley’s Park Management Analyst explained that re-opening the park is going to be a difficult undertaking. 

“That [December date] is a moving target,” she said, “A section of California 190 will probably open first, but Caltrans doesn’t even know which section and they haven’t given us a timeline on that. They’re trying to reopen all of 190 by early December…it’s not a promise. It depends on what happens between now and then.”

Park officials were still managing the devastation from a 2022 storm that unleashed 1.7 inches of rain on the region in about three hours when Tropical Storm Hillary struck. Although officials were able to complete the repair of the region’s paved roads after 2022’s storms, more remote areas of the park had not yet been fixed when Tropical Storm Hillary compounded the issues and caused a complete park closure. 

Since the soil within Death Valley absorbs moisture at a slow rate, large amounts of rain quickly contribute to flooding. Last month’s storm dislodged large boulders and mudslides throughout the park, tearing apart roadways and trails. 

At this time, both the roads and the park itself are entirely closed to the public since many areas are still covered with debris from the storm, and some regions experienced undercutting and shoulder loss. 

Death Valley is “massive…a park the size of the state of Connecticut,” Wines told National Parks Traveler. “But every single one of the paved roads that are the major arteries through the park, all of those are damaged. Most of them had pavement loss,” 

In other parts of the park, roads are covered with as much as 5 feet of debris. Even when that’s removed, fixing the asphalt will be a lengthy process. 

Most well known for its extreme temperatures, Death Valley has been making the news for its “unprecedented storms” over the past several years. Wines explained that this could be the new norm for the park.

“The climate change models all predict that storms in this area are going to get more violent and more frequent. So that may be what we’re seeing,” she said.

From 2023