A person stands in a rocky desert landscape next to a newly formed river of muddy flood water.
Muddy flood water in Death Valley National Park on Sunday, August 20, 2023. (Photo: National Park Service)

These National Parks Are Closed Due to Tropical Storm Hilary

“Turn around, don’t drown,” park rangers are reminding travelers as Hilary bears down on the southwestern United States

A person stands in a rocky desert landscape next to a newly formed river of muddy flood water.
National Park Service

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For much of last week, the southwestern U.S. and parts of Mexico  braced for a Category 4 hurricane that the World Meteorological Organization called “Hilary.” After making landfall on Sunday, August 20, in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, killing one man as he attempted to cross a stream, Hilary—which was downgraded to a tropical storm—barreled on toward California. On Monday, August 21, officials downgraded the storm again, labeling it a post-tropical cyclone. Still, the weakening storm—which has already slammed California with heavy rain and flooding—could still cause significant damage as it moves northward into Nevada.

Anticipating dangerous conditions this weekend, officials closed California’s Death Valley National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Mojave National Preserve, Manzanar National Historic Site, and Nevada’s Lake Mead National Recreation Area. 

Here’s what to know about the closures.

Death Valley National Park

By 1:30 P.M. on Sunday, August 20, America’s “hottest, driest, and lowest” national park had recorded one inch of rain, enough to cause flash floods and prompt officials to close the park.   

Muddy water flows across a paved road in a desert landscape.
California Highway 190 in Death Valley National Park on Monday, August 21, 2023.

“Park rangers are reminding travelers to ‘Turn around, don’t drown,’” the park service said in a news release. “Flash floods are rivers of mud and rocks that can easily sweep cars off roads. Emergency responders may not be able to reach people in need.”  

An additional one to three inches of rain were expected overnight. During an average year, Death Valley only receives 2.2 inches of rainfall.

Joshua Tree National Park

On Saturday, August 19, Joshua Tree National Park closed to visitors. A flash flood watch is in effect at the park until 5 P.M. on Monday, August 21, with six to eight inches of rain expected.

“Just a few inches of water can be strong enough to move cars,” officials said in a Facebook post. “Washes can quickly turn into streams and rivers after heavy rainfall.”

Mojave National Preserve

The Mojave desert is being hit with torrential rains just after sections of it were burned by the York Fire, which ravaged more than 80,000 acres of its delicate ecosystem. The park service closed Mojave National Preserve on Friday, August 18, anticipating historic flooding. As of Monday afternoon, the preserve was open to visitors, but many roads and facilities remained closed.

“The storm is expected to cause substantial debris flows and washing out of road shoulders in the preserve, making roadways dangerous and impassable,” officials said in a news release. “Of particular concern is erosion and sediment mobilization exacerbated by the recent York Fire.”

A washed out desert road in Mojave National Preserve.
Mojave National Preserve on Monday, August 21, 2023.

Manzanar National Historic Site

Manzanar National Historic Site closed to visitors on Sunday, August 20, and is under a flash flood watch until 5 A.M. on Tuesday, when it is expected to reopen. Located six miles south of Independence, California, the site is one of ten former concentration camps where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II.  

Lake Mead National Recreation Area

On Monday, August 21, park rangers at Lake Mead National Recreation Area were out assessing overnight storm damage, according to a Facebook post. “We will be doing assessments and bringing operations back online in an orderly fashion throughout the day, and we expect the park to re-open and return to normal operations Tuesday,” officials said.

Lead Photo: National Park Service

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