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West Side Road reopens in Death Valley ahead of holiday rush

National Park Service road crews have been hard at work cleaning up after a flooding event in October, and the latest project has cleared up some roads just ahead of the holiday rush.

The crew has finished repairing West Side Road and opened it in time for an anticipated surge in visitation to Death Valley National Park beginning with the long Christmas break for most.

West Side Road is a 40-mile-long graded road that parallels Badwater Road on the west side of Death Valley and is passable by two-wheel-drive vehicles. West Side Road provides access to multiple high-clearance four-wheel-drive roads, including Hanaupah Canyon, Johnson Canyon and Warm Springs Canyon. Warm Springs Canyon Road provides a route into remote Butte Valley and the rugged Mengel Pass.

West Side Road is the latest of some of the hundreds of miles of park roads that were closed after a series of flash floods in October to reopen.

In the middle of the park, Furnace Creek had the wettest October on record, with 1.3 inches. Other areas of the park received even higher amounts of precipitation, with over three inches of rain and hail falling in five hours in Grapevine Canyon, creating a 3,000 cubic feet per second flash flood that damaged utilities and three historic structures at Scotty’s Castle.

October’s flash floods are the most expensive natural disaster in park history, with total damage estimates in the tens of millions of dollars. Funding for the repair work has been secured via Federal Highways Administration to repair park-maintained roads.

Park visitation lulled in early December, which fits the normal pattern of past years, as very few people travel between Thanksgiving and Christmas to the park.

Despite that, park rangers expect visitation to be high over the winter holidays, as it was over Thanksgiving weekend, where 83,000 people visited Death Valley in December 2014, with the majority of visitors stopping by during the last two weeks.

Total visitation to Death Valley National Park in 2014 was 1,101,000 people. As of the end of October, the most recent data available, Death Valley has received 1,013,000 visitors in 2015.

To get the most up-to-date information on road conditions, visit Death Valley’s website at nps.gov/deva, or follow us on www.facebook.com/

If you want to enjoy what’s left of the holidays, Death Valley is in the midst of its annual Christmas Bird Count.

The event, which started on Dec.14th and runs through the holiday season, offers citizen scientists across America and America’s national parks the opportunity to count birds.

One of the longest running citizen science events in the world, the National Audubon Society’s Christmas Bird Count began in 1900. It provides reliable data that helps show the importance of national parks to birds.

This year the annual Christmas Bird Count for Death Valley will take place on Jan. 2. Birders can experience the diversity of habitats and species found in the Death Valley/Furnace Creek area.

The public is invited to participate in this count and all skill levels are welcome. For beginners, this is a great opportunity to learn about birds in the area, get identification tips and meet others interested in desert environments.

The bird count will begin at 7 a.m. at the Furnace Creek Golf Course parking lot. The National Park Service recommends participants dress in layers and bring a hat, sunscreen, water and food. Binoculars are also recommended.

Participants do not need to commit to the entire day of bird watching, but all participants must be at the meeting area at 7 a.m.

For more information contact Linda Manning at 760-786-3252 or at linda_manning@nps.gov. Food and lodging are available in Death Valley National Park and in surrounding communities.

The data collected by count participants over the past century allows researchers, conservation biologists and other interested individuals to study the long-term health and status of bird populations across North America.

Each year, the bird count mobilizes more than 70,000 volunteers in more than 2,400 locations. When compiled, the results will be posted at http://birds.audubon.org/christmas-bird-count.

Contact reporter Mick Akers at makers@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @mickakers

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