Highs and Lows: Furnace Creek to Anza Borrego

Travel from the lowest spot in North America to pine-topped peaks on an epic desert drive.

Trip length: 4 days
Total distance: 428mi/689km

FURNACE CREEK Start at Death Valley National Park’s excellent visitor center and museum. Head out to hike sand dunes or take a guided tour of ultra-odd Scotty’s Castle. INFO Death Valley National Park ; 760/786-3200

BADWATER (21mi/33km; 28min). Pose for pictures next to the sign marking 282 feet below sea level, then explore the sparkling salt flats. INFO Death Valley National Park ; 760/786-3200

BARSTOW (164mi/264km; 2hr 58min). See a film at Skyline Drive-In, a kitschy icon since 1966. Learn about the “Mother Road” at Route 66 Museum . INFO Barstow Chamber of Commerce

YUCCA VALLEY (80mi/129km; 1hr28min). Visit vintage shops in this surprisingly artsy town. Sip iced lattes at stylish Cafe Ma Rouge . INFO Yucca Valley Chamber of Commerce ; 760/365-6323

JOSHUA TREE (8mi/12km; 12min). Stop by Coyote Corner, with funky souvenirs and outdoor gear. Healthy fare or decadent flaky pie? You choose at friendly Crossroads Cafe . INFO Joshua Tree Chamber of Commerce ; 760/366-3723

JOSHUA TREE NP (5mi/8km; 9min). Scramble around on this national park’s dramatic monzogranite formations, or take lessons (kids welcome) with Joshua Tree Rock Climbing School . INFO Joshua Tree National Park ; 760/367-5500

INDIO (32mi/52km; 36min). Visit a 1926 adobe and learn about local pioneers at Coachella Valley History Museum . Sip date shakes at Shields Date Garden . INFO Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau ; 760/770-9000

PALM SPRINGS (23mi/37km; 30min). Climb to pine-topped peaks aboard Palm Springs Aerial Tramway . See vintage WWII planes at Palm Springs Air Museum and desert animals from around the globe at The Living Desert . INFO Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau ; 760/770-9000

LA QUINTA (25mi/40km; 37min). Shop or spa at legendary La Quinta Resort ; golfers can take on the PGA West Stadium Course, one of the nation’s toughest public courses. INFO Palm Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau ; 760/770-9000

ANZA-BORREGO DESERT SP (70mi/112km; 1hr39min). Explore this enormous state park on a guided driving tour (California Overland has kid-cool converted military trucks). INFO Anza Borrego Desert State Park ; 760/767-5311