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Greater Southwestern Exploration Company/Flickr

Fossil Falls

Fossil Falls
Rushing river, sculpted black lava

The truth is that the name Fossil Falls is a bit of a misnomer. After all, there are neither fossils nor a waterfall here. But a walk through these polished lava formations about 36 miles/58 kilometers northwest of the desert city of Ridgecrest is a highlight of any drive along Highway 395.

This remarkable site was formed by the interaction of rushing water from the Owens River (which in wetter prehistoric times flowed at a much higher rate) with lava that poured from nearby volcanoes as recently as 20,000 years ago. The result is this surreal, convoluted chasm of shiny, sculpted black lava. A short trail leads to the falls, which you can observe from above or, for a closer look, follow a trail to carefully descend the falls (hold onto children’s hands as footing can be tricky).

Insider's Tip: Night skies in this remote high desert locale are also spectacular; check out the nightly celestial show from the Fossil Falls campground with 11 sites (potable water and restrooms on site), plus picnic tables and fire rings.

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Kodiak Greenwood

Southern California

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The thwack of a golf club, the hum of the wind buffeting towering sand dunes, the splash of a dive into a perfect pool—the desert region is a sensory feast.

Following winter rains, springtime wildflowers paint the desert with colour.

Death Valley National Park holds the record for hottest temperature ever recorded (129°F/54°C in 1913), while the deserts of Joshua Tree National Park have giant boulders and alien-like yucca plants. At Anza-Borrego, California’s largest state park, discover amazing springtime wildflowers. The oasis-like Palm Springs region (2 hours east of L.A. and 3 hours northeast of San Diego) has golf resorts, midcentury modern architecture, and every spring, the epic Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

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Janell Shirtcliff/Courtesy of Best Coast

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Courtesy of Elvis Presley Estate

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Courtesy of Bureau of Land Management

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