To drivers speeding by on Interstates 15 and 40, Mojave National Preserve, roughly 240 kilometres northeast of Palm Springs, may appear featureless and inhospitable. But a closer look reveals the preserve’s wonders: water-sculpted canyons, ancient lava flows, massive sand dunes, and Joshua Tree forests reaching to a desert horizon.
Start your visit at the preserve’s excellent visitor centre, which is housed in the renovated Kelso Depot, a Spanish Mission Revival style railroad stop opened in 1924. Pick up maps and information, then explore the preserve’s highlights. The most popular sunset and sunrise spot is the nearby Kelso Dunes, the second largest dune system in California. These dunes cover 72 square kilometres and soar to more than 180 metres, and in spring, desert wildflowers dapple the sands with color. Climb the highest dunes and you’re rewarded with a desert panorama.
After a seven-year closure, Mitchell Caverns—spectacular limestone caves hidden in a hillside at Providence Mountains State Recreation Area in late 2017. Take an hour-long guided tour—which involves a 1.5-mile round-trip hike to the entrance—to see the caverns and their remarkable dagger-like formations. (Tours are by reservation only and take place Fridays through Sundays and on holiday Mondays.)
Another popular hike—and a memorable workout—is the 5-km round-trip trek to the summit of 1,754-metre Teutonia Peak, the highest point on Cima Dome, an almost perfectly symmetrical formation covered by the world’s largest concentration of Joshua trees. Take plenty of water, and avoid hottest parts of the day. For an extra dose of desert adventure, pitch a tent at either Hole-in-the-Wall or Mid Hills Campground.
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.
For all of the desert’s natural splendor and outdoor destinations, creativity comes with the territory, too. Throughout the year, the region finds ways to celebrate art, design, music, and film...