Protecting more than a staggering 647,000 hectares, this dramatic desert monument west of Needles lets you discover towering sand dunes, magical mountain ranges, and remnants of a volcanic past. Mojave Trails National Monument contains “some really grand national treasures,” says David Myers, executive director of the Wildlands Conservancy, including what he calls as “the longest undeveloped stretch of historic Route 66.”
Get your kicks on a 5 kilometre round-trip hike to Amboy Crater, a 75-metre-high cinder cone that is one of North America’s youngest volcanoes. Afterwards, snap a few selfies in Amboy, the self-proclaimed “ghost town that ain’t dead yet.” Almost entirely abandoned, the town, which features the remnants of a school, a church, a garage, a cemetery and even an airport, is famous for embodying the desolate loneliness of a desert community that was thriving in the 50s and 60s but has since been left behind. If Roy’s Cafe is open, stock up on road-trip snacks and Route 66 trucker hats.
Mojave Trails also contains the dramatic Bigelow Cholla Garden Wilderness. The preserve, 29 kilometres west of Needles, protects California’s densest population of the fluffy looking, knee-high cactus—the Bigelow cholla—that’s a photographer’s dream when backlit by late afternoon light. (Don’t touch—cholla spines can be extremely difficult to remove.) At dusk and dawn, keep your eyes peeled for jackrabbits and coyotes. Stargazers and geology enthusiasts should head to Afton Canyon, a rainbow-hued gorge carved out by a Pleistocene-era flood. Sometimes called “the Grand Canyon of the Mojave,”the area is a designated watchable wildlife area, home to bighorn sheep, roadrunners, and various kinds of raptors that nest in the canyon walls.
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...