Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973 and located just off historic Route 66, Amboy Crater is an example of geology creating geometry—it’s an almost perfectly symmetrical volcanic cinder cone. This 250-foot/76-meter bump in the Mojave National Preserve landscape provides panoramic views of some astounding features, including a 26-mile-/42-kilometer-long lava flow, Bristol Dry Lake, and the Marble Mountains.
A maintained trail climbs gently around the cone’s western half, leading into the breach where basaltic lava poured out over a vast area, creating lava lakes, collapsed lava tubes and sinks, and spatter cones. Once you’re in the cone’s center, hike straight into the caldera, or climb one of the steep trails to the rim. The view from the 1,508-foot/460-meter-wide rim will awe you as you take in the vastness of the Mojave Desert, where faraway cars on desert highways look like miniature toys against this epic landscape.
As with other Mojave locations, you won’t want to hike here from late spring into early fall when temperatures routinely top 100°F/37°C. So time your visit in winter or early spring not just for more comfortable temperatures, but also for the desert wildflower bloom, which can begin as early as February, depending on winter rains.
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 splendour and outdoor destinations, creativity comes with the territory, too. Throughout the year, the region finds ways to celebrate art, design, music, and film...
You could call it a monumental achievement: In February 2016, three new national monuments were created, protecting a combined total of 1.8 million acres of California desert. The names of the...