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Aidan Telfer-Radzat

Desert Flowers

Given the right conditions come spring, California’s deserts turn into a hot spot for colorful fields painted with bright wildflowers.

Start:Death Valley National Park
End:Joshua Tree National Park
2 - 3Days,9Stops,339Miles
Eric Lo/Getty Images
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Courtesy of Michael Polda/China Ranch
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Caiaimage Adam Gault/Getty Images
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Stop 1

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park encompasses mountain-size sand dunes, below-sea-level salt flats, and colorful wildflowers and sandstone canyons. The park is the hottest and driest place in America, with summer temperatures peaking above 120 degrees, and average rainfall of two inches per year. Also extreme are the park’s elevations: Badwater Basin, the park’s lowest spot, rests at 282 feet below sea level while Telescope Peak soars to 11,049 feet.

You don’t want to miss Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, when early morning light accents the dunes’ many contours and ripples. Another must-see stop is Zabriskie Point and Golden Canyon, where every imaginable shade of gold is visible in the wrinkled cliffs, whose layers glow at sunrise and sunset. Pick your favorite perspective: Drive to Zabriskie Point and survey the scene from on high, or see the vibrant beauty up close by hiking in Golden Canyon.

Insider tip: Spring season is the best time to spot rare wildflowers in the park.

Stop 5

World's Tallest Thermometer - Baker

72157 Baker Blvd, Baker

Though hardly a metropolis, tiny Baker along Interstate 15 is a busy hub for Mojave Desert travelers looking for a bite to eat or to stretch their legs. Baker’s most famous landmark is its giant thermometer—at 134 feet, the tallest in the world. Plenty of people also stop in Baker for the otherworldly dried meats at UFO-themed Alien Fresh Jerky, the place to stock up on such tasty, ET-inspired flavors as Abducted Cow Pineapple Teriyaki—the perfect souvenir for the folks back home.

Plan your visit

    Stop 6

    Mojave National Preserve

    90942 Kelso Cima Rd, Kelso

    Protecting an astounding 1.6 million acres of pristine desert wilderness, the Mojave National Preserve lets you hear singing sand dunes, explore weirdly contorted Joshua trees, and hike up volcanic cinder cones. Take time to explore, and let the desert’s magic unfold.

    Don’t miss nearby Kelso Dunes, the second largest dune system in California, covering 45 square miles and soaring to more than 600 feet. In spring, desert wildflowers dapple the sands with color.

    Another popular hike is the three-mile round-trip trek to the summit of 5,775-foot Teutonia Peak, the highest point on Cima Dome, an almost perfectly symmetrical formation.

    This is no lifeless wasteland: wait and watch (especially at dusk and dawn) to see surprising wildlife, including the rare desert tortoise. Spring rains can carpet the desert with wildflowers. And there are people here too: stop in at Kelso Depot, a restored train station housing the preserve’s visitor center, for exhibits and information (open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Friday through Tuesday).

    Stop 7

    Amboy Crater

    Amboy Crater

    Rising 250 feet above a barren expanse of desert, Amboy Crater is a volcanic cinder cone that once sent lava pouring across a 24-square-mile area of desert. With its distinctive, conical profile, you would never mistake this unique natural feature for anything other than a volcano. Follow the trail that climbs to the rim, from where you can look deep into the maw and across the 1,500-foot-wide crater. Just off Route 66, Amboy Crater is also less than three miles west of Roy’s Motel & Café, a retro landmark with a sign that just cries out for a few selfies.

    Plan your visit

    Stop 9

    Joshua Tree National Park

    Joshua Tree National Park

    Joshua Tree National Park is small enough to drive through in a half-day, but you’ll want much more time than that to enjoy this land of cactus gardens, spiky yuccas, and photogenic boulder piles. Not-to-be-missed highlights include the Cholla Cactus Garden, where hundreds of teddybear cholla fade into a backdrop of purple hills. On the park’s north side, where elevations are higher, you’ll marvel at spindly, cartoon-like Joshua trees (they’re actually a yucca, not a tree). At White Tank Campground, stroll to Arch Rock, a graceful span of ivory-hued granite. Wander the path around Skull Rock to see its alcoves and miniature caves, carved out over eons of time, or hike to the summit of 5,457-foot Ryan Mountain for panoramic views of the Wonderland of Rocks and Southern California’s highest peaks.No matter how you spend your day, make sure it stretches long into the evening—you don’t want to miss this desert’s astounding star show. When evening falls, pick a spot to lay out a blanket near Cap Rock’s quirky rock formations.


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    Road Trip Snapshot

    Learn more about the amazing locations featured in this road trip. Ready to plan your trip? Print the itinerary or map your adventure to get started.

    Stop 1Death Valley National Park
    Death Valley National Park
    SPOTLIGHTChina Ranch Date Farm
    China Ranch Rd, Tecopa
      Stop 5World's Tallest Thermometer - Baker
      72157 Baker Blvd, Baker
        Stop 6Mojave National Preserve
        90942 Kelso Cima Rd, Kelso
        Stop 7Amboy Crater
        Amboy Crater
        Stop 9Joshua Tree National Park
        Joshua Tree National Park

        Car & RV Rentals

        Trusted car & RV rental companies make your trip much easier

        Avis Rent a Car
        Enterprise Rent a Car
        Hertz Rent a Car
        Budget Rent a Car
        Payless Car Rental
        Zip Car
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        Advantage OPCP
        Silver Car
        E-Z Rent a car
        Midway Car Rental
        Mex Rent a Car
        United Auto Rental
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        El Monte RV

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