English (UK)
Aidan Telfer-Radzat

Desert Flowers

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

Start:Death Valley National Park
End:Joshua Tree National Park
2 - 3Days,9Stops,339Miles
Death Valley National Park
Eric Lo/Getty Images
Crowbar Cafe and Saloon
Istetiana/Getty Images
Cynthia's
Westend61/Getty Images
China Ranch Date Farm
Courtesy of Michael Polda/China Ranch
World's Tallest Thermometer - Baker
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Mojave National Preserve
Sierralara/Getty Images
Amboy Crater
Wilsilver77/Getty Images
Natural Sisters Cafe & Joshua Tree Coffee Company
Caiaimage Adam Gault/Getty Images
Joshua Tree National Park
Schroptschop/Getty Images
Stop 1

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley National Park encompasses mountain-sized sand dunes, below-sea-level salt flats, and colourful wildflowers and sandstone canyons. The park is the hottest and driest place in America, with summer temperatures peaking above 49°C, and an average rainfall of 5 cm per year. Also extreme are the park’s elevations: Badwater Basin, the park’s lowest spot, rests at 282 feet/86 metres below sea level while Telescope Peak soars to 11,049 feet/3,368 metres.

You don’t want to miss Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes, when early morning light accents the dunes’ many contours and ripples. Another must-see 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 favourite 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 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 on Interstate 15 is a busy hub for Mojave Desert travellers looking for a bite to eat or a chance to stretch their legs. Baker’s most famous landmark is its giant thermometer at 134 feet/40.8 metres, it's 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 tasty, ET-inspired flavours such as Abducted Cow Pineapple Teriyaki—the perfect souvenir for those at home.

Stop 6

Mojave National Preserve

90942 Kelso Cima Rd, Kelso

Protecting an astounding 1.6 million acres/647,497 hectares 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/72 square kilometres and soaring to more than 600 feet/183 metres. In spring, desert wildflowers dapple the sands with colour.

Elsewhere, a popular walk is the 3-mile/5-km roundtrip trek to the summit of 5,775-foot/1,754-metre Teutonia Peak, the highest point on Cima Dome and 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 wild flowers. And there are people here too: call in at Kelso Depot, a restored train station housing the reserve’s visitor centre, for exhibits and information (open 9 to 5, Friday to Tuesday).

Stop 7

Amboy Crater

Amboy Crater

Rising 250 feet/76 metres above a barren expanse of desert, Amboy Crater is a volcanic cinder cone that once sent lava pouring across a 62-square-kilometre area of desert. With its distinctive, conical profile, you could never mistake this unique natural feature for anything other than a volcano. Follow the path that climbs to the rim, from where you can look deep into the maw and across the 1,500-foot/460-metre-wide crater. Just off Route 66, Amboy Crater is also less than five kilometres west of Roy’s Motel & Café, a retro landmark with a sign that just cries out for a few selfies.

Stop 9

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is small enough to drive through in half a 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. At the park’s northern end, where the ground is higher, you’ll marvel at the spindly, cartoon-like Joshua trees (they’re actually a type of yucca, not a tree). At White Tank Campground, walk 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 aeons of time, or hike to the summit of 5,457-foot/1,663-metre 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

Find out 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
    SPOTLIGHTNatural Sisters Cafe & Joshua Tree Coffee Company
    61738 Twentynine Palms Highway, Joshua Tree
      Stop 9Joshua Tree National Park
      Joshua Tree National Park

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