10 Top-Rated California Desert Tourist Attractions
1 Death Valley
Of all the desert areas in California, Death Valley is perhaps the most diverse and interesting for sightseers. Salt flats, mountains, sand dunes, black volcanic fields, colorful hills, cracked parched earth, and even a lake, are all part of what makes this valley so unique.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Death Valley
2 Salton Sea Recreation Area
An ancient dried-up bed of a lake became an actual "sea" again in 1905. Having broken through an irrigation canal in Imperial Valley, the Colorado River flooded over into the old bed and filled it to a depth of 82 ft. The river continued to flood until 1907. This inland lake, measuring approximately 30 miles by 8 to14 miles, lies below sea level and has no natural outlets.
The Salton Sea State Recreation Area has been created on the northern bank. Here there are campsites and picnic areas. This is a popular spot for fishermen and water-sport enthusiasts, as well as bird watchers.
3 Red Rock Canyon State Park
Red Rock Canyon State Park is home to a beautiful desert landscape with cliffs, buttes and other unique rock formations. This is a good place to spot wildlife, particularly roadrunners, hawks, and lizards. In Last Chance Canyon, which runs through the park, visitors can see rock art and the remains of old villages.
4 Palm Desert
Palm Desert is a bedroom community of Palm Springs, located at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains. Palm Desert is home to world class resorts, sensational scenery, golfing, and numerous attractions. Highlights around town include the Aerie Art Garden, the McCallum Theater for the Performing Arts, and the Living Desert Wild Animal Park and Botanical Gardens.
5 Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
About 85 miles northeast of San Diego is the entrance to the biggest State Park in California. Anza-Borrego Desert State Park covers an area of about 600,000 acres of remote desert landscape. Dunes, alluvial land, canyons, palm groves, flowers and cacti (which flower in March and April), as well as fantastic views, represent only some of the attractions of this area on the edge of the Colorado Desert.
6 Kelso Dunes
The Kelso Dunes stand 700 feet above the desert floor. Visitors can hike up the largest dune. Although it is a relatively short hike of only 3 miles, the sand and completely exposed nature of the hike make it somewhat challenging. This lovely geological formation is located in the Mojave National Preserve.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near Kelso Dunes
7 Joshua Tree National Park
Joshua Tree National Park is named for this tree that only grows in the Mojave Desert. The Joshua trees reach a height of up to 60 ft, and belong to the Yucca family. Many of these trees are said to be several hundred years old. The the thickest clumps of trees are found in the west, in the "Wonderland of Rocks". This area has interesting rock formations, shaped by the huge pressure and high temperatures under which the gneiss was forced up out of the earth many millions of years ago. There are also rocks of whitish and reddish quartz. The park is home to a wide variety of wildlife. By day the visitor will come across only a few species of animals, such as squirrels, dwarf antelopes and occasionally a coyote. Poisonous spiders and five different types of rattlesnake are native here. In summer visitors should be equipped for the heat, which often exceeds 40° C.
8 Algodones Dunes
About 20 miles east of Brawley are the Algodones Dunes, one of the largest dune regions on the continent. The largest dunes are on the west side. Camping is permitted in the North Algodones Dunes Wilderness Area but off road motorized vehicles are not.
9 Calico Ghost Town
The ghost town of Calico lies 10 miles east of Barstow. From 1881 to 1896 it was one of the most important American towns, from where thousands set off to prospect for silver in the nearby mountains. When the price of silver fell in 1895 the silver mines closed and Calico went into decline. In 1954 the ghost town was restored by the owner of Knott's Berry Farm and is now a tourist attraction, with restaurants, stores, and other activities.
10 Big Morongo Canyon Preserve
The Big Morongo Preserve is located in the Morongo Valley area southwest of Yucca Valley. One of the best birding spots in California, it features 72 species including the Indigo Bunting. Numerous trails, some with boardwalks, run through the marsh and stream habitats.