Southern California may be best known for its beaches, but the Mojave Desert is just as fascinating to visit.
Unusual plants and trees, sand dunes and jagged mountains, even volcanic craters and bright wildflowers can be seen on a trip through the Mojave Desert. End the adventure in Palm Springs, Southern California’s ultimate relaxation destination. Reward yourself for making it through the desert with a trip to the top of Mount San Jacinto, where you can enjoy cool breezes and sweeping views of the landscape you just conquered!
Begin your desert journey at the Kelso Dunes – the largest field of Eolian sand deposits in the Mojave Desert.
Covering over 45 square miles of shifting desert terrain, the Kelso Dunes (home to the “singing sand”) is the largest field of Eolian sand deposits in the Mojave Desert, near San Bernardino. The dunes are composed of five distinct sections, each of which represents a different period of time. While the Kelso Dunes will grab your attention long before you arrive, as they make quite the sight from a distance, you’ll want to take advantage of the stunning views on the 3-mile round trip hike. The dunes can be both large and steep in places – the largest up to 650 feet tall, so keep that in mind when planning your day. Oh, and when visiting, be on the lookout for some of the diverse reptiles and insects that call the Kelso Dunes home.
Started by Luis Ramallo and his wife Susana Ramallo in 2000, Alien Fresh Jerky has become one of the most popular jerky spots in all of the United States. With a wide selection of jerky snacks and other healthy options, Alien Fresh Jerky has created quite the following. The quirky vibe, along with UFO touches and goofy flavor names, will have you wanting to sample everything. Definitely give the “BBQ On The Moon” jerky a try… it’s out of this world. Plus, need we remind you that jerky is the perfect road trip snack?
The 1.6 million acre Mojave Nation Preserve gives you a diverse taste of everything California has to offer. It’s a special ecosystem that’s unlike anything anywhere else. Whether you want to check out the ever-changing sand dunes, get lost among forests of gnarled Joshua trees, explore otherworldly volcanic cinder cones, or admire the canyons and abandoned mines, the Mojave National Preserve will keep you busy for days if you let it. In addition to the amazing views you won’t get anywhere else, the Mojave National Preserve is also heavily focused on building an environmentally friendly planet for all those who inhabit it, making it essential for wildlife and ecological studies and research.
Located off old Route 66 in Oro Grande, CA, Bottle Tree Ranch is a stop you definitely don’t want to miss. Created by local artist Elmer Long, Bottle Tree Ranch has over 200 ‘trees’ covered in colorful glass bottles that he and his father collected over the years. As the project has grown, Elmer has continued to expand his impressive and stunning property with various sculptures and installations crafted from found and recycled objects. Whether you have a deep appreciation for folk art, eco-friendly fun, or just want to see something a little different, it’s worth exploring.
Located directly between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, the Barstow / Calico KOA is a welcome oasis in the desert terrain. Whether you’re traveling by RV, you want to spoil yourself with a night in a Deluxe Cabin, or you prefer to give one of their aesthetically-unique safari tents a try, there are options for everyone at this campground. Try your hand at archery, blow off some steam on the Jump Pad, or just kick back and relax. The KOA even offers a shuttle to Calico Ghost Town–a former 1880s silver mining town- turned living history museum–and hiking at nearby Mule Canyon!
5. Amboy Crater
Amboy Crater is the remains of a cinder cone volcano that is estimated to be over 6,000 years old. But don’t worry! You won’t be seeing lava anytime soon, as the Amboy Crater is considered inactive. In fact, depending on availability and weather, you’re able to walk down in the crater yourself and experience what it’s like being in the heart of a volcano. Given its size and historical impact, the Amboy Crater is a National Natural Landmark in the Eastern Mojave Desert. Make sure to check this out, and don’t forget your camera!
Joshua Tree National Park has a reputation for being a surreal and totally mesmerizing natural wonderland. Directly in the middle of two vastly different ecosystems, Joshua Tree National Park is where the Colorado and Mojave deserts meet. The Mojave desert is higher in elevation, whereas the Colorado desert is on the lower end, causing a beautiful contrast in environment and landscape.
Joshua Tree National Park is home to over 52 mammal species and 44 reptiles, including the coyote, lizard, roadrunner, and more. In addition to the wide diversity of landscapes, this national park is overflowing with stands of its namesake Joshua trees, which beautifully twist and curve in a way unlike any other tree. There are trails matching a variety of fitness levels, bouldering and climbing, a few historic sites to tour, and several campsites, all of which offer different amenities and views. Check out Skull Rock and Scotty’s Castle for a taste of the oddities you can uncover here.
Located just outside Palm Springs, CA, and less than an hour from Joshua Tree National Park, the Palm Springs / Joshua Tree KOA gives you easy access to some of the best Southern California has to offer. Whether you want to explore trails, go shopping at some stellar vintage and antique stores, or test your luck at the casinos, Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA puts you in the middle of it all. Right nearby, you can explore fifty miles of hiking trails in the nearby San Jacinto Wilderness, as well as the sacred Indian Canyons. For those in the group who want to take it easy (not that there’s anything wrong with that), this KOA offers plenty of opportunities to kick back and relax, whether that be in the campground’s pool or with a visit to Desert Hot Springs.
8. Great Shakes
Great service, and delicious shakes? Yeah, we can get behind that too. This little joint is consistently rated as one of the best places in the country to get a milkshake. With dozens of delicious flavors, from our favorite (buttered pecan) to a Southern California classic date-walnut concoction, you won’t go home disappointed. Pretty much any flavor combo you can dream up is on the menu. Did we mention all shakes come with a delicious homemade mini donut? Yum! It’s the perfect treat to enjoy after miles and miles of driving.
Formerly known as Claude Bell’s Dinosaurs, the Cabazon Dinosaurs are one of the most popular roadside attractions in the United States. Originally created as a way to attracts guests to Claude K. Bell’s diner, the Wheel Inn Restaurant, the Cabazon Dinosaurs have grown into a pop culture phenomenon. The two giant dinosaurs, named Dinny and Mr. Rex, have made numerous TV and film appearances.
Mr. Rex is over 150 foot long; Dinny stands at 65 feet tall, and both can be seen from the freeway. It’s not often you can see two larger-than-life prehistoric beasts on the side of the road, so you’ll definitely want to pull over for a photo. And if you know that you’ve seen them before, but can’t exactly put your finger on it, you might be delighted to know that these are the dinos from “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure!”
As your trip wraps up, you’ll want to end it with style by making your way to Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness, home of a wide range of wildlife and breathtaking panoramic views. It all starts with an aerial tram ride to the top of Mount San Jacinto, in the second highest mountain range in Southern California, at 10,834 feet above sea level. The aerial tram rotates, offering 360-degree views on the way up. Once you’re there, enjoy the views down into the desert on one side, and up into the densely forested San Jacinto Mountains on the other. Grab a drink at the bar, take one of the trails, or just gawk at the scenery. Remember to pack a sweatshirt… it might be hot in the desert, but it can get pretty cold 10,800 feet up!
This article appears courtesy of Roadtrippers.