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California’s deserts are a study in contrasts: Golden eagles and red-tailed hawks soar above crawling sidewinders and desert tortoises. Mountain ranges composed of nothing but bare, jagged rock rise abruptly out of flat, sun baked basins, the land sparsely covered by aromatic shrubs and bizarrely twisted Joshua trees. Burning-hot days can turn into freezing nights. And in springtime, amid the deserts’ broad duotone of sun-colored earth and bright blue sky, flowery bursts of hot pink and lipstick red sprout from tough cactus leaves. With it’s raw and challenging environment coupled with some of the world’s best golf courses and resorts, the desert is an unparalleled playground.

Significant highlights are:

Anza-Borrego Desert

Head south to the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park for serene splendor, or to the Borrego Springs resort area for golf and tennis. A variety of transient birds, as well as local roadrunners, frequent the water areas.

Imperial Valley/Colorado River Valley:

Enjoy fishing and migratory-bird watching at the saltier-than-the-ocean Salton Sea. And, there’s off-road recreation at the Imperial Sand Dunes, and excellent day hikes during winter throughout the Imperial Valley. Wildflowers are best in spring. El Centro Naval Air Facility is the winter home of the Blue Angels, so look skyward for dramatic overflights of this precision flight team. In Brawley, one of California’s best rodeos -- the CattleCall occurs each November. Along the state’s eastern border, you can boat through the spectacular Topock Gorge or houseboat, waterski, and fish on Lake Havasu. For history, head south to Blythe to contemplate the intaglios-centuries-old giant figures carved into the earth by Native Americans-or north to Needles for the historic train depot and Harvey House hotel.

Mojave National Preserve:

Drive into the preserve for an array of scenic splendors, including 32 volcanic cinder cones 1,000 to 10 million years old. For a panoramic view, hike atop the Kelso Dunes. To see the earth from inside, take a tour of Mitchell Caverns at Providence Mountain State Recreation Area. For a nostalgic trip to the past, drive Route 66 between Essex and Ludlow, and see abandoned gas stations and diners dating back to the heyday of this thoroughfare.

Barstow Area:

Barstow is a great base for exploring ancient Rainbow Basin and the new Mojave National Preserve.

Mojave/Ridgecrest Area:

Northeast of Mojave, the Rand Mining District offers fascinating geological formations. Collect pieces of petrified wood and agate in the mining town of Rosamond. Fast-forward to the space age: Check the schedule at Edwards Air Force Base, because a space shuttle or other craft just might be landing. West of Ridgecrest are the erosion-carved formations in Red Rock Canyon State Park. East of Ridgecrest are the lunarlike Trona Pinnacles, a popular movie-filming site.City of RidgecrestRidgecrest Area Convention and Visitors Bureau

Death Valley

The desolation of Death Valley is inspiring. Furnace Creek offers recreation, restaurants, lodging, a general store, and the Borax Museum.

Joshua Tree National Park

An 850-square-mile plant-and-wildlife sanctuary, Joshua Tree National Park is noted for its striking landscape of massive granite monoliths and stands of other-worldly Joshua trees.




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