Spring in California’s Deserts

It’s been three weeks since we kicked off our multi-year travel adventure, and we’re loving it.

After just a couple days with friends and family in the Northwest, we took the van a thousand miles south to warmer weather, spending a weekend with family in Los Angeles and then heading east.

We started in Joshua Tree National Park, a stunning landscape straddling the Mojave and Colorado Deserts. Though I grew up in California, this part of the state is new territory for me. The more time we’ve spent in this terrain, the more we’ve come to appreciate the subtle differences in plant and animal life dictated by different elevations and climates. It’s a fascinating and beautiful place.

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From Joshua Tree, we drove south to Palm Springs for a night in civilization, then camped in Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument on the way down to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Situated in the Colorado Desert just a few miles north of the Mexican border, Anza-Borrego is the second largest state park in the lower 48, stretching across a vast expanse of desert washes, towering mountains, and eroded badlands. We spent two nights in the park’s primitive Blair Valley Campground, enjoying near-solitude at the attractive price of $0/night.

We haven’t been without our fair share of mishaps, of course. April Fools’ Day didn’t treat us particularly well. Daniel kicked off our morning hike by impaling his hand on a spiny cactus, then we returned to our campsite a few hours later to find our water container swarmed by dozens of extremely aggressive bees. We ended up abandoning the campsite until nightfall when we could recover it safely. Lesson learned about packing up everything each morning.

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With one more night to ourselves before meeting up with my parents in Death Valley, we pulled out our road atlas and noticed the enormous Mojave National Preserve along our route. “Sure, let’s check it out!” Though we didn’t see nearly everything (we later learned that it’s the third largest unit of the National Park System in the contiguous United States), we enjoyed a beautiful night of primitive camping and a long morning hike near the popular Hole-in-the-Wall Campground.

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From Mojave, we drove north to Death Valley National Park, where we met up with my recently-retired parents for five nights. Even in early April, the basin of the Valley was hot as hell, but the park was more varied in terrain and climate than we expected – everything from crusty salt flats and sweeping sand dunes to wooded hillsides and massive volcanic craters.

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16 Comments

  1. Sounds like a great start to your infinite weekend. Thanks for sharing the photos – they are outstanding and really give a great view into the parks.

  2. Looks awesome! Keep sharing.

  3. I’ve been to Joshua Tree a couple of times and loved that park. One time I went for a climbing trip. We arrived around 2AM, set up the camp, and went to sleep. When we woke up, we were totally surprised to see all the cool rocks in our campsite. We were able to climb in our campsite! How cool is that!

    Very neat to see that you’re enjoying your trip. 🙂

    • Ha, that’s awesome. We did a bunch of scrambling (about as much climbing as I do beyond an occasional trip to the bouldering gym) from our campsite, too.

  4. Amazing photo dump! Changed your plans about Alaska yet? 🙂

  5. Gorgeous photos! Thanks for sharing! Packing up camp daily before a hike is my least favorite part, but I appreciate the reminder. 🙂 Hope Daniel is OK!

  6. Stunning photos! I always love the desert more in photos than in real life, but I’m trying to appreciate it more. Especially since, if I learned anything from Mad Max: Fury Road, we’ll all be living in desert soon enough. 😉 Hope Daniel’s hand is better!

    • We grew to appreciate it much more over the course of a few weeks, though I’ll confess that it’s nice to be back in the Sierras now!

  7. Great photo story. It reminds me a of out honeymoon back in 2008. We also did visit Joshua, Death Valley and Palm Springs. If I now remember how it was and then extend this to a multi year travel, than there is one conclusion: You are free and enjoying life at 150pct!

    Thx for sharing

    • How funny that I grew up less than a day’s drive from these spots and hadn’t seen it until now, while people fly from all over the world to visit. You’re right on with your conclusion 🙂

  8. Thanks for sharing these gorgeous photos! My hubby is really looking forward to visiting Death Valley when we go on our big roadtrip. Looks like you missed the unprecedented flower bloom though 🙁

    • Thanks, Harmony. We did miss most of the superbloom, sadly, but I was still wowed by the diversity of scenery there. Absolutely worth the visit!

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