California

Deserts

The desert region of California stretches for miles from the center of California to the southern border including well-known areas like Palm Springs and Death Valley. But it’s more than just dry climates and vast open space where mustangs roam; there’s a rich and ancient culture in the desert region.

Ridgecrest, located in the high desert region, might not be well known, but it is the home to the earliest known life in the region. Ancient petroglyphs were etched into canyon walls by the Coso people over 10,000 years ago. You’ll also find a colorful tapestry of Native American culture, a thriving local community, and stunning diversity of desert landscapes. Explore the history of this High Desert region in Ridgecrest while actively getting out and enjoying the unique landscapes by foot, off road vehicle, bike, or horseback.

Main Photo © Kirsten Alana

Adventure Highlights

Wander through Main Street in Randsburg, but don’t expect to see anyone because it’s a living ghost town!

Watch the sun disappear and the stars come up at the Trona Pinnacles. Spend a whole night there camping and staring at the Milky Way!

Hike the many trails in Red Rock Canyon State Park.

Visit the Maturango museum and Petroglyph Park in Ridgecrest to experience the ancient history of the high deserts.

Drive out to the stunning Fossil Falls and hike where lava and rivers co-mingled millions of years ago.

Visit, feed, and possibly adopt wild horses and burros at the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Facility.

Get rugged and check out the miles of off-roading trails in the region.

Not only is the Desert Region home to the Coachella festival, it’s also home to the Petroglyph Festival at the beginning of November when you can tour the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyons.

Photo © Kirsten Alana
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Destination Facts

  • The first known inhabitants of the Desert region were Native Americans.
  • Little Petroglyph Canyon contains 20,000 documented images! It’s the biggest cluster of petroglyphs in the western hemisphere and they are all remarkably undisturbed.
  • The high desert around Ridgecrest has the most sun in North America with 355 days of sunshine a year.
  • Hollywood has made a home in the Desert Region. Numerous movies and TV shows shoot in the California deserts thanks to its unique, alien-like landscapes.
  • The largest fish in the desert is just outside of Ridgecrest; Fish Rocks is a clever art project that’s a favorite photo stop.
  • The soda fountain at Randsburg’s General Store has been operating for 112 years!
  • California deserts contain 2,341 known native plant species, or 37 percent of the state’s entire flora.
  • The Coachella Valley is nicknamed The Date Capital of the World and The Playground of Presidents.
  • The endangered Desert Tortoise calls the California Deserts home.
  • The name “Mojave” or “Mohave” comes from the Native American tribes who lived in the region and translates roughly to “the people who live beside the water,” meaning the Colorado River.

Road-Trip Itinerary

Ridgecrest is a super place to use as your hub for the High Desert region. It’s only a 3 ½ hour drive from Las Vegas Airport or a 3 hour drive from LA.

Day 1

Start at the beginning and learn all about the Petroglyphs and history of the area at Maturango Museum. The Museum offers exhibits featuring the cultural history, the flora and fauna of the Northern Mojave Desert, and Native American artifacts. Stop by Petroglyph Park to see artistic replications of the petroglyphs and pictographs created by indigenous natives. Learn about the military history in the area and head over to the beautifully restored historic USO building to learn more about the town history. Note – in order to visit the Big and Little Petroglyph Canyon which houses the original petroglyph works in pristine condition, be sure to plan and reserve with the Maturango Museum far in advance. Viewings are very limited. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 2

Drive to Red Rock Canyon State Park and experience the vivid and diverse land formations including cliffs, buttes, and outcrops. Meander through the canyons on one of the many hiking trails in the park. After an active day hiking, head east to Randsburg to the only living ghost town in California. Everything is closed on the weekdays, which can be a fun way to see the town; you’ll have it all to yourself. However, if you are there on the weekend be sure to stop in at the General Store and order a phosphate or malt from the century old soda fountain for a treat! Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 3

Visit the Burros and Wild Horse Facility in the morning with a big bag of carrots to build a close rapport with the local animals. You may even decide you want to adopt one and take it home! Drive towards Searles Valley and stop for a ‘swim with the fishes’ at fish rock; a landmark along Highway 178. Get a dose of mining history with Margaret at the Guest House Museum in Trona. And before the sun goes down, get to Trona Pinnacles to hike around the 500 tufa spires. Watch the whole landscape turn pink as the as the sun descends and the temperatures drop. Don’t leave just yet, as the star gazing here is phenomenal. Pick a viewing spot, set up cameras, and spend a night at the Trona Pinnacles watching the Milky Way rise through the tufa. For the truly adventurous, bring camping gear and camp out among the pinnacles for a unique experience. Photo © Kirsten Alana

Day 4

Head to Fossil Falls where the desert transforms into a field of volcanic rock. The ‘falls’ were formed when the river was forced to divert its course over a basalt flow, polishing and reshaping the rock. Spend the morning hiking around the rock falls on the unique shapes and forms of basalt. Keep going north and include the High Sierra Region by journeying along scenic Highway 395. On the way you’ll be treated to views of Mount Whitney and Hollywood’s favorite ‘western’ town of Lone Pine. And as you enter the High Sierras make a stop to pick up some delicious Dutch baked goods in Bishop from Erik Schat’s bakery. Photo © Kirsten Alana