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California’s Overlooked Low Desert Winter Travel Destinations

California’s Overlooked Low Desert Winter Travel DestinationsCalifornia’s Overlooked Low Desert Winter Travel Destinations

California's high desert commands plenty of attention with locales like Joshua Tree National Park and the Mojave Desert. Yet did you know that frequently overlooked winter travel destinations abound in the state's low desert regions? Three areas stand out.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park: Tamarisk Grove Campground

200 Palm Canyon Drive in Borrego Springs, CA 92004


25 campsites for tents/RVs shorter than 21 feet

$25 per night fee

Access this desert state park via the San Diego County entrance. Between November and April, the visitor center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Bring your tent and desert camping supplies, and do not forget a cold-weather sleeping bag. If you have a recreational vehicle shorter than 21 feet, you will be able to back into the sites. This is the campground to choose if you are an avid mountain biker; the nearby Jasper trail will offer some challenging terrain along with gorgeous vistas. Keep your eyes open for bighorn sheep and the red diamond rattlesnake. Restrooms and showers are on site; reservations are required. The campground is excellent for families.

Big Morongo Canyon Preserve: Hiking Trails

East on East Drive (off North State Highway 62) in Morongo Valley, CA 92256


No camping; admission is free

Stay in nearby Palm Springs, California, and plan your outings to the desert preserve. The area is smoke-free and for pedestrian access only, and there are restrictions against pets. The Yucca Ridge Trail is easy to traverse, takes you through some marshland, and offers spectacular sights of rock formations. The Marsh Trail is handicapped-accessible and a hot spot for birdwatchers. For a somewhat difficult hike, head over to the West Canyon Trail. There are some steep climbs, so be sure to wear solid boots. For the full experience, plan on hiking the strenuous 9-mile Canyon Trail. While cottonwoods are abundant in the preserve, shade is at a premium; be sure to wear a hat. This is a wonderful place for youngsters of all ages.

Whipple Mountains Wilderness Area: Backpacking and Bush Camping

4 miles north of Highway 62 near Needles, CA 92363


No fees

Stay in this wilderness and be prepared to rough it. Since the area is closed to vehicles, you must pack in all the creature comforts you need. On the upside, hunting and fishing are permitted. You may use dead wood for fires but may not cut down trees or branches. If possible, re-use someone else's abandoned campsite. Keep your eyes open for hawks, wild burros, and plenty of rattlesnakes. Please remember that the desert tortoise is endangered; leave any specimens you might see undisturbed. This is not a place for small children, novice bush campers, or anyone unfit for extensive hikes and climbs.

Stay Safe in the Desert

It would be foolhardy to assume that winter travels in California's low deserts have fewer risks than summer trips. While the high noon heat of the day is generally not a major concern, the risks are different but still present. Stay safe by following five simple tips:

1. Always check in at the visitor center. Sign the guest log, talk to a park ranger, and make sure someone knows where you are headed and whether you are just visiting, hiking, biking, or camping.

2. Know the flora and fauna. Know which reptiles and mammals might be active, what their habits are, and how to keep out of the way.

3. Mark your way. There are few trails and even fewer paved roads in California's low desert. Bring along some rocks to mark your way.

4. Stay out of mines. Abandoned mines litter California's deserts. Broken bones, inhalation of poisonous air, getting lost (permanently), and disturbing wildlife are just some of the risks you take when entering abandoned mines.

5. Avoid the bees. The Bureau of Land Management warns desert travelers against encounters with Africanized bees, which have been found to establish colonies in desert areas. Do not attempt to peaceably coexist with the insects; instead, pack up and leave.


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