When people think of California, few people think of the desert, as if the edge of the vast arid land that span from Arizona, New Mexico to Nevada ends just before the border with the state. The truth is the desert is an essential feature of the south-eastern part of California; mainly the east of Los Angeles and further south. Thanks to it being on the main San Andreas rift, California’s topography is so much diverse and surprising. Both the highest point (Mount Whitney, 4421m) and the lowest point (Death Valley, -86m) of the 48 contiguous states in US are in California*. The constant tectonic movements of the area is the reason behind the famous California earthquakes as well as the imposing mountain ranges next to the deep desert valleys or plains. Underneath the surface that we see as desert or mountain lies also a secret treasure: Hot springs.
Palm Springs and other surrounding area had been originally inhabited by the Native Americans. There are still some reservations on the road from Los Angeles towards Nevada. The area later developed as a destination for health tourism in early 1900s, thanks to its dry hot weather and natural springs. With time, many holiday resorts and summer houses had been built. Even Elvis “the King” Presley had a house there.
What makes Palm Springs an interesting visit, from my point of view, is its abundance of water despite being in the middle of a desert. Yes, the fierce elements of the desert is everywhere such as the heat, the wind and the dust. There are many wind turbines in the area to generate electricity in the most environmental friendly way.
On the other hand, there is also plenty of water, coming form the natural springs. And what a smooth and soothing water that is! The running water from the taps of our hotel was so amazing that I kept washing my face over and over again. It is surely a wonderful experience to enjoy the abundance of water in such a dry geography.
Originally, we chose to stay in Palm Springs not because of its unique geographical features but due to its proximity to Joshua Tree National Park. The distance from our hotel to the park was only one hour driving so we left the hotel shortly after check-in.
Joshua Tree is a kind of tree like vegetation that grows in the area. It is named by the Mormon settlers who crossed the Mojave Desert in mid 19th century. Joshua Tree National Park is named after this tree but is home to many other types of interesting vegetation as well:
The national park is approximately 3200 sq km (1235 sq mi) and home to a unique ecosystem due to its elevation and the impact of two distinct deserts (Mojave Desert and Colorado Desert). We apparently arrived at the park after the working hours so there was no one in the entrance to welcome or to pay visiting fee. So our visit was unintentionally free. :)
The park was our first genuine (and short) desert experience. Seeing nothing but the desert on the horizon in every direction, without any sign of civilization, is both unsettling and liberating. You feel kind of helpless in the vastness of the space as well as private & secluded as if you own the planet, albeit an arid planet such as Mars. Yes, you may get the similar empowering feeling in a lush green mountain range with no sign of human impact on the horizon; but you would not get the same sensation of being deserted in a jungle. The desert is certainly not the place I want to be for more than few hours but it is the kind of place definitely worth visiting once in a while.
To read more on our California trip, please visit: California Road Trip of 2014