Mojave National Preserve, Mojave Desert (So-Cal)
          "Rugged, yet delicate desert serenity"
      When most people think of "desert" a picture of the Sahara probably comes to mind and thoughts of a hot, lifeless wasteland. Clearly, most people have never visited the Mojave desert. Even a short hike around this preserve will reveal the tough and resilient life that teams the Joshua Tree forests and lonely mesas. Desert Tortoises, gila monsters, foxes, desert bighorn sheep and a whole slew of different cacti made their home here so that any visitor is treated to a very different perspective on what is known as a desert. Day hikes abound and can be quite comfortable in the fall and spring. The preserve's "Hole in the Wall Canyon" looks almost alien-like while the park's Joshua Trees prove that a forest doesn't necessarily have to be thick and green. Not only that, but the Mitchell Cavern's are certainly California's most hidden if not most interesting cave formations. Why does Mojave National Preserve make the list over say, Joshua Tree National Park or Death Valley National Park? It gets half the visitors (no crowds!). A visit to Mojave National Preserve will forever banish the lay person's idea that a desert is necessarily lifeless. Two and a half hours from Los Angeles.

Hole in the Wall Canyon- Mojave National Preserve
The Kelso Dunes in the central part of the park are some of the tallest dunes in North America
      Mojave National Preserve is located about 70 miles northeast of Barstow, California. It can be reached via highway 15 towards Las Vegas, or I-40 East. From the I-15 route, continue from Barstow all the way into Baker, CA (the town with the largest thermometer on Earth!) Kelbaker road will take you into the park from the north. Here you will see massive lava beds, Joshua Tree forests, and some of North America's largest sand dunes. However, my preference is to take the I-40 route- from Barstow, drive 100 miles east until you get to exit 100 for Essex. Hang a left and drive north into the park. From here, you can drive to the Mitchell Caverns, California's best kept caves and also into the central part of the park where there is the hole in the wall canyon, camping and a visitor center.
View of the desert from the New York Mountains. The hills on the horizon mark just where the Colorado River cuts through the Mojave Desert.