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Top Five Desert Destinations of Southern California

By on February 7, 2012

Top Five Desert Destinations of Southern California

The Salton Sea

You may notice a certain theme to the destinations of the desert in Southern California. I’ll say it right up front, the theme is death and even though I’ve mentioned how much easier it is to explore the desert in the winter, these locations prove how tough it is to make a go of it. Maybe it’s a little less hospitable in the California desert compared to its neighbors in the southwest. Maybe it’s because there are much more appealing places to live nearby like San Diego, Palm Springs or the sprawling Los Angeles metropolitan area so that the first hint of adversity makes those areas appealing again. Whatever it is, when you look at a map of eastern California, besides the interstate veins connecting the coast to Las Vegas, Flagstaff, Phoenix, Tucson, and points east, there’s a lot of blank space. Having driven through the area, I don’t see much of an opportunity for that to change.

At some time however, there was something about the desert that drew people to give it a whirl years and years ago. Maybe it was due to racism. Maybe it was due to being on the run. Then, a change in the course of the road, a change in the amount of rain or the change in police pursuit and these places became inhospitable. However, in one case, the desert provides the perfect environment for a thriving concern. Because of the low humidity and lack of rainfall, it’s the perfect place for a graveyard.

1. Death Valley National Park

 

You can explore eight different ghost towns when you visit Death Valley National Park. The description of Panamint City as, “the toughest, rawest, most hard-boiled little hellhole that ever passed for a civilized town,” makes it sound appealing to visit now, rather than one hundred and thirty years ago before a flash flood destroyed it. Another dangerous location within the park, unless you were a young hippie girl or a member of the Manson Family is Barker Ranch. Though destroyed in a fire in 2009, you can still visit the infamous hideout.

2. Salton Sea

It may be a bit dated as it is almost five years old now, but this trailer for “Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea” gives you a taste of how interesting the Salton Sea is. Though the lack of stores that stay open past six or a mall, the smells, rotting fish and summer temperatures that hit 120 degrees might make it inhospitable for most humans, in the winter, it hosts several different species of migratory birds and this booklet compares it to Florida’s Everglades.

3. General Patton Memorial Museum

During the beginning days of the United States’ entry into World War II, the army needed a place to train the new recruits in the ways of war, and the army established the Desert Training Center – California-Arizona Maneuver Area. Today, there’s not much left of these temporary training areas where over a million future soldiers trained, but in Chiriaco Summit is the General Patton Memorial Museum, located near his WWII headquarters in Camp Young. There you can get a bit of the history of the area, as well as history on one of the military leaders of WWII.

4. Route 66 between Fenner and Ludlow

This former major artery between Chicago and Los Angeles has merged into major interstates and other roads in cities but there are still the occasional stretches where it strays onto its own beaten path. Traveling along this stretch of the road, you can see the remnants of hotels, restaurants and gas stations, blown over trees that used to hold up hundreds of shoes in its branches and take side trips to see the remains of towns like Dunbar and Lanfair. Where all the cars used to pass, now only a few come by, more to reminisce than for the ease of travel.

5. Airplane Graveyard in Mojave, CA

If you’re going to store an aircraft that you might try to bring back to service eventually, you want someplace dry. That’s where the Mojave Airport comes into play. To get an idea of what an airplane boneyard looks like, here’s a video. To see it yourself in person, go to the restaurant on site and ask your waitress where you should go for a tour.

That’s my top five for the desert of southeast California. Any suggestions for things that I missed? Any restaurant/greasy spoon recommendations for the area? I’m open to adding to these five ideas.

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About Jason McClain

Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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