Wild and Untouched: Hiking the Deserts of Southern California

A beautiful sunset in Death Valley National Park

My husband and I like to visit at least one National Park every year. We have visited several of them so far. In fact, it looks like we have visited 24 out of 59 parks up to now. National Parks in the United States are of great importance. They are protected vast natural beautiful lands and usually include unique geological features. They are kept wild and untouched. And they can’t be bought by real estate moguls and be destroyed by human greed.

When it was too hot to hike midday, there was plenty to see by car (part of the Artist’s Palette loop drive)

During our vacation this year, we visited two National Parks and one State Park on our trip to southern California. We flew to Los Angeles, rented a car and drove directly to Anza Borrego Desert State Park, which is the largest state park in California. As its name suggests, it is in the desert but because of the bountiful rain this year in California, after a few years of drought, the desert bloomed more than in previous years. Locals called it a super-bloom year. This meant amazing scenery but also huge crowds visiting from San Diego, Palm Springs, LA and even nearby states. One of the rangers said that the Palm Canyon trail (one of the more popular hikes in the park) was visited by approximately 13,000 people over the span of one week. These unexpected visitors caused traffic jams and created lots of trash. Restaurants and stores closed down because they ran out of food and other products. The locals were happy when the blooming of the desert was over. And so were we.

The Palm Canyon trail was about 3 miles and though not strenuous, it was steep enough to make me stop several times for a breather and to enjoy my surrounding of the remaining colorful and fragrant desert flowers.

On the top of the trail, we got rewarded with a beautiful oasis created by a group of tall California Fan Palms that provided cool shade for the hikers. There was also a small water stream on which desert animals, especially big horn sheep (i.e. Borrego) depend. A ranger stood close to the stream making sure people didn’t stop there for too long so the animals could get a chance to drink water if needed.

Seeing the Oasis from far ahead gave us strength again!

Our next stop was Joshua Tree National Park. Minerva Hoyt, a community activist and desert lover saw “the beauty in the spiny trees and its slithery creatures” and persuaded President F. D. Roosevelt to proclaim it as a national monument in 1936. It was only in 1994, as part of the California Desert Protection Act, that Congress renamed the area Joshua Tree National Park. (NP Service, US department of the Interior). When we entered the park, I felt I was walking into another world. It was very different from what I had seen so far. The Joshua trees, which are a species of yucca rather than trees, were everywhere, and I could easily understand if film makers picked this park to shoot a science fiction movie here.

Joshua trees are in fact not very tall

After marveling at the Joshua trees in the vast Mojave Desert, we stopped at a short hiking trail named Hidden Valley. The parking lot was almost full there, and to my surprise I saw lots of people of all ages—as young as 3 or 4 years old—putting on their climbing suits, shoes and helmets, getting ready to conquer massive reddish golden boulders that were part of the scenery in that area of the park. Hiking through the trail, each time I looked up, I saw a fearless person dangling on some piles of huge rocks. Though we were warned of rattle snakes, the only creatures that checked us out were lizards of different sizes and colors baking in the sun.

Boulders in Joshua Tree National Park

Death Valley National Park, our last park on this trip, is called the land of extremes. According to the Death Valley National Park’s website, it is the hottest, driest and lowest National Park in North America. And true to its reputation, once we entered the park, we could feel the heat going right up. Our first stop was the Badwater Basin, a salt flat, considered the lowest point in the North America at 282 ft below sea level. Hikers walked out on the basin; some returned back quickly because of the immense heat, arid air and strong reflection of the salt crystals. Some braver souls walked far out into the white, vast, glaring land. All came back flushed and heated. We were advised to drink a gallon of water per day during our stay at Death Valley for good reason.

Badwater basin: 282 feet below sea level

Another point of interest was the Artist’s Palette. It was a scenic loop drive that took us through multicolored claystones which resulted from an amalgamation of volcanic activities and various minerals and other elements, such as oxygen. I insisted that we get out of the car and hike among the colorful hills. I had never climbed up a purple or pink hill in my life, and I did not want to pass up the chance to do so.

Artist’s Palette: Hills in pink, purple, orange and green

My favorite hike at the Death Valley National Park was the Golden Canyon trail. We started out early in the morning to avoid the extreme heat. The hike took us uphill between hovering, golden colored rocks. It ended with a picturesque, reddish tall rock, properly name the Red Cathedral. Meandering in these labyrinth-like canyons with their utmost quietude and tranquility was an unforgettable experience for me.

Walking through the Golden Canyons which turn golden when the sun shines on them


All photos © Sara Tabaei.

4 thoughts on “Wild and Untouched: Hiking the Deserts of Southern California

  1. annettecarr May 3, 2017 / 11:31 am

    Great post Sara. I love these vacation blogs.

  2. Michoel Rotenfeld May 3, 2017 / 11:33 am

    Absolutely stunning. Thank you for sharing your trip and photographic talent with us.

  3. Frada Harel May 17, 2017 / 3:25 pm

    What a special trip! Did you take the photos with a camera, lap top, or cell phone? Absolutely stunning. I didn’t know that you were a talented photographer as well as an incredible librarian.
    Thanks for sharing,

  4. Frada Harel May 17, 2017 / 3:26 pm

    I meant ‘ipad,’ not lap top!

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