Exploring the Californian Desert

January of this year my best friend and I flew to LA, rented a car and embarked upon a road trip around Central California to explore Death Valley and Joshua Tree. We dubbed our trip #desertroadtrip2013 and documented our adventure on Instagram (in fact, the entire trip was inspired by a picture I stumbled across on Instagram!). While Death Valley was never previously on my radar, after seeing an amazing photo of the beautiful mountain range known as Artists’ Pallette, I knew I had to see the place in person.

Roys Hotel Death Valley
Entrance to Death Valley National Park
Road Jump in the Mojave Desert

After arriving in LA late in the evening we picked up our rental car and drove to our first stop, Mojave. We wanted to get out of the city quickly to insure an early morning start at the park without worrying about the infamous LA traffic. We left Mojave early the next morning to drive through Red Rock National Preserve. The three days we spent in Death Valley felt like the perfect amount of time to see major spots such as Dante’s View, Zabriskie Point, Badwater Flats, Scotty’s Castle, Artists’ Palette, Mosaic Canyon, Fall Canyon, Titus Canyon, Ubehebe Crater, and the Sand Dunes. We also had ample time to do lots of extensive hiking as we didn’t want to spend the entire trip driving from point to point. Death Valley covers a large area and a reliable vehicle is a must.

Red Cliffs Natural Preserve
Red Rock National Preserve
Badwater Basin Death Valley
Shadow Portrait in the Mojave Desert
Landscape of Death Valley

During our time in Death Valley we stayed at Stovepipe Wells and absolutely loved it. There are only a few accommodation options in the area and Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek definitely seem to be the best options in terms of location. We preferred Stovepipe Wells because the restaurant – yes, singular restaurant! – had healthier dining options and as two vegetarians, dining options can be difficult in remote locations!

Zabriskie Point Death Valley
Green Plants in Death Valley
Dantes View Death Valley

We made a last minute side trip to Rhyolite, Nevada to visit a ghost town. The drive was gorgeous and totally worth the three hour diversion.

Rhyolite Mercantile Nevada
Road Sign in Rhyolite Nevada

After our time in the Valley we set out toward Palm Springs and Joshua Tree via the Mojave National Preserve (and a short stint on Route 66). The drive and vistas were beautiful! We opted to stay at the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs, which served as the perfect jumping off point for exploring the area. We stayed two nights at the Ace, leaving us with two days in the city and one full day in Joshua Tree. We explored the park through an intense, eight mile hike to Lost Palms Oasis. While beautiful, Joshua Tree isn’t nearly as expansive as Death Valley and we left feeling as though we had split our time well.

Drip Painted Chairs at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs
Ace Hotel Palm Springs
Leather Chair in the Ace Hotel Lobby
Cacti in Joshua Tree National Park
Ace Hotel Room Decor
Landscape of Joshua Tree
Joshua Tree Landscape
Mojave Desert Open Road
Joshua Tree Plantlife
Hiking Trail in Joshua Tree
Open Road in the Mojave Desert


The Ace Hotel
701 E. Palm Canyon Drive.
Palm Springs
(760) 325-9900

Helpful Hints

Rent a jeep or other high clearance, 4-wheel-drive car. We opted for an economy sedan and found there were many places we couldn’t explore due to vehicular restrictions.

Carry plenty of water all the time. You’re in the desert, enough said!

Wear layers and be prepared to hike. If you’re able, some of the best spots are seen on foot as opposed to from the comfort of your car. Put on your hiking shoes (sneakers worked just fine for us!) and explore some of the many hiking paths in Death Valley and Joshua Tree.

Get comfortable with “social paths.” Death Valley doesn’t have marked trails and this can seem a bit daunting. Most of the hiking in the park is done on what is referred to as social trails (trails worn by the footprints of previous hikers). Be smart about where you are going, pay attention to your surroundings and enjoy exploring. We stuck mainly to hikes that followed the dry beds of canyons, making it impossible to get lost. Our favorite was Mosaic Canyon as it involved a healthy amount of rock scrambling and was quite adventurous!