Moon on Earth: the Californian Desert
Spending a week in the Californian desert was certainly never on my bucket list and yet it belongs to every Cali – Las Vegas roadtrip. I’m more of a forest and mountains kinda girl and my heart was aching when we had to leave the green meadows of Yosemite National Park behind us. What we were to find was a seemingly neverending desert of orange, brown and purple stone and sand. Beauty lies in everything however, so here are some of my favourite spots in the Californian desert:
Joshua Tree National Park
From LA it takes less than a day’s drive to enter a new planet. Exotic trees rise up into the crystal clear sky. Strangely, from far away it looks like a pile of teddy-bears, ready to cuddle with you.
Joshua Tree National Park lies just East of Palm Springs and is named after its special resident, the joshua tree. The area’s rock-formations are 100 million years old and serve the illusion of walking the Red Moon. Space comes even closer if you are an amateur astronomer. Joshua Tree NP is well known for its dark skies, which make it a perfect place for stargazing.
Death Valley is one of the most controversial places I have ever been to. I hated it. But I loved it, too.
I hated to unbearable heat. Watching the temperature rise to previously unknown peaks, I popped open a beer can and enjoyed the first sip. By the time I was ready for a second sip my beer had turned useless as the deliciously cold refreshment had turned into a bubbly hot drink.
We stopped at the opening of a small canyon and I started following my friends. First I walked in the middle of the canyon in the sun, soon on the edge protected by the shade, only to sit down a few minutes later and wait for my friends to return from the end of the canyon. Too exhausting, too literally ‘breathtaking’ was the heat. Heavy hot air flew into my lungs and seemed to stay there, pulling down my entire body towards the hot desert ground.
Death Valley was named by an exhibition party, who lost one member of their group on their trip through the desert. Yet, I could feel what they meant – it’s hot as hell.
On the other hand I loved the incredible range of colour stone and sand have to offer and the unearthly formations – be it massive rock bridges or tiny little crystals. Minerals, especially salt, characterize the grounds of Death Valley. Its flat heart is Badwater Basin – California’s lowest point at 855m below sea level (282 feet).
The highways cut through the desert in clear shots, dirt roads wind their way up and down the hills on the edge of the valley. The noise of the masses of tourists at the basin is swallowed by the buzzling hot air. Colour and silence.
You find yourself in an alien landscape. Rough rocks line the shore of a sheer endless lake. The water is as smooth as glass and you see the reflections of the sky and clouds above. Left and right of you stone formations rise up high, their edges sharp as knives. The floor beneath your feet is covered in sand and dust. For hundreds of meters there’s no elevation, far away you can see a mountain range. Tiny flying creatures whirl through the air and occupy the beaches. The dead landscape is framed only by low bushes in their yellow blossom. Here and there a bird feeds on the swarms of black flies.
Mono Lake is a saline soda lake close to Yosemite Park in California. Although to its high level in salt it has a very lively ecosystem. Insects and brine shrimp attract millions of birds every year.
Starting in the 1940s, water from Mono Lake was directed to the growing city of Los Angeles. Within 40 years the water level of the lake dropped over 30%, which exposed the moony tufa formations.
Thanks to researchers and activists the lake has been protected since 1994 and the water level raises slowly, but steadily. Today a sign reminds of the former edge of the lake.
Over a hundred years ago Bodie was a thriving city populated by gold diggers and miners. Today it is a National Historic Landmark visited by 200 000 tourists each year.
Ghost towns attract people like light attracts flies and draw them into a long gone world. Walk the abandoned alleyways and play hide and seek amidst the rusty leftovers of the last century. Here and there you will find what the people of Bodie left behind – the doll of the mayor’s daughter, the notebook of the town’s merchant, a bullet in the wall from the last gunfight.
Read more on Bodie and other ghost towns in America’s southwest here.
Indian Canyons, Palm, Springs
It is the green oasis the desert-weary traveller longs for the most. Refreshing water, cool shade, the soothing green of the trees. Indian Canyons in Palm Springs is a place like this – made up of several canyons, three of which are easily accessible to visitors by trails: Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon and Murray Canyon.
Long ago the ancestors of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Indians settled in these canyons. Today there are only traces left behind – rock art, foundations, trails, dams etc. The indigenous flora of the area opposes the dead desert surrounding the canyons. Visitors find magnificent waterfalls and over 150 different species of plants. Remember to bring enough water though!