On Deserts…

You may wonder why we camp in deserts so often and why I prefer to backpack in them too.

You may deduce that since we live in the desert, it is close and easy to pursue outdoor activities there. That is partially correct – but the desert destinations are by design. Back in 1977 I moved to Palm Springs because I wanted to camp and hike in the desert, along with several other reasons. So I thought I would pontificate On Deserts.


I live close to many well known mountains and hike/camp in them every year; the San Jacinto, San Bernardino, and Sierra Nevada are my main three mountain destinations. But I like deserts better. This wasn’t always the case. But over the years the desert has become my main priority for outdoor pursuits.

Deserts have mountains too. Some of my favorites fairly close to home are the Amargosa, Black, Bristol, Borrego, Bucksnorts, Bullion, Cerbat, Chuckwalla, Coxocomb, Eagle, Eldorado, Granite, Jacumba, McCoy, McCullough, Muddy, Palo Verde, Panamint, Pinto, Pinyon, Providence, Santa Rosa, Spring, Vallecito, and Virgin. Some are well known, others not.

I am not one to encourage people to go out into the desert – especially little known gems that the Internet could turn into places overrun by humanity. But the desert needs advocates; people who want to protect them. A true advocate needs to really understand the desert, which can only happen by spending a lot of time in them.

So how does one capture the essence and “specialness” of the desert in words or even pictures? Better people than me have tried and for the most part, in my opinion, not succeeded. Words and pictures can only capture a snapshot of something much bigger. If you want to explore what the desert really is, you might want to read Edward Abbey (especially Desert Solitaire) for the “Why” and Colin Fletcher (especially one of The Complete Walker books and The Man Who Walked Through Time) for the “How.”


Vast expanses of the southwestern United States and other parts of the country are desert, much of it owned by the Government. So access is easy. There are thousands of miles of paved highway through State and Federal Parks, Monuments and other designated areas.

Driving “through” the Desert

Simply driving through a desert isn’t going to teach you much. It might do the opposite as sitting in your vehicle you will not get to know the desert. Stopping at marked scenic view points or exhibits might whet your thirst to get closer to the desert.

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Consider roads only as a method to get to the desert or scouting for areas that look worthwhile to explore on foot. Do not let a road define desert for you.

If you find a legal dirt road in the desert, and your vehicle can navigate it – take that road. You will learn more.


We often camp in improved and semi-improved campgrounds. And I highly recommend them, but such places won’t teach you a lot about the desert – you will only scratch the surface. But after learning about the desert they are wonderful places to visit and relax. If you are just beginning to explore the desert, this is a good place to start. If allowed, get off the paved roads and drive dirt roads to their end – and camp there. You will learn more at the end of a dirt road than in an established campground.
joshua treeDon’t find camping spots by searching the Internet for popular places. Get a big-ass road map and find open spaces with few roads. Contact the responsible Government Agency for camping regulations. BLM lands are usually the most remote, least used, and best places to visit.

Get out of your freakin’ car or campsite and walk

You can’t learn much about the desert unless you visit it face to face.

Day Hike

That means getting away from the man-world of roads, campsites, and even trails. Trails are okay for those just beginning to explore the desert.


Multi-day cross country trips are best. You must obtain the skills and knowledge to do this – particularly important is learning how to find water.

IMG_0952Once the backpacker gains the requisite experience to do this, true learning and advocacy is the end result.


As I mentioned earlier, pictures don’t do the desert justice in most instances. Perhaps these will encourage you to learn of the desert.

 IMG_0269 IMG_0259 IMG_0149 smaller IMG_0152 IMG_0272 two-striped garter snake White Rock Canyon #4 12 Red Rock Hot Spring Canyon Stream IMG_0251 IMG_0270 DSC00473 2633616930049309119 2548727300049309119 DSC00460 DSC00451 2594367560049309119 17 Petroglyph DSC00450 1127434850049309119 1462987855049309119 1462988448049309119 2542439000049309119

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