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California's Most Spectacular Deserts

California National Parks
by Robyn Johnson Jan 10, 2009

Covering up to 25,000 square miles of Californian terrain, the Mojave and the Colorado deserts present a rich diversity in landscape, ecology, and climate, and provide an important preservation of natural and human history. The following are some of the most spectacular of the national and state parks.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree, most-visited national parks in 2020

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Popular for its Joshua tree forests and climbable hills of bare boulders, Joshua Tree National Park has a uniquely alien and prehistoric landscape.

Death Valley National Park

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Its rich geologic and cultural history, and extreme environment and isolation (having some of the clearest skies in North America for stargazing) make Death Valley an attractive destination for nature lovers.

Low and hot, Death Valley is home to both the lowest elevations and hottest temperatures in the US. But the landscape in this part of California is actually incredibly diverse, ranging from saltpans like the Devil’s Racetrack, pictured above, to snow-capped mountains reaching 11,000ft.

Red Rock Canyon State Park

red rock canyon best california state parks

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The result of erosion exposing the colorful sandstone stratas and creating hoodoos and other dramatic rock formations, Red Rock Canyon State Park has served as the backdrop of many films, including Jurassic Park.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

best california state parks - Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Badlands at sunrise

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The largest state park in California and the second largest in the continental United States, the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers a varied sample of the Colorado Desert with broad vistas, dry river beds, and diverse ecology, such as palm groves, iguanas, foxes, golden eagles, roadrunners, and rattlesnakes.

Mojave National Preserve

Joshua Trees in Mojave Desert, California

Photo: Dejan Stanisavljevic/Shutterstock

Seemingly barren compared to other Californian deserts, many make their way to this newly designated park for its booming sand dunes, volcanic formations, and Joshua tree forests.

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