Spring Break is in the Air and From Southern California these desert locations are beautiful road trip destinations.
You can hike, bike, and sightsee to your heart’s content. I’ve included a few high-desert spots that lack the arid landscape of low deserts, but they still provide much of the same natural characteristics as the lower-elevation terrains.
About a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, Sedona is known for its gorgeous red sandstone formations and pine forest surroundings. The landscape offers an excellent range of outdoor activities, including hiking, biking, and horseback riding. Sedona is said to have mystical powers due to “vortexes” — concentrations of spiritual energy — that have caused artists and New Agers to flock to the city to sell crystals, crafts, and fortunes. The mild spring makes it a suitable travel destination.
Named for the trees that fill the park, Joshua Tree is a large desert park (slightly bigger than Rhode Island) located a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Los Angeles. It’s attractive to campers and outdoor enthusiasts, and it’s especially popular with rock climbers due to the numerous boulders that dot the grounds. The aptly named Skull Rock and Arch Rock are top points of interest, as is the scenic, one-mile-long Hidden Valley trail. Several campgrounds are available, and nighttime provides excellent stargazing opportunities.
Set just south of the breathtaking Arches National Park and a 30-minute drive from Canyonlands National Park, Moab makes for an ideal base for a day-trip to either. The outdoor activities are expansive here: you’ll have easy access to excellent mountain biking, whitewater rafting on the Colorado River, and ATV trails, in addition to scenic drives that are worth pulling the car over to snap a pic. Several tasty eateries, a variety of hotels, a regional hospital, and a brewery make Moab an attractive spot to sleep if you don’t want to pitch a tent.
Thanks to Santa Fe’s prime location between the mountains and desert, outdoor activities are bountiful, but there’s a lot more than hiking and biking in this small city. Santa Fe has been declared a “creative city” by UNESCO. And Santa Fe has a thriving arts community that blends American Indian, Southwestern, and Latino cultures. The downtown plaza has galleries and shops selling items like turquoise and silver jewelry, hand-painted pottery, and leather goods. In addition to shopping, there are numerous museums — Museum of Indian Arts & Culture and Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, to name a couple — historic churches, and Southwestern cuisine that includes moles, green chiles, and lots of burritos. Of course, the adobe architecture throughout and the many outdoor markets and festivals are additional perks of this charming city.
Also known as “Old Pueblo,” Tucson is the less-developed, more naturally beautiful alternative to Phoenix. Though a modern metropolis (it’s the second-largest city in Arizona), the picturesque desert and mountain landscape (it’s surrounded by multiple mountain ranges) helps it hold its outdoorsy appeal. The sun is almost always shining — for all but around 15 days a year. For sure there’s lots of fun to be had.