If there’s one thing that brings nature-lovers, adventurers and desert-enthusiasts together it’s the thirst for new and exhilarating experiences. Fortunately, San Bernardino County in Southern California is home to some of the top sightseeing destinations and outdoor adventures in the nation. Now is the time to visit the desert! March, April and May brings warm temps to the desert regions before the heat of the summer hits.
Let’s take a look at some of the most exciting things to see, do and take photos of in the deserts of the Mojave, Amboy, Barstow and Route 66 that can make your road trip memorable for life. The wildflowers are in bloom so tread lightly and bring your camera!
Mitchell Caverns are an outdoor adventure with sights you’ve likely never seen before. The Caverns are a trio of limestone caves located at an elevation of 4300 feet in the Providence Mountains State Recreation Area in Southern California. The “Tecopa” (named for a Shoshone Indian chief) and “El Pakiva” (Devil’s house) caves are connected by a man-made tunnel and are open to guided tours led by California State Park rangers. The “Winding Stair” cave is considered dangerous and is closed to the public, though it is occasionally used for training cave rescue teams. These caves are the only limestone caves in the California State Park system. (stateparks.com)
The Caverns are only accessible via a guided tour that happens two days a week and, while hard to book, the tour consists of 1.5–2 hours of exploring the caves and learning about the area’s history. (californiathroughmylens.com)
Bagdad Cafe – 46548 National Trails Hwy, Newberry Springs, CA 92365
Considering its connections with the oddly endearing movie (which features a cast of drifters, an obese German magician, and Jack Palance!) the real-life Bagdad Café is welcoming and appropriately weird, not so much a restaurant as it is a semi-catered film set. It stays in business as a pit stop for fans of offbeat European cinema who happen to find themselves in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Be sure to read and sign the guest book, which features heartfelt comments from hundreds of people who’ve made the trek here from all over the world; Scandinavians and Teutonic types seem especially well represented. (roadtripusa.com)
Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973 and located just off historic Route 66, the 6,000 year-old Amboy Crater is an example of geology creating geometry—it’s an almost perfectly symmetrical volcanic cinder cone and its perfect for nature-lovers. This 250-foot/76-meter bump in the Mojave National Preserve landscape provides panoramic views of some astounding features, including a 26-mile-/42-kilometer-long lava flow, Bristol Dry Lake, and the Marble Mountains.
A maintained trail climbs gently around the cone’s western half, leading into the breach where basaltic lava poured out over a vast area, creating lava lakes, collapsed lava tubes and sinks, and spatter cones. Once you’re in the cone’s center, hike straight into the caldera, or climb one of the steep trails to the rim. The view from the 1,508-foot/460-meter-wide rim will awe you as you take in the vastness of the Mojave Desert, where faraway cars on desert highways look like miniature toys against this epic landscape.
As with other Mojave locations, you probably won’t want to hike here from late spring into early fall when temperatures routinely top 100°F/37°C. So time your visit in winter or early spring not just for more comfortable temperatures, but also for the desert wildflower bloom, which can begin as early as February, depending on winter rains. The Crater is one of the most popular sightseeing adventures in the desert.
Roy’s Cafe – 87520 National Trails Hwy, Amboy, CA 92304
Roy’s is located on Historic Route 66 in Amboy, California within the Mojave Desert. The site of Roy’s has become an icon for a lonely desert gas stop due to the multiple appearances of Roy’s famous Googie-styled sign in movies, commercials and more. The Cafe is a perfect stop during your road trip to the Mojave. (rt66roys.com)
Calico Ghost Town
Calico Ghost Town is a living historic landmark and a wondrous outdoor adventure. Not only are you able to make your way back in time, but visitors can also experience a premier destination for unique shopping and dining experiences. Calico Ghost Town is home to The Calico House Restaurant, Lil’s Saloon, Old Miner’s Cafe, Calico SweetsSHOPPE and over 10 other specialty shops.
If you’re interested in learning more about Calico and its history, the Ghost Town offers two unique tours that give you the ability to see and learn more about Calico and the surrounding area firsthand. If you’re looking to stay more than one day, Calico Ghost Town also offers over 300 campsites from dry camping to full hookups.
Kelso Sand Dunes
The Kelso Dunes cover 45 square miles and rise 650 feet above the desert floor. What do you do with such a big pile of sand? Climb it! Even if you have hiked other dunes before, Kelso will be an interesting experience because of the “singing sand.” The 3-mile round trip hike to the top features fantastic views of the surrounding dunes and peaks in Mojave National Preserve. (hikespeak.com)
Kelso Depot (Mojave National Preserve Visitors Center) – 90942 Kelso Cima Rd, Kelso, CA 92309
Built in 1924 by the Union Pacific Railroad, the Kelso Depot has been transformed into Mojave National Preserve’s principal information center, with museum exhibits, historically furnished rooms, a theater, and bookstore. (desertusa.com)
Now also known as the Mojave National Preserve Visitors Center, the Depot is located in the Mojave Desert within the National Park Service Mojave National Preserve, on Kelso Cima Road at the junction of Kelbaker Road in Kelso, California, between Baker and Interstate 15 to the north and Interstate 40 to the south. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and along with the adjacent ghost town of Kelso, was declared a United States Historic District in 2000.
Route 66 Motel – 195 Main St, Barstow, CA 92311
Located on historic Route 66 in Barstow with round beds and a collection of vintage cars, the Route 66 Motel offers priceline guests a fun blast of nostalgia along with modern amenities such as free WiFi and satellite TV.
Although it’s classic Route 66 on the outside — down to the neon sign — this two-story motel is updated on the inside, with free Internet, air conditioning, movie channels and a microwave and mini-fridge in all rooms, and non-smoking. Route 66 aficionados get a thrill from the motel’s collection of antique cars and other memorabilia from the glory days of America’s Mother Road. This is one stop you won’t want to miss. (route66motelbarstow.com)
With all of the outdoor adventures and sightseeing packed into your desert road trip, be sure to visit some of these attractions across the county of San Bernardino this spring.