Wander, Wonder, Write

Things to do in the Mojave Desert

(Also known as the High Desert)

I once made a trip to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, but never before to the High Desert of California. So when our good friend Auralynn, who we met in a rice wine cocktail bar in Da Lat in the summer of 2020, invited us to come stay with her and her friend L, we accepted their generous hospitality. I was ready for some Americana! We ended up spending three full days of sightseeing in the Mojave desert together.

1. Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is a must-see. My photos don’t do it justice. The park has many hiking trails and picknick spots and offers generous vistas of beauty.

Before I got there, I was somehow under the impression that a Joshua tree was a rare species and we would have to search the park to find one. Well… that’s not the case.

Large boulders invited me to climb and claim them, then to let them go.

2. Noah Purifoy Outdoor Desert Art Museum

On our second day, we visited the Purifoy Desert Art Museum. What a treat!

Noah Purifoy (1917 – 2004) is best known for his assemblage sculptures made from debris. Junk Dada, some people called it. He lived in the Mojave Desert for the last 15 years of his life and worked on building this museum until the day he died.

Please see my Instagram post for more pictures.

3. Pioneertown

On our last day, we drove out to see Pioneertown, an until recently working movie set built in 1946. Filmed here were the Gene Autry Show, Cisco Kid, Annie Oakley, Judge Roy Bean, and others. Even Paul McCartney once played a surprise gig.

Nowadays, it’s a place to make some fun photos and enjoy a drink on the outdoor terrace.

4. Swap Meet

The area of the Mojave Desert is known for its trade in antiques and knickknacks. I’m not sure why they call their flee markets swap meets here, but that’s what they do. We rose very early on a Saturday to hit such a swap meet near Joshua Park. As digital nomads who limit our possessions, Daniel and I were more interested in people watching than in shopping and were served well that day.

5. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure Dinosaurs

For some fans of the Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure film, such as my husband, it’s a must-see. The dinosaurs known as Cabazon Dinosaurs stand forlornly by the side of the road. You can enter one for free as you visit the gift shop. To enter the other, you need to pay for a ticket to the Dinosaur park, which we did not do.

6. Giant Rock

Giant Rock is on the map as the world’s largest boulder. Is it worth the trip? Not if you’re not already in the neighborhood. The area has nice vistas and boulders to climb, but the giant rock itself it a bit underwhelming. We mostly enjoyed watching the offroad enthusiasts drive by in their speed vehicles trailed by clouds of desert dust.