People travel to the Mojave expecting arid crags, tortured landscapes and vast expanses. But water? Not so much. On a recent winter trip to the Mojave, I stumbled on a new desert lure: bubbling springs, creeks and even a river, the Amargosa. My husband, Barry, and I followed a watery trail through the hamlets of Shoshone and Tecopa Hot Springs, in the seam of desert between Death Valley National Park and the Nevada border.
Don't expect turn-down service. First up was the Shoshone Inn, a cinder-block motel on California Highway 127 in Shoshone ( 852-4335 or  852-4224, http://www.shoshonevillage.com/shoshone-inn.html. From about $85 a night). The room needed painting, and the bathroom was barely big enough to turn around in. But the bed was fine, and we could drive less than a mile to swim in the hot springs-fed pool used by Shoshone Inn guests. A notch above on the second night was the Tecopa Hot Springs Resort (860 Tecopa Hot Springs Road, Tecopa;  852-4420, http://www.tecopahotsprings.org. $95 plus tax for two; includes unlimited use of mineral baths/pools). Room 16 — the manager's favorite, she said — had granite countertops and a king-size fold-down Murphy bed. Best of all, we had our own hot springs-fed tub in which to soak and wash off desert dust. In both motels, the heaters were noisy and woke us up when they kicked on.
Options are slim, and this is beef country. Burgers, steaks and Mexican fare are dished up at the Crowbar Cafe & Saloon, on Highway 127 ( 852-4123) across the street from the Shoshone Inn. Barry had prime rib; I had a patty melt. It's a better place — and the only one for miles — for breakfast. For dinner, don't miss Pastels Bistro, behind the office of the Tecopa resort. Barry had beef and pork stew, billed as veal but still delicious; I gobbled a plate of Brazilian red beans and brown rice. The chocolate cake — made by the wife of a local doctor, we were told — was a creamy delight. If you have time, stop for a piece of homemade pie at the Amargosa Café in Death Valley Junction.
Oases are a desert cliché, but we found a couple: China Ranch ( 852-4415, http://www.chinaranch.com) is postcard-perfect, and Ash Meadows Wildlife Refuge is home of the endangered pup fish. The working date farm, started in the 1890s by a Chinese laborer, is hidden in the badlands near Tecopa. Stop in, have a date shake, hike the canyon or stroll among the palms and chattering birds. You'll find your blood sugar levels rising but stress levels decreasing. Oh, and watch out for the alligator rumored to be living in the stream.
The lesson learned
Leave behind your big-city hurry and expectations. Time slows here; people are friendly and have time to chat and share their love of the area.