Desert getaways during the cool season

When the calendar says October, it’s time in California to start thinking about a desert getaway because it won’t be long before temperatures come down enough to make a trip to the desert quite appealing. The sun’s still there in the late fall and winter, but those oppressive summer daytime temperatures moderate quite a bit.

With its unique plants, topography and gorgeous views, the desert can be a magical place. The cooler months offer the best hiking weather of the year and you’ll love exploring a landscape that can be both barren and awe-inspiring at the same time.

The other part of the desert experience is the sunshine. Daytime brightness and warmth are always dependable in the desert, no matter what time of year. While it can be toasty in the summer, the cooler months are downright comfortable. Here are a few of our favorite desert getaways.

Death Valley

There is no question that your trip to Death Valley will be much more enjoyable in the cooler months. And the Furnace Creek Inn, open just part of the year, makes it just that much more enjoyable. Originally just a small resort when it opened back in 1927, the inn’s adobe bricks were hand-made by local Native Americans, and the resort was built on a hill with panoramic views of the valley and the 11,000-foot mountains nearby. Today, Furnace Creek Inn is among the most popular destinations in Death Valley.

We arrived at night, but we awakened to rays of peek-a-boo sunshine, which added warm colors and sparkle to a magnificent desert landscape.

Experiencing this for the first time, we could understand why Death Valley has captured the hearts of so many visitors who sense an almost spiritual connection with this land. If someone suggests you should get your head examined for going to a place called Death Valley, the truth is this just might be a place to get your head straight. It’s completely unique.

Death Valley National Park consists of 3.3 million acres. It is home to about 900 species of plants, six types of fish, five types of amphibians, 36 types of reptiles and 51 types of mammals that are native to the region. And that’s not counting the 346 species of birds that migrate through the area.

Just south of the Furnace Creek Inn is the Artist’s Drive, an eight-mile stretch of road that takes you through washes and mud hills with fascinating colors and natural rock formations. A little further south is Badwater, one of the most visited spots in Death Valley and the area’s lowest elevation — 282 feet below sea level. This pool of water is said to have a salt content five times that found in most seawater.

North from Furnace Creek are sand dunes that can rise up to 85 feet in height and are forever changing. If you walk on the dunes today, your footprint will be gone tomorrow.

For more information on Furnace Creek Inn and Ranch, phone (760) 786-2345 or visit

Coachella Valley

Southern California has plenty of deserts to choose from, but maybe no place is more popular than the Coachella Valley — better known as Greater Palm Springs.

The cities of this valley have made good use of irrigation water piped in to transform the harsh desert environment into a cornucopia of luxury resorts, golf courses — approximately 120 at last count — upscale shopping boulevards and palm trees as far as the eye can see. The fertile green lawns are carefully overseen by an army of landscapers and a drive through the neighborhoods of places like Palm Desert and Indian Wells is a window into the good life enjoyed by well-to-do retirees as well as upwardly mobile professionals.

On our most recent trip to the desert, we based ourselves a few miles east of Palm Springs in Indio, a comfortable neighborhood, but perhaps less extravagant than some other parts of the valley. Out on the eastern edge of the Coachella Valley cities, this area is now undergoing a major transformation with several new housing developments that feature modern, spacious homes set alongside man-made lagoons and canals, all five minutes from the freeway. It is in this same area that a major new resort complex, the Resort at Indio, was built just in the last few years.

This group of condo-style buildings includes 453 units built around what almost looks like a water theme park full of swimming pools, whirlpool spas, giant sprinklers for the kids, ponds, canals and even a man-made river to float down on a resort-provided inner-tube. The resort also includes tennis courts, a basketball court, a recreation center with pool, ping-pong and other games, and a modern workout gym. The Terra Lago golf course is adjacent to the resort.

For more information on the Resort at Indio, phone (800) 867-2095 or visit

Borrego Springs

Borrego Springs is an area about 90 miles northeast of San Diego that must look a lot like Palm Springs did before it was fully developed. A couple of resorts and a handful of lodgings cater to warm-weather-lovers and golfers, but for all intents and purposes, Borrego Springs still seems like a backwater town with more acreage devoted to golf courses than to commercial buildings. The area attracts seniors who have found affordable winter homes, as well as boomers who want inexpensive vacations.

But gazing at the vividly green golf courses set against the brown hues of the nearby San Ysidro Mountains, one starts to realize this is more than just an economy vacation spot — this is a walk back into history. It’s easy to envision this land once populated only by Native Americans, with pictographs still etched on desert canyon walls. But it’s also easy to envision this as the next Palm Springs, with new fancy resorts filling up broad stretches of parched desert floor now occupied only by cacti and sagebrush.

Many people will choose to stay close to their resort, but others will find there are myriad trails and sights to see in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. The town of Borrego Springs is, in fact, surrounded by this 600,000-acre state park, the largest in the state system. In fact, about one-fifth of San Diego County’s land is within the park’s boundaries.

As you drive to various locations within the park, you’ll marvel at the desert vistas and enjoy observing the plant and animal life so prevalent in the park. Certain times of the year colorful wildflowers are in bloom; at other times, plants like the ocotillo plant or the cholla cactus fill in the desert landscape to create an other-worldly feel. Roadrunners skip across roads, black-tailed jack rabbits hop along golf greens as well as the desert and, up on the craggy rock mountain ledges, you may even spot some bighorn sheep.

For more information on the Borrego Springs Resort, visit or phone (888) 826-7734.

For more information on travel in California visit

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