The National Park Service oversees dozens of desert parks throughout the American Southwest.
Here are some you won’t want to miss:
Grand Canyon National Park: Still the best view on Earth. The Grand Canyon offers rafting, long and short hikes and grueling adventures.
Saguaro National Park: An overlooked gem in the Sonoran Desert featuring the statuesque saguaro cactus. Come in April when these iconic plants bloom. August is monsoon season.
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument: An International Biosphere Reserve with such plants as organ pipe cactus rarely seen elsewhere. Loads of trails and camping.
Death Valley National Park: The hottest, driest, lowest place in the nation is full of fascinating geology such as the Devil’s Golf Course, the Racetrack Playa and Badwater. Take in the spectacular view of the desert floor from Dante’s Peak or scale 11,043-foot Telescope Peak.
Joshua Tree National Park: Southern California’s backyard can be crowded, but it’s still easy to find solitude if you wander off the beaten track. More than 8,000 climbing routes in a place where the Colorado and Mojave deserts meet. If you’re lucky you may see bighorn sheep, desert tortoises and tarantulas.
Mojave National Preserve: Looking for space and solitude? This is the place. Everything the desert is about can be found in this sprawling outback— gigantic dunes, forests of Joshua trees, caves and mountains. Chances are you’ll be alone.
Sand to Snow National Monument: Created in February, this is one of the newest national monuments, stretching from the Sonoran Desert to the top of Mt. San Gorgonio. The area has more biodiversity than all of New England.
Colorado National Monument: It deserves far more attention than it gets. Some of the best bike riding in the country. The monument has towering cliffs, plunging canyons and sparse crowds. Lots of bighorn sheep as well.
Great Basin National Park: A desert of extremes. If you are looking for cooler temperatures, you can find snow here. There are 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines near 13,063-foot Wheeler Peak.
Chaco Culture National Historical Park: It’s easy to get fixated on the geology and natural history of the desert while forgetting the human side. Chaco Culture has some of the greatest archaeological ruins in the nation. The enormous kivas and Great Houses with T-shaped doorways are spread across an ancient desert city. The scale is truly impressive.
Big Bend National Park: One of the premier vacation spots in Texas. A vast wilderness of wildlife, canyons and fossils, including dinosaur bones.
Arches National Park: An iconic park in southeast Utah, known for its massive rock arches and glowing orange sunsets. Writer Edward Abbey made Arches famous in his classic “Desert Solitaire,” about his time there as a park ranger.
Canyonlands National Park: One of the best places to hike in the country, split into the Needles, Island in the Sky and Maze districts. Grand Canyon-esque vistas, ancient petroglyphs and abundant trails over slick rock. Excellent biking. Easy-to-find solitude.
Capitol Reef National Park: Colorful park lying in a geological wrinkle called the Waterpocket Fold. Jammed with natural bridges, rocky domes and geological wonders.
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