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Visit High Desert With Eyes Wide Open

Visiting the High Desert of Southern California — PART ONE

When new visitors arrive in the High Desert they are often surprised by how stunning the wide vistas are, they wonder where the real desert is, and seemed confused by the abundant wildlife and scenic beauty of field flowers.

Summer Thunderstorm graces the desert with a pink cotton candy sky

Summer Thunderstorm graces the desert with a pink cotton candy sky

That’s the real High Desert. The other is Hollywood generalizing the desolate sand dunes, the miles of waterless expanses, and those “dead cow heads” scattered across trails once traveled by wagon trains.

Come and Visit the Desert with Eyes Wide Open

Among the lies and twisted history that film often portrays, lays the foundation of a countryside that is endangered and often under attack by development companies who think that these dry desolate places can accommodate a new housing sub-development, a strip mall, or a flood of solar and wind projects.

Goldenrod in High Desert

Goldenrod in High Desert

If they don’t live here and know the desert, then it’s okay to rummage about for a place to use and abuse. So, as more visitors arrive and see the entirely different picture of the High Desert, they wonder if other stories they’ve heard are also lies. You could call us a “melting pot of diverse uses” and you’d be right. The desert can accommodate quite a bit — but not abuse.


Cannon High on the Canyon Bluff

As a desert dweller for over 40 years, I can attest that, yes, we do have sand dunes, we have artesian springs, we have areas where you can find skulls bleaching in the sun, snakes, scorpions, and other scary critters, and bugs wandering day and night. We also have defendable tracts of land that are preserved, protected, and being studied. Other tracts are open to development to bring economic variety to a long list of “bedroom communities” with potential growth in their populations.

Visitors should assume that all open land is not public land. We have large expanses that are privately owned or controlled. Areas of critical concern are quilt-patched all across the desert. So a visit to the High Desert should be a time for learning and respecting what is and isn’t here.


A desert sunset holds its own magic

A desert sunset holds its own magic

One lady I ran into said to me that she didn’t know there were different growing regions that accept willows, barrel cactus, and pine trees all in one. Another lady said she decided to live here because the LA area was too crazy and dangerous for her family. Another one found out that we have snow almost every year. Other visitors, who have dropped their tailgates to offload their ATCs, were shocked to find that we had rules for destroying private property that had no fences or posted signs.

With all these many views of the High Desert, you can see why some folks have said, “The desert: you either love it or hate it.” And in resort cities like Palm Springs, they once campaigned against visitors unless they took a hotel room. An old bumper sticker once said: We love Palm Springs, now go home.” Yet, years later another one was: “PS — We love you.”

Hedgehog Cactus with lemony blooms

Hedgehog Cactus with lemony blooms

So, what is my point? Come visit and take in the sights, bring a camera, learn about the area through its people and places, events, dive into its history through museums and one-day road trips, sample our food, go hiking but wear a hat and bring plenty of water, enjoy your visit.

A roadrunner attacks a snake for lunch

A roadrunner attacks a snake for lunch

Then, once you get home, unpack, and begin to relive some of those special moments, vivid pumpkin-colored sunsets, fields of purple Desert Lupine, seeing a roadrunner really running across the road — only then will you know whether the High Desert is a place you loved or hated. If you loved it, then you’ll understand why residents are fearless defenders of its right to be respected.

Rusty LaGrange

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