Pick Mojave National Preserve over Joshua Tree: Twice the size, a quarter the visitors, all the beauty

Joshua Tree National Park in Southern California contains an array of stunning landscapes, dotted by its namesake oddly shaped plants. Mountain ranges, unusual rock formations, desert and wilderness found within its 800,000 acres offer a unique visual and sensory experience. “It’s the rock star of California deserts.”

But those in the know say drive past Joshua Tree to the Mojave National Preserve. “It’s even more pure and vast. No one is there.”

The 1.6 million-acre preserve is exquisite. There are desert, dunes, salt flats, plateaus, mesas and buttes, ancient volcanoes, abandoned mines, and few paved roads or established trails.

“It’s a beautiful, powerful landscape that most of the world doesn’t encounter.” In 2018, the National Park Service recorded only 787,000 visits.

You can climb and slide on the sand hills in rarely visited Cadiz Dunes Wilderness. Wander through the underground caves in the spectacular Mitchell Caverns. Hike to the center of Amboy Crater — an extinct cinder cone volcano — atop black lava. Walk around volcanic rocks perforated with holes caused by uneven cooling and erosion.

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