Other than the vibrant cities of New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, the USA also sports deserts with mesmerising views of rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes -- a visual treat for nature-lovers.
Joel Abelson, 48, and wife Christine Mok, 44 from Hong Kong spent 1 week exploring the Joshua Tree National Park and the Grand Canyon National Park, staying at Palm Springs, California before driving to Sedona, Arizona.
“The scenery we saw in the deserts were absolutely breathtaking and unique, like nothing we’d witnessed before. Together with our teenage daughter Kei Lin, who is 13, we went mountain biking and golfing and had such a great family adventure,” said Joel.
Below is the 1-week itinerary, as shared by the family.
Day 1: Rent a car, check in to hotel at Palm Springs, and go stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park
Stargazing at Joshua Tree National Park
An International Dark Sky Park, stargazing at the Joshua Tree National Park is a must-do when in Palm Springs. Photo via Shutterstock.
With its pristine dark skies, the Joshua Tree National Park (also recognised as an International Dark Sky Park) is the perfect place to go stargazing. You might be able to spot the Milky Way, particularly during the New Moon on a clear day.
You can park your car along any of the roadside pullouts to stargaze. The National Park Service recommends that you do not move more than 6 metres from your car, as you’ll have limited visibility around the uneven terrain.
For more interesting views of the beautiful rock formations against the star-filled desert skies, consider parking your car near the Skull Rock or Cap Rock within the park.
Day 2: Explore Joshua Tree National Park in the day, and stay until sunset
Exploring Joshua Tree National Park
A leisurely hike in the Joshua Tree National Park promises unparalleled views of twisted Joshua trees and unusual boulders. Photo from @arias_mark via Instagram.
We preferred to break our Joshua Tree visits over two days, but you also could do it all in one day if you're up for it. The daytime views at the park are absolutely breathtaking with the alien-like boulders, twisted Joshua trees, and scenic vistas. Bring plenty of food, water, and sunscreen.
We did the Hidden Valley trail (a 1.6km loop) and then took a drive down the park to do the Skull Rock trail (2.74km loop). Although the trails are fairly short, we made many stops to admire the vegetation and took plenty of photos for memories' sake. To end our day at the park, we caught the sunset at Keys View, from where we could see the San Andreas Fault, the Coachella Valley, and Southern California's two highest mountains, Mount San Jacinto and Mount Gorgonio.
Day 3: Visit the Indian Canyons and play golf at the Desert Willow Golf Resort
Hiking at the Indian Canyons (via the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center)
The Indian Canyons is home to a few seasonal and tranquil waterfalls. Photo from @monica_hdez via Instagram.
At the Indian Canyons, we opted for a guided hike for a richer cultural glimpse into the history of the native Cahuillia Indians who used to inhabit the land.
Our guide taught us about the plants and wildlife found in the canyons, showed us rock art, ancient irrigation systems and artifacts, and also shared folk tales of the Cahuillia tribe. The hike brought our family along waterfalls, streams and palm oases against the San Jacinto Mountains.
Golfing at the Desert Willow Golf Resort
Enjoy golf against scenic views of the mountains at the Desert Willow Golf Resort. Photo from @roshy_yoshi via Instagram.
The Desert Willow Golf Resort presents two of the area's best courses for golf lovers like our family. Both the Firecliff and Mountain View courses are well-landscaped with desert flowers, bushes and trees and give you marvelous views of the San Jacinto Mountains.
We recommend the Mountain View course if you’re new to golf or looking for a relaxing round of golf. The Firecliff course can get pretty challenging and demanding -- perhaps more suitable for experienced players.
Day 4: Drive from Palm Springs, California to Sedona, Arizona
Transfer from Palm Springs, CA to Sedona, AZ
We made sure to grab a hearty breakfast before setting out on a 6h drive down the I-10 E highway to get to Sedona.
Day 5: Catch sunrise and then explore Grand Canyon National Park
Exploring Grand Canyon National Park
Catch the sunrise at the Grand Canyon National Park -- a view to remember (Photo via Shutterstock)
The layered red rocks and steep gorges at the Grand Canyon are a sight to behold -- admiring them was our favourite highlight in this itinerary. Early in the morning of our fifth day, we reached the national park in time to watch the sun rising over the canyons, painting them alive with colour.
We entered the park through the South Rim entrance, which has the most amenities and activities; perfect for first-time visitors and families with small children. After eating the breakfast that we had brought along, we hiked along the Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge (4.8km roundtrip) which gave us expansive views of the canyon.
Not to be missed is the 34-minute IMAX® "Grand Canyon: The Hidden Secrets" movie at the Visitor Center. The documentary runs through the Canyon's history, detailing the indigineous tribes who inhabited the Canyon thousands of years ago and the first expedition by Major John Wesley Powell, and has stunning footage of the Canyon. We saved 20% on our tickets by booking them online in advance.
On our way out, we completed the Desert View Drive, a 40-km scenic route along the South Rim that has viewpoints, the Tusayan ruin site and museum. At the end of the road is the Desert View lookout, with a watchtower that overlooks the canyon, Colorado River and the Painted Desert.
Day 6: Mountain biking at the Bell Rock Pathway and then golfing at the Canyon Mesa Golf Resort
Mountain biking at Bell Rock Pathway
Rent a mountain bike and cycle down the Bell Rock Pathway. Be sure to watch out for hikers! Photo from @qewdec via Instagram.
Sedona is known as one of the best mountain bike destinations in the USA, so we had to add exploring the deserts on two wheels into our itinerary. We rented our bikes from Over the Edge Sports, and headed to Bell Rock Pathway which is Sedona's easiest trail.
About 5.7km long, the trail has mostly smooth surfaces and is wide enough to comfortably ride through. It gave our family beautiful views of the red rocks through the deserts.
Golfing at the Canyon Mesa Golf Resort
Spend a relaxing afternoon playing the 9-hole course at the Canyon Mesa Golf Resort. Photo from @megcords via Instagram.
We wanted to also experience golfing at Sedona, where the views of the red rocks from the golf courses are unique. There are several golf resorts in Sedona to choose from, and we ended up trying out the 9-hole Canyon Mesa Golf Resort. The course was well-maintained and laid-back, and great for both beginners and experienced players -- our family had a great time together here.
Day 7: Jeep tour at Coconino National Forest, return car
Jeep tour at Coconino National Forest
Experience a jeep tour that brings you into a National Forest. Photo from @arturo3 via Instagram.
Before leaving Sedona, we squeezed in a 3-hour morning jeep tour which departed from the Arizona Safari Jeep tour office. The tour involves driving through Sedona and into the Coconino National Forest, one of the most diverse National Forests in the country, with landscapes ranging from the famous red rock buttes of Sedona to Ponderosa pine forests, and from southwestern deserts to alpine tundra.
Our knowledgeable guide shared with us the history of the area, the science behind the rock formations, and the local traditions. It was a comfortable experience with unforgettable views -- a perfect end to our Palm Springs and Sedona adventure.