About South Central California: the Inland Empire
Few parts of California evoke such excitement – or such apprehension – as the deserts, which cut a great swath across the state’s eastern and southern extremities. Not unusually, your first sight of the California desert may be bitterly disappointing: instead of rolling dunes and fantastic cacti, all that lined the dusty interstate is open scrubland and abandoned tyres. The great vistas are there, but an effort is needed to find them.
In this landscaped area you’ve got one decision: whether to take the northerly I-15 (Interstate-15), the main road between Los Angeles and Las Vegas, or the more southerly I-10, which connects LA and Palm Springs and has easy links with Southern California – San Diego Area and Southern California – Escondido, Julian, Santa Isabel before they continue into Arizona.
The only area touched by both I-10 and I-15 is the Inland Empire between the deserts and Los Angeles. Here, fertile soils stimulated a turn-of-the-century citrus boom and made this one of the state’s busiest, richest regions. The citrus industry is still going strong, but the Inland Empire towns have seen better days, and much of their historical appeal has been swamped by creeping suburbia.
Above the Inland Empire, you can explore the un-desert-like alpine scenery of the San Bernardino Mountains on the so-called Rim of the World Drive.
Otherwise stick close to either the I-15 or the I-10. As if designed for drivers with roulette wheels on the brain, I-15 has few distractions all the way across the Nevada border to Las Vegas. One exception is Barstow, close to which a prehistoric lakebed creates a scene of geological strangeness and an archaeological site has revealed evidence of a 200,000-year-old settlement.
If gambling does not feature on your agenda, you are better off exploring the desert with the I-10, finding time to visit some or all of our best places to visit, which are reached by branching off the I-10 through the Coachella Valley, a palm-dotted oasis holding the famed Palm Springs and an ideal base for visiting the incredible Joshua Tree National Monument: a place that you’ll remember long after you have forgotten what the rest of California looks like.
Without a car, desert travel is exceedingly difficult, although the Inland Empire and Palm Springs have relatively frequent Greyhound(www.greyhound.com) bus links with Los Angeles, and the Coachella Valley has a passable local bus service. Barstow, too, is linked to LA by a daily AMTRAK train (www.amtrak.com).