Tasty Little Trip
Okay, it's not really a vacation when you've got a toddler along, but it's an education. Recently my husband and friends played golf La Quinta. Our son and I went a long for fun.
If you have the time, by all means, visit the lovely Joshua Tree National Park. With less time, try these spots, near desert cities. Don't trek around the desert in the (outrageously hot) summer; visit late fall through spring.
The tram is popular, but it's also a great way for kids to get a spacial (and dramatic) image of what a mountain is. The tram swoops you up 4,000 feet to an elevation of 8,516 feet in about 15 minutes. Even in the parking lot, kids can get a good look at lofty San Jacinto. Just out of the car, our 20-month-old exclaimed, "Look! Mountain!" A ride of any kind is a thrill at this age. "All aboard!" he called, getting on the tram.
Even adults who aren't nature buffs enjoy the views from up top Mount San Jacinto: the Coachella Valley and a (subalpine) conifer forest. This is also a great place to hike. Most people don't venture far, so if you have older kids and can make a day of it, you can savor a wilderness experience.
I prefer wild animals, but appreciate the opportunity for a close up look at those in captivity. Living Desert is a mini-zoo and gorgeous botanic garden (for blooms visit in spring). I wish the mountain lion here had more space to roam. But I was happy that my son could get a look at it. In all my years hiking, I've never seen a mountain lion in the wild. They're very shy, and smell you coming before you can get a glimpse.
I was hoping to get a closer look at this bob cat, but Mateo kept yelling "Wild cat! Wild cat!"
Living Desert is also a great place to see big horn sheep.
Although palms are ubiquitous in southland cities, the (desert) California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) is the only one native to the state. In the wild, they grow in desert oases such as this one. The interpretive trail here offers a nice introduction to mojave desert ecology. With luck, you might see some of the 25 species of reptiles that live in the preserve, including the fringe-toed lizard. Although your toddler might most enjoy moving dirt from one side of the trail to another. Remember to bring water with you, even on short outings.
Recommended reading: 50 Best Short Hikes in California Deserts by John Krist (Wilderness Press)