Inland Empire

Exploring the Inland Empire and Low Desert

The Inland Empire and Low Desert landscape is one of the most varied in California. The countryside changes from pine forests, cooled by gentle breezes, to searing desert. The contrast can be startling: passengers taking the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway make the transition between these two ecosystems in 14 minutes.

The Anza-Borrego Desert State Park was the forbidding entry point to California for tens of thousands of hardy miners and settlers coming overland in the 1850s. Thirty years later communities in the northwest of the region, known as the Inland Empire, were transformed from a small collection of health resorts into the heart of a veritable economic empire based on the navel orange.

The thick-skinned seedless Brazilian fruit, which traveled well, came to represent the sweet and healthy promise of California for millions of Americans.

Many of the Victorian mansions built by citrus millionaires are still standing in the towns of Redlands and Riverside, but most of the fragrant orange groves have disappeared under asphalt and urban sprawl. Today Riverside is practically a suburb of Los Angeles.

At the heart of this region is Palm Springs, a favorite weekend retreat for Angelenos seeking relaxation and the desert sun. Just under two hours drive from LA, it has luxurious hotels, verdant golf courses, 600 tennis courts, and more than 10,000 swimming pools.

Lying to the east of Palm Springs is the Joshua Tree National Park. This is a land of hot, dry days, chilly nights, tumbleweed, and creosote bushes. The stark and silent beauty of the rocky landscape evokes images of desperados, hardy pioneers in covered wagons, and leather-clad high plains drifters - visions of the Wild West of so many novels and films.

When the desert becomes too hot, travelers can escape to one of the mountain resorts. The Rim of the World Tour is a spectacular drive in the heart of the San Bernardino Mountains.