Southern California’s Antelope Valley
Located About an Hour Northeast from the Hustle and Bustle of Metropolitan Los Angeles, Lies a Desert Haven for Nature Lovers
If you enjoy clean air, a temperate high-desert climate, miles of unobstructed visibility, rugged beauty and peaceful solitude offered by surrounding mountains — with hundreds of serpentine ravines and steep canyons just waiting to be explored, plus a wide variety of flora and fauna — then Antelope Valley, California, is a destination worth considering. If those factors alone aren’t sufficient to garner your interest, there are several major family entertainment attractions located close enough for easy day trips.
Each year, travelers come from all over the world to experience Southern California’s Antelope Valley and the western tip of the Mojave Desert. But those of us who are fortunate enough to get there by motorhome have some definite advantages. Among the most important is having the option to bring along pretty much anything we want, for increased comfort and enhanced recreational experiences.
My wife, Gayle, and I, have visited parts of the Mojave Desert on prior occasions during our 44-plus years of RVing, but never to this western edge. The trip from our home in Northern California was made during a particularly dry period, which significantly reduced our planned experiences (like viewing and photographing desert wildflowers), but we were able to adapt by finding other fun things to do.
Since our motorhome is 35 feet long, and we tow a dinghy four-wheels-down, our maneuverability is limited to some extent, so we typically try to find a place to camp that is central to the area that we will be exploring. Though we passed at least three RV resorts located along the Santa Clara River on the way in, we had already chosen Soledad Canyon RV & Camping Resort in Acton as the home base for our seven-day stay.
The RV park is like a giant oasis. Hundreds of tall trees, mostly cottonwood and eucalyptus, provide ample shade over large grassy areas. There are 545 full-hookup sites, plus another 410 with just power and water. For those with motorhomes pulling a dinghy, pull-through spaces are available. Miles of internal roads and trails afford the opportunity for most, including children and those with limited mobility, to safely negotiate the mostly shaded and relatively level areas.
The number and diversity of attractions should afford most everyone with plenty of worthwhile experiences. For nature lovers, like us, examples include the Devil’s Punchbowl, Arthur B. Ripley Desert Woodland State Park, Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Saddleback Butte State Park, Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness, San Gabriel Wilderness, Sheep Mountain Wilderness, Cucamonga Wilderness and Magic Mountain Wilderness. Those locations, in particular, offer scenic drives and wonderful vistas, but they also afford hikers, bikers and equestrians opportunities to encounter and photograph unusual geography and plentiful wildlife.
During our stay, we learned that the Antelope Valley was named for the pronghorn antelope that once roamed there in large numbers. Unfortunately, they were pretty much decimated during the 1880s by hunters, bad weather and extremely dry conditions. Between 1882 and 1885 alone, approximately 30,000 head (or about half of the total herd) died. There are still a few roaming the western part of the valley and mountains, but sightings are rare.
Black bears, deer, antelope, foxes, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, great horned owls, roadrunners, plus many other animal, reptile and bird species, are prevalent here. But the challenge is to see them among the cover of creosote, sagebrush, juniper, yucca, manzanita, California scrub oak, pinion pine, rabbit brush, cacti and myriad other plant species.
For the rapidly growing number of RVers who are also off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, there are extensive and varied terrains generally available to them — like the Littlerock, San Gabriel Canyon, El Mirage, and Rowher Flat OHV designated recreation areas. There are several public campgrounds on or adjacent to those, which make longer stays more practical, too.
If you’re interested in seeing a spectacular display of colorful wildflowers, try walking the paved 2.5-mile loop trail through the Antelope Valley California Poppy Preserve (between March and May, during years when rainfall is sufficient to sustain growth). This particular location affords visitors with young children or with limited mobility the opportunity to experience high-desert terrain, but on segments of trail that are paved, smooth and vary from gentle to moderate in slope.
Those who want a wider variety of options to choose from, have all sorts of major attractions within an hour or so of Antelope Valley. For instance: Disneyland, California Adventure, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios and all that the Hollywood area has to offer. In fact, Hollywood film studios have often used the mountain areas above Antelope Valley to create commercials and movies. During a drive through some of the mountain routes, like along Soledad Canyon Road, there are permanent signs and facilities indicating the continued presence of movie industry elements.
The principal cities in the Antelope Valley are Palmdale and Lancaster — though there are many small communities scattered throughout the valley and mountains. Many of which have interesting histories and each has at least something different to offer.
One example is the city of Acton, which is only about 3 miles from Soledad Canyon RV & Camping Resort. The town has a Western theme throughout, parts of which have been used as a backdrop for movies. I even saw signs at one shopping center, warning people not to hitch their horses to nearby railings. Once a boomtown of sorts, it was created by and for miners, who were primarily employed at two very large gold mines. During the period of 1899 to 1903, California Governor Henry Gage, made an attempt to move the state capital from Sacramento to Acton. That was because he owned one of those mines, which was appropriately named Governor’s Mine.
The earliest inhabitants of the Antelope Valley and surrounding mountains include tribes of Native Americans known by the names of Kawaiisu, Kitanemuk, Serrano and Tataviam. The first settlers from Europe entered the valley in the 1770s. Also, a Franciscan Friar named Francisco Garces is believed to have traveled the west end of the valley in 1776. An unintended result of visits to the area by settlers and missionaries was sickness and death for the original inhabitants. With the coming of stagecoaches and trains, came an influx of settlers, who created farms and towns.
For those interested in aeronautical accomplishments, both past and present, Antelope Valley has much to offer. Edwards Air Force Base is located northeast of Palmdale, at the lowest geographic point in the valley. The first flight to break the sound barrier occurred there. NASA space shuttles originally landed there too, before the huge landing strip at Kennedy Space Center was built. Edwards is still the backup, in case of bad weather at Cape Canaveral. NASA’s Hugh L. Dryden Flight Research Center is co-located there. It is best known for the X-15 experimental rocket ship program, but also for the X-1 program. The Orbiter even landed there.
Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, BAE Systems and other aerospace industry leaders, are located in the Antelope Valley, too. Projects originating in whole or part there include: space shuttle orbiters, B-2 Spirit bomber, F-117 Nighthawk fighter and the F-35 Joint Striker fighter. The recently dedicated Mojave Air and Space Port is also there. That is the base of operations for Scaled Composites, the company that designed SpaceShipOne, which was the first manned private suborbital space flight (in 2004), and also won the $10 million Ansari X-prize the same year.
Whether you plan on spending a week or a weekend here, the Antelope Valley area offers plenty to see and do, pretty much any time of year. For those who are hoping to see a profusion of desert wildflowers, we recommend visiting from March through May. Otherwise, a visit to the Antelope Valley area most any time of year (except mid-summer) should afford a wonderful experience, with plenty of options to keep most RVers interested and happy.
For More Information
Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve
Devil’s Punchbowl Natural Area
Soledad Canyon RV & Camping Resort
Ken Reid is a freelance writer and photographer who travels extensively with his wife, Gayle, in their Southwind motorhome. Ken is also a frequent contributor to various travel magazines.