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3 High Desert Havens for Fall Camping

desert campingThe elusive endless summer can't always be found in that one, perfect wave. And though the summer is over and kids are back in school, backpacking season has only just begun. September through November are ideal times to trek through bucket-listed destinations like the Adirondacks, bursting with fall foliage on cool autumn days.

However, if you prefer lush cactus gardens to yellowing deciduous leaves and want to experience the Southwest in bloom after the summer monsoon, then head to these biologically diverse, arid, and isolated high deserts. Here, the taste of summer still lingers well into the months of November — and you might even get your last sunburn of the year.  

Joshua Tree California Between the months of June and August, temperatures at Joshua Tree National Park peak at a little over 100 degrees. But in the fall months, Joshua Tree's 790,000 acres of desert cool down to a breezy ballpark of 80 degrees. Fall is the perfect season for rock climbers to test their fingers against Joshua Tree's high-ball quartz monzonite rock formations, while birders can check off a few of the 239 different species the desert has to offer, notably Gambel's quail and great horned owls.

Where to Camp: Black Rock Canyon, $15 a night, primitive camping. Bring your own water, food, and fuel. Backcountry camping permitted.   

Arizona Minutes away from Sedona and Flagstaff, Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness earns its name. Part of the Coconino National Forrest, this 47,000-acre wilderness is a hidden slice of solitude beginning where the Colorado Plateau drops off. Visitors are met by hulking red rock cliffs and towering slot canyons rusted and glowing orange, some nearly 1,500 feet deep. This pristine wilderness area is protected from motor vehicle access and shelters local wildlife like white-tail deer, javelina, black bears, and the occasional puma.  

Where to Camp: Backcountry, $5 pass, dispersed camping. Bring your own water, food and fuel. 

Hueco Tanks pictographs Texas The bouldering mecca of Hueco Tanks, a high-desert basin less than 20 miles southeast of the west Texas town of El Paso, boasts 860 acres of igneous rock formations and over 2,000 boulder problems for the curious climber. Besides the world-class climbing, Hueco Tanks also serves as a pictograph museum of over 3,000 ancient rock paintings left by Hueco Tanks' early inhabitants, the Jordana Mugollon.       

Where to Camp: Hueco Rock Ranch, $5 a night, glamping. Tennis courts, kitchen, showers and boulder tours are offered.

--photos by iStockphoto/mbogacz, iStockphoto/KateLeigh, and iStockphoto/dszc

Scott Donahue is an intern at Sierra. He was a high school freshman in Mr. Hancock's English class when he first read Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Now, he's currently working on a graduate thesis composed of travel essays. Topics include substitute teaching kindergartners in Nepal, drinking rice beer with a Tibetan porter, and running a marathon from Everest Base Camp.


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