High Desert (California)
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The High Desert is an unofficial and vaguely defined geographic area of southern California located to the northeast of the San Gabriel Mountains. The term "High Desert" is used most commonly by the news media, especially in weather forecasts, and in the names of businesses and organizations. The High Desert may be defined as the area bounded by the San Gabriel Mountains and the Tehachapi Mountains, and extending varyingly into the Mojave Desert's Basin and Range Province to the east, depending upon the many different viewpoints on what constitutes the High Desert. The term is used most commonly to refer to the Antelope Valley and Victor Valley areas, as well as the Edwards Air Force Base region to the north, but also may encompass other areas, such as the northern portions of Joshua Tree National Park and the Twentynine Palms area and Morongo Basin. The term "High Desert" serves to differentiate it from southern California's Low Desert, which would be defined mostly by the differences in latitude, elevation, climate and vegetation native to the region. Palm Springs, California is considered 'Low Desert' at 100' above sea level. In contrast, Landers, California is considered 'High Desert' at 3,100' above sea level.
A biogeography defined boundary would also include a southern portion of Inyo County north of San Bernardino and Kern Counties, as well as a northern portion of Riverside County south of San Bernardino County.
Depending on how the boundaries of the Mojave Desert and of the Colorado Desert region in the Sonoran Desert are defined, the High Desert either includes the entire California portion of the Mojave Desert (using a smaller geographic designation than the Mojave Desert ecoregion), or as including the northern portion of the California desert (using a larger geographic designation for the Mojave Desert which includes the ecotope area that is also a part of the Sonoran Desert).
The name of the region comes from its higher elevations and more northern latitude with associated climate and plant communities distinct from the Low Desert, which includes the Colorado Desert and the below sea level Salton Sea. The High Desert typically is windier than the Low Desert, and, in the winter, can be much colder.
The High Desert is often divided into the following regions:
- The Los Angeles County portion: containing the Antelope Valley, part of the Palmdale-Lancaster Urbanized Area, and in the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area. This is the most populous area of the High Desert region with close to 300,000 residents in the incorporated places alone.
- The San Bernardino County portion: containing Victor Valley, which is part of the Inland Empire area of Southern California, along with the Antelope Valley and the Morongo Basin where Yucca Valley and the Twentynine Palms Marine Base are located, are all considered to be part of the Greater Los Angeles Area. Other parts of the San Bernardino County portion include the northeastern reaches of the High Desert where the Fort Irwin Military Reservation and the Searles Valley are located, and the far eastern edge of the state where places like Needles and Earp are located along the Colorado River. San Bernardino County's portion of the High Desert region contains the most land mass of the four involved counties, making up approximately 70% of the total county's area.
- The Kern County portion: containing part of two valleys, with the southeastern part in the Antelope Valley, including Rosamond, California City, Boron, Edwards Air Force Base, and Mojave which are all a part of the Palmdale-Lancaster Urbanized area, and the northeastern part being in the Indian Wells Valley including the communities of Inyokern and Ridgecrest.
- The Inyo County portion: north of Kern County and containing the northern end of the Indian Wells Valley, Panamint Valley, and Saline Valley are the most sparsely populated area of the High Desert with a single major community, Lone Pine in the southern Owens Valley.
Cities and communities
The major metropolitan centers in the region are primarily centered around the cities of Lancaster and Victorville. Lancaster, the largest city in the High Desert, is located in the Antelope Valley, with Palmdale, and anchors the area's largest and most populous region with a metro area of just over 500,000. The Victor Valley area, which includes such areas as Victorville, Hesperia, Adelanto, Apple Valley, and Lucerne Valley, boasts a population around 335,000. The Barstow area, to the north of Victor Valley, and the Morongo Basin near the Joshua Tree National Park each have populations of around 60,000.
Though very sparsely populated outside of the Antelope and Victor Valleys, many small communities dot the region, especially along Interstate 15, Interstate 40, and US Highway 395, with towns like Baker having an economy that exists almost entirely to provide service for highway travelers, especially those traveling between Las Vegas and Southern California's major population centers.
List of cities, towns, and CDPs
- Incorporated places in bold. This list includes all places in the broadest definition of "High Desert." Population figures are most recent information available from the US Census Bureau.
In media and culture
The High Desert is often featured in American movies and television in location footage. Some notable projects include:
The Alabama Hills and Red Rock Canyon have been filming locations for numerous Westerns. Southern California Logistics Airport (George Air Force Base, decommissioned in 1992) is used often for military dramas and action films. Boomtowns that prospered during Route 66 and Railroad travel in the early 20th Century including Amboy, Ludlow, and Cima are also used in principal photography and location shots.
Films using High Desert as a subject of the narrative:
- Erin Brockovich (film) - 2000; centered around the PG&E environmental disaster in the town of Hinkley west of Barstow.
- Space Cowboys - 2000; one of many examples that feature Edwards Air Force Base in the 1940s used in experimental test flights and for shuttle landings with the NASA Space Program.
The western novel The Lonesome Gods by Louis L'Amour also uses features of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in its narrative.