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High Desert (California)

Coordinates: 34°48′N 117°36′W / 34.8°N 117.6°W / 34.8; -117.6
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The High Desert at sunset in Johnson Valley, along California State Route 247

High Desert is a vernacular region with non-discrete boundaries covering areas of the western Mojave Desert in Southern California. The region encompasses various terrain with elevations generally between 2,000 and 4,000 ft (610 and 1,220 m) above sea level, and is located just north of the San Gabriel, San Bernardino, and Little San Bernardino Mountains.

The term "High Desert" is commonly used by local news media,[1] especially in weather forecasts, because of the high desert's unique and moderate weather patterns compared to its low desert neighbors. The term "High Desert" serves to differentiate it from southern California's Low Desert, which is defined by the differences in elevation, climate, animal life, and vegetation native to these regions. For instance, Palm Springs, at 500 feet (150 m) above sea level, is considered "Low Desert". In contrast, Landers at 3,100 feet (940 m) above sea level, is considered "High Desert".

The High Desert, along with the "Mojave River Valley" and the Victor Valley, is mostly used to describe the area centered around Victorville. The region extends as far west as Lancaster, as far northwest as Palmdale, and north to the Barstow desert.[2] High Desert has also been incorporated into the names of businesses and organizations in these areas.[3][4] The term "High Desert" is also used to refer to the communities north and west of Joshua Tree National Park - Twentynine Palms the Morongo Basin (Yucca Valley). These communities are at a higher elevation than the Low Desert that encompasses the Coachella Valley and Imperial Valley in far southern California.

The area was even proposed to become a new county due to cultural, economic and geographic differences relative to the rest of the more urban region.[5][6][7]


Old Woman Springs Ridge in the high desert, Johnson Valley, California

Depending on how the boundaries of the Mojave and the Colorado Desert region are defined, the High Desert either includes the entire California portion of the Mojave Desert (using a smaller geographic designation than its ecoregion) or the northern portion of the California desert (using a larger geographic designation including the ecotope area of the lower and adjacent 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 is typically windier than the Low Desert, and it averages between 12 degrees to 20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in both the winter and summer seasons.


The High Desert is often divided into the following regions, moving west to east:

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.

Just after sunset, Landers, California

Other parts of the greater physical region known as the "High Desert" include:

  • The San Bernardino County northeastern reaches of the High Desert, where the Fort Irwin National Training Center 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.
  • 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. This is the most sparsely populated area of the High Desert, with a major community, Lone Pine in the southern and Bishop in the northern Owens Valley.

Cities and communities[edit]

Sunset over the Mojave

The major metropolitan centers in the region are primarily centered on the cities of Lancaster and Victorville. Lancaster, the largest city in the High Desert, is located in the Antelope Valley next to Palmdale and anchors the area's Los Angeles County region with a metro area population of just over 500,000. The Victor Valley area, which includes cities and communities such as Victorville, Hesperia, Adelanto, Apple Valley, and Lucerne Valley, boasts a population around 385,000.[10] The Barstow area, to the north of Victor Valley, and the Morongo Basin near Joshua Tree National Park both have populations of around 60,000.

List of cities, towns, and census-designated places[edit]

Incorporated places are listed 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.

Major highways[edit]

In the arts[edit]


  • Louis L'Amour's Western novel The Lonesome Gods uses features of the Mojave and Colorado Deserts in its narrative.
  • James Spooner's 2022 graphic memoir The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere. depicts the author's experiences as a Black teenager in the punk rock scene of Apple Valley.

Motion pictures[edit]

Popular filming sites
Exemplary projects
Films using High Desert as a subject of the narrative
  • Erin Brockovich (2000), centered on the PG&E environmental disaster in the town of Hinkley west of Barstow.
  • The Right Stuff (1983), based on the 1979 non-fiction book by Tom Wolfe about the pilots engaged in U.S. postwar research with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft at Edwards Air Force Base as well as documenting the stories of the first Project Mercury astronauts selected for the NASA space program.
  • 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.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ KEYC Archived 2015-04-15 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Sahagun, Louis (February 10, 2018). "L.A. County set to build its first new freeway in 25 years, despite many misgivings". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 February 2018.
  3. ^ High Desert Mavericks Baseball
  4. ^ High Desert Academy of Applied Arts.
  5. ^ Charles F. Bostwick. "Plan Mapped Out for New County; High Desert Area Would Contain 1 Million People". Daily News.
  6. ^ "If a new county is feasible, go for it, desert dwellers say". The San Bernardino County Sun. February 20, 1998. p. 4.
  7. ^ Jeff Wilson (April 26, 2013). "Save us Carl Boyer! SCV getting screwed by LA County again".
  8. ^ "Census profile: Lancaster--Palmdale, CA Urbanized Area".
  9. ^ https://www.cityofhesperia.us/DocumentCenter/View/13786/HD-Workforce-Report-April-2016?bidId=#:~:text=These%20communities%E2%80%94Adelanto%2C%20Apple%20Valley,average%20household%20income%20of%20%2458%2C495. Archived 2022-02-18 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "SANBAG Sub-Regional Corridor Studies". Sanbag.ca.gov. 2010-04-14. Archived from the original on 2011-02-20. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  11. ^ "Contact". Movie-Locations. 1997. Retrieved 8 July 2019.

External links[edit]

34°48′N 117°36′W / 34.8°N 117.6°W / 34.8; -117.6