Hot Photo Spots: Hidden Gems of the Desert
Where to take the best photos of desert landscapes.
From Death Valley, California to the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the desert is one of the most underrated landscapes to photograph. These desolate locations are oftentimes overlooked by photographers—not because they aren’t beautiful, but because the monochrome environment isn’t thought of as being as photogenic as other landscapes, like a lush waterfall or pristine lake in Washington State. But we’re here to tell you that the desert shouldn’t be ignored—especially if you’re traveling with a camera in hand.
The 13 featured locations below prove that the sand dunes of the southwest and the barren salt lakes of North Africa can bring the heat to any photo. Once you’ve downloaded the Explorest app, we’ll guide you to hidden desert gems around the world, with exact GPS coordinates and detailed directions to get you from point A to point B.
Are you ready to explore? Start scrolling!
More commonly known for its beaches and palm-tree lined streets, California is one of the few states in the US that has multiple climates. The weather is influenced by the proximity to the coastline, and in the arid deserts of the Sunshine State, the lack of water causes temperatures to peak well beyond 100 degrees. Temps soar in areas like Death Valley, which has been recorded as the hottest place in the world. You heard that right—not just the hottest in the US, but in the whole world! Phew—are you sweating yet?
As long as you’re prepared with the right clothing attire, food and water supply and camera equipment, these temperatures shouldn’t be as concerning. Follow our expert tips on our Location Insights for insider info so when you're traveling, you’re well-equipped for things to heat up while photographing the hidden gems of the California deserts.
credit: @chriscreature — discover Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park on the Explorest app
credit: @tommylundberg — discover Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes on the Explorest app
credit: @ross_schram — discover Sand Layers at Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes on the Explorest app
credit: @veekster — discover Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park on the Explorest app
credit: @thewandertravels — discover Trona Pinnacles on the Explorest app
The Southwest region of the United States includes Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. Within this vast area, there are countless deserts awaiting your exploration. Our suggestion to make the most out of your experience is to take a road trip across the five states. You can use the Explorest app to guide you from place to place, but here’s an itinerary to help you get started on your journey:
- Start your road trip at the Cathedral Gorge State Park Moon Caves in Pioche, Nevada to visit the awe-inspiring slot caves.
- Then, head south toward Blue Diamond Nevada (about a 3 hour and 20-minute drive) to check out the Red Rock Canyon Road view of Mount Wilson.
- Take a break from driving and book an overnight stay at a nearby hotel to rest up for the next day.
- The following morning, make your way to the Grand Canyon (about a 4 hour and 45-minute drive). Don't forget to see the Powell Point view of the massive crater!
- Explore the surrounding cities, like Flagstaff and Sedona, and then when you’re up for another drive, head in the direction of Colorado.
- Finish your drive at the Great Sand Dunes National Park (about an 8-hour drive from the Grand Canyon). As you stand on the sand dunes, let the desert wind whip behind you and take in the days-long journey that brought you here!
credit: @jesseroos — discover Cathedral Gorge State Park Moon Caves on the Explorest app
credit: @jesseroos — discover Red Rock Canyon Road view of Mount Wilson on the Explorest app
credit: @parisverra — discover Powell Point view of Grand Canyon National Park on the Explorest app
credit: @parisverra — discover Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve on the Explorest app
On the other side of the world, Africa has some of the best places to take photos of desert landscapes. These locations might not be on the list of places you’re traveling to this summer, but until it’s safe to fly internationally again, you can look to these photos as inspiration for your next vacation. The ancient pyramids, the sacred mosques—all of these African locations are just begging to be photographed!
One of our contributors, Paris Verra, has shot extensively in Africa and each location she's photographed enhances the beauty of the desert's natural landscape. Stand in the middle of the Karnak Temple, which was constructed in 2055 BC (a true historical landmark), witness the incredible salt formations at Chott el Djerid, gaze onto the blazing sun setting over the Great Pyramids or take a moment to soak in the palatial opulence at Al Sahaba Mosque. The options for where you can shoot hidden gems of the desert are abundant in Africa and using Explorest will guide you to the best photo spots in the continent. Adventure is just one click away on the app!
Pro tip: Many locations in Africa require shoulders to be covered while visiting. Respect the culture and make sure you’re not wearing anything that could be deemed as inappropriate or offensive.
credit: @parisverra — discover Karnak Temple Hypostyle Hall view of Obelisco de Tutmosis I on the Explorest app
credit: @parisverra — discover Chott el Djerid on the Explorest app
credit: @parisverra — discover Guardian Guest House view of Great Sphinx of Giza & Pyramid of Khafre on the Explorest app
credit: @parisverra — discover Al Sahaba Mosque on the Explorest app
While you’re visiting the desert (or anywhere, for that matter), don’t forget to follow The 7 Principles of Leave No Trace. The dry land may not have as many plants to avoid, or ocean waters to keep clean, but it’s still a vital part of the world’s ecosystem and should be treated as such. Pick up your trash and always leave a location better than you found it so visitors can enjoy these hidden desert gems for years to come!
If you're looking to bring the heat to your photos, download the Explorest app today. We provide insider recommendations to help you capture your travels, near and far.