Golden sun kissed sands of the grandest deserts in the world perhaps conjure up images of sheiks in white robes riding camels, trekking across deserted lands, inevitably seeking refuge in fantasy-like destinations. Sometimes mirage, most times oasis– an exotic place of sheer beauty with fringed Palm trees bearing fruits and cool spring waters, offering peace and tranquility for the wary traveler. The subject of fantastical tales from antiquity to that of modern day adventure novels, oases can be discovered in deserts today, from the majestic Sahara to California’s Mojave.
1. Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge in Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert was one of the stops during the days of the Pony Express. It has five major springs and smaller seeps encompassing ten-thousand acre marsh. The springs are a vital habitat for a variety of species, which make this wetland oasis home to coyotes, tarantulas, chub fish and especially migratory birds, which come to nest during the peak season, mid-April through September during spring and fall migrations. Visitors can opt for a marked self-guided tour by car year round or can contact the refuge staff ahead of time for guided tours.
Where: Approximately 3 hours travel time from the Salt Lake City.
2. Crescent Moon Lake Oasis in China’s Gobi Desert, sits at the base of Echoing-Sand Mountain, and looks as if Walt Disney had a hand in designing this surreal hotspot. Named Yueyaquan during the Qing Dynasty, this ancient haven has become a major tourist destination for today’s travelers. For around $18.00 U.S. all-inclusive, and in about an hour’s time, visitors can experience a temple visit, a walk about the crescent shaped spring, camel riding and a variety of sand adventures such as dune surfing, sand sliding and a hike to the top of the dunes for spectacular views.
Where: 3.73 miles south of Dunhuang City.
3. Palm Valley in the Northern Territory of Australia is considered a sub-tropical oasis in the middle of the red center of Aboriginal homelands. Scenic 2-hour drives from Alice Springs takes visitors by 4×4 through the real outback and along the cayenne colored West MacDonnells. Once into the Finke Gorge National Park, bushwalks through The Gorge to Palm Valley Oasis combine fascinating red rocks, dried river beds lined with palms, while guides share historical facts about the region.
Where: 75 miles west of Alice Springs in Central Australia.
4. Agua Caliente in Tuscon, Arizona boasts more than a hundred acres of oasis perfection turned recreational park. In 2009, Agua Caliente was registered as part of the US National Register of Historic Places, preserving the area for visitors yearning for tranquility. Choose sand paved hiking areas around the pond, or cut through the lush habitat to secluded outskirts where open plains are flanked by the Rincon and Catalina mountains. Travelers should bring binoculars to spy lizards, frogs, and larger wildlife. Especially exciting for birdwatchers are more than one hundred and seventy varieties of birds including American Widgeons, snowy egrets, vermilion flycatchers, ring-necked ducks, and blue herons.
Where: In the heart of Tuscon, Arizona.
5. Chebika Oasis lies at the foot of Djebel el Negueb mountain range in the Djerid region of south west of Tunisia’s Sahara Desert. Qasr el-Shams, meaning Castle of the Sun, has been a mountain refuge for the Romans, the Berbers, and now a go to spot for oasis chasers. Tours are the better way to go, as the locale is remote, and tough to get to on one’s own. The old village boasts ruins, but unexpected for such a remote destination, visitors will find a “new village” complete with restaurant, souvenir shops hocking kitsch; however local made carpets are a buy here. Stumble upon pink colored rock formations, a waterfall, and bubbling creek lined with palms.
Where: 24 miles from the town of Tamerza.
6. The Atcama area in northern Chile’s Atcama Desert is home to a non-traditional looking oasis. More stark visuals than a typical lush oasis imagined, this location boasts El Tatio geyser, Valley of the Moon Petroglyphs, the 16,500-ft Toco Volcano, salt flats and historic towns. The salt lakes play host to numerous varieties of plants and wildlife, such as vicunas, fox, flamingo and Andean ostriches. Visitor’s can partake in a bevy of adventures, from horseback riding to hiking the volcanic summit, to star gazing. More leisure destination than tourist trap, visitors can book extended stays and take advantage of several small hotels in the area.
Where: Located 63 miles from Calama.
7. Liwa Oasis in the Arab Emirates in the Rub’ al Khali desert was historically and is to this day the date-palm growing region for Bedouin tribes. The oasis is also home to the Bani Yas tribe who are the UAE ruling family. Liwa is one of the biggest oases in Arabia, if self touring, travelers will need a vehicle to get to the Liwa area. Well maintained roads dotted with towns, gas stations and hotels for extended stays. A better bet would be to hire a driver and local guide to maximize the experience. 4×4 tours, camel tours, overnight camping trips to Merheb Dune, desert safaris, dune bashing, sand skiing and biking can be arranged.
Where: 135 miles from Abu Dhabi city center
8. Palm Springs, the town famed for Frank Sinatra and the 50’s Hollywood jet-set, sits smack dab in the middle of the Mojave Desert. The 90 minute drive from Los Angeles is a weekend getaway spot, which has been a recreation oasis since the late 1800’s, and is home to four oases. Better known as Indian Canyons on the Agua Caliente Reservation, the area is run by the Band of Cahuilla Tribe who protect Palm Canyon– the world’s largest California Fan Palm oasis, Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon, and Tahquitz Canyon– listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Within a stones throw of civilization, visitors can relish in a step back into time with ranger led historical hikes.
Where: About 6 miles outside of the town of Palm Springs.
9. Tafilalt Oasis is the largest Saharan oasis of Morocco, second largest behind the Nile. The oasis palm groves encompass 30 miles along the Ziz River includes the villages of Erfoud, Arab Sebbah du Ziz, Rissani, Seffalat, Aoufous, and Jorf. Thanks to former nomads turned businessmen, 900,000 date palms, whose fruit is one of Morocco’s largest export, and nearby Erg Cherbi sand dunes, make this once barley noted destination a tourist must-do. For overnight stays, consider one of the half-dozen moderately priced hotels, but don’t be surprised to view the advent of tourism’s western nuances in town, such as coca-cola and fast food signs everywhere.
Where: About a one-hour drive south of Errachidia and a day’s drive south of Fez.
10. Huacachina Oasis sits in the Ica Region of southwestern Peru in the Ocucaje Desert. The “Oasis of America” as its population of 115 call it, also appears on the back of the 50 Nuevo Sol note, a colorful take home souvenir. Huacahina Village, surrounding the oasis, is a holiday spot for wealthy Peruvians. Peru’s oasis gives travelers sand surfing exploits on the world’s highest sand dunes of Cerro Blanco, dune buggy racing tours, camping tours (sometimes complete with fireworks) can all be part of the adventure.
Where: A 5-hour bus ride from Lima.