Imperial Valley Desert Museum

The Imperial Valley Desert Museum (IVDM) certainly takes small, regional museums to the next level with its interactive displays, exhibitions, activities, and easy access to their curatorial staff.

The IVDM Society worked for nearly 40 years to create a space to house and display the archaeological collection of the Imperial Valley Community College, and their efforts culminated in the construction of the current facility that opened in January 2011. Ever since, the team has been adding—and will continue to add—exhibitions and content to the museum.

Much of the museum focuses on the native Kumeyaay peoples who inhabited the region for thousands of years, and how they adapted to live in such a demanding environment. You’ll see displays of nearly 100 pottery artifacts, dating back centuries, as well as other items made of stone fashioned into tools.

Because I’m a geography geek, one of my favorite things in the museum was the interactive map that showed the history of ancient Lake Cahuilla. You use a touch screen to start the animation of the lake over time projected onto a 3D map of the region. The interactive map is directly in front of a large diorama depicting what it might have been like on the shores of Lake Cahuilla.

Other exhibits within the museum include the Land of Extremes; a section dedicated to archaeology; pull-out panels that talk about the region’s geology; and an overview of how the Imperial Valley is being used today.

IVDM offers a Youth Ceramic Arts Program to teach kids how to make pottery using the methods and techniques used by the Kumeyaay. It also welcomes schools and other groups on field trips, and offers several programs tailored to their needs.

You can plan a trip to specifically visit the IVDM, or you can use it as an informational first stop on a trip to Anza-Borrego State Park, the Salton Sea, or the Imperial Dunes. And in 2016, the only thing it will cost you is time thanks to the Imperial County Board of Supervisors giving the museum a grant to allow for FREE admission for the year.

Check out IVDM and you’ll agree it’s not your typical small, regional museum.

What You Need to Know

Location: 11 Frontage Road, Ocotillo, CA 92259

Hours: Wednesday–Sunday, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.; Closed Monday and Tuesday

Cost: FREE admission through 2016


Tips: It’s about 90 miles / 145 km from downtown San Diego to the IVDM, so it will take about an hour and a half to get there. There are paths around the exterior of the building leading to picnic areas and a steel sculpture. The museum is small, and you could probably see everything in 30-45 minutes if you’re not the read or play type; but if you like to take your time, you could easily spend one to two hours there, especially if you engage the helpful and friendly staff in conversation. There is a small gift shop.


Click to see full-sized photos.

Visited: 14 February 2016

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