Palm Springs: Paradise Found in the Southern California Desert
The temperature is 75 and it’s sunny in paradise today came the voice over the loudspeaker as our plane circled the Coachella Valley, passed over the Salton Sea, and began its descent into the Palm Springs California International Airport. And this was just the beginning.
This desert oasis, 110 miles southeast of Los Angeles, has a permanent population of 45,000 but that doubles during the winter season. It also has an attitude summed up in its slogan- We put Perfect on the Map.
As we drove the 20 minutes west of Palm Springs to our hosts, the four diamond Morongo Casino, Resort, and Spa, the surreal sight of over 4,000 wind turbines turning in the breeze made a striking first impression. The windy mountain passes are the ideal location for them to generate clean electricity for an energy hungry valley.
But until the late 1800s and the construction of the Southern Pacific Railroad, the area was home only to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Living near canyons on the edge of the mountains where natural springs seeped up from fault lines they called their home “la palma de la mano de Dios” or the palm of God’s hand.
Palm Canyon is considered the world’s largest California Palm oasis and Tahquitz Canyon and three southern canyons are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. All of them are easily accessible from Palm Springs, open to the public for a modest fee, and can be explored on foot or by Jeep Eco-Tours.
Today the tribe is also the largest landholder in Palm Springs and operates the swanky Spa Resort Casino on the source of their ancient healing mineral waters.
For the best overall view of the valley, the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway will transport you on a scenic 10 minute cable car ride to the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness area at an elevation of 8,516 feet above sea level.
Be prepared for much cooler conditions on the Mountain station as I was when I found a light dusting of snow with a temperature of 19 degrees and a howling 45 mph wind after arriving from the mild Valley station. Whatever the conditions, the ride up and down is breathtaking and well worth the ticket price.
Palm Springs has long been known as a retirement community with showbiz celebrities like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and former mayor Sonny Bono making their homes there at one time. But if you’d like to see some of the living legends of song and dance perform don’t miss the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies featuring the world’s oldest living showgirl- 84 year old Dorothy Kloss.
I wouldn’t have believed it myself if I hadn’t seen her dance with my own eyes in a show that lasted over 3 hours! The Ladies and Gentlemen of the Follies have an average age of 70 years old and I swear to you their performances rivaled any Broadway show I’ve seen.
After the show I had my picture taken with one of the showgirls, 64 year old Jill Owens who proudly exclaimed, “I’m one of two Jills in the show. I’m the younger one”.
Who wants to see Grandma in fishnet stockings? Apparently everyone based on the nearly 3 million people who have attended since it opened 17 years ago. If you want to see the show reserve your seats early as many are sold out well in advance.
Dinner before the show can be found at the many gourmet restaurants that serve Palm Springs. We were offered a Taste of Palm Springs from some of the finest and trust me when I say you will not be disappointed in the selection and quality of food in town. My favorite was delicacy was from the Kaiser Grille located downtown on Palm Canyon Drive.
The next morning provided the biggest surprise of the trip. Not only was it raining (a very rare occurrence here) but we ventured into the high desert to our first stop at the California Visitor Center in the town of Yucca Valley at the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park, where a park ranger briefed us on this unique landscape.
The Joshua Tree itself got its name from Mormon settlers who crossed the desert in wagon trains in the 1850’s and were rumored to say the outstretched branches of this unusual tree seemed to represent the prophet Joshua welcoming and guiding them through this arid land. This unique “tree” is actually not a tree at all but a giant member of the lily family. They only grow at certain altitudes in the Mojave Desert and can reach heights of 40 feet with longevity reaching 300 years. Their silhouettes against a dark desert sky gave me the feeling of having landed on an ancient, alien planet.
After a drive through the Joshua Tree forest in the park, we entered the town of Twenty Nine Palms and stopped for lunch at the Roughley Manor, a historic bed and breakfast run by an ex Marine and his wife.
The nearby Marine Corps base is a primary training ground for desert warfare and has been a huge part of the local economy. During WW11, the desert became the training ground for General George S. Patton’s troops as they prepared to invade North Africa.
But the desert is also home to the growing grounds of Gubler Orchids, one of the nation’s largest orchid wholesalers. Located in several huge greenhouses, the clean air, pure water, and four growing seasons have provided ideal conditions. The 50,000 square foot facility near Landers CA is open to the public for tours to see the over 5,000 orchid hybrids grown there.
Nearby we enjoyed dinner at Pappy & Harriet’s, a legendary roadhouse located high in the Mojave Desert. Here you can find a melting pot of cowboys, bikers, kids, and grandmas all enjoying mesquite BBQ and live music.
You can learn more about all the reasons people come to Palm Springs by logging on to Palm-Springs.org or by calling the Visitors Center at 760-778-8418.
Mark H. Bradley is a freelance writer living in the tiny historic village of Maeystown, IL. A former President and CEO of his own advertising/PR company, he chose to check out of the rat race at the beginning of the new millennium and pursue his pent up desire to see the world. A self proclaimed "semi-retired international playboy" he has traveled the world in search of the unique, the unusual, and the undiscovered.