August 25, 2006

Three Days in the Desert

Okay, if the idea of spending 3 days in well over 100 degree heat sounds a little crazy, you're right, but we were committed to a family get-together in Palm Desert in August and there was no turning back!

After a grueling 15 hour trip to cross the country and get to our destination we were rewarded with this magnificent view from our hotel room. This shot was taken early in the morning (jet lag) with the rising sun casting long shadows over the gorgeous mountains. You are probably wondering why it looks so green. This is the magic of irrigation that has allowed the arid desert soil to be cultivated into verdant paradises now populated by thousands of people escaping the metropolis of Los Angeles. This area has a long history - the city of Palm Springs was the winter resort to the stars with Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope as habitués of the now defunct Palm Springs Racquet Club. One can easily imagine the glamorous movie stars of old enjoying the sun and palm trees in this Art Deco inspired playground to the rich and famous.

But we were there in August and it was definitely off-season. In fact many shops and restaurants were closed until the fall. This didn't stop us - we had 3 days and were determined to make the most of them. So we did! We started with the fascinating Living Desert zoo and gardens featuring animals and plants native to both African and American desert environments. They also have a state-of-the-art wildlife hospital where veterinarians treat sick and wounded wild animals and birds, and visitors can witness some of the procedures and see some of the convalescing "patients".

We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the fancy shops and restaurants on Palm Desert's posh El Paseo Drive, then cooled off in the hotel's enormous swimming pool.

Wednesday started off at about 95 degrees and kept getting hotter. What could be better than to visit the most American of enterprises - the local Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership!! Palm Springs Harley Davidson has been supplying HOG owners with the finest in motorcycles and accoutrements since 1984. It was extraordinary to see. The showroom is filled with the latest models and vintage machines that are so fabulous they make you want to throw caution to the wind and just ride! The staff is very knowledgeable and their enthusiam is infectious. One gains a new appreciation for the culture surrounding this classic bike.

Time for lunch at the local In-n-Out Burger where we had the most extraordinary good luck while waiting for a table. Seated by himself was an older but very sporty looking gentleman who was finishing his hamburger and very graciously invited us to sit with him. Paul Gilbert turned out to be a docent at the Palm Springs Air Museum and a recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross. He had flown 35 missions as pilot of a B-17 bomber, the last foray getting him shot down in the North Sea and rescued by the RAF. My baby boomer husband and brother-in-law were fascinated, and urged Paul to continue with his recollections until he really, finally, had to go!

It was getting really hot out so we decided to cool off by riding the Aerial Tramway 2.5 miles up the San Jacinto Mountains to an elevation of 8,500'. This 10-minute ride in a rotating tram car offers breathtaking views of the desert and mountains and the added bonus of a 30 degree drop in temperature at the top! The mountain station is the starting point for hikes in Mount San Jacinto State Park and we thoroughly enjoyed an hour long nature hike with fabulous vistas and chance sighting of a red tailed hawk.

Back down the mountain and a last, quick stop at the Palm Springs Art Museum to see their lovely collection, then back to the cool of the hotel pool!

Our last day dawned hot like all the others but we had a mission. Our chance encounter with Paul Gilbert inspired us to visit the Palm Springs Air Museum to learn more about these brave men and women who fought for our freedom during World War II. Located in a hangar next to the local airport is an exceptional collection of vintage aircraft and memorabilia, staffed by Air Force veterans who are happy to share their stories with the new generation. It was a very moving and worthwhile visit.

Our desert holiday was almost over and it was time to hit the road back to the big city. We pointed our rented Jeep west and drove past the extraordinary sight of the California Wind Farm and its thousands of windmills, on our way to Los Angeles and a few days on the coast before heading back home.

Our heartfelt thanks to Peggy and Derek, and to our family, for making an unlikely premise for a holiday into a really wonderful time.

1 comment:

H. Kelman said...

This was a fun trip indeed! Just
put your desert hat on and enjoy everything it has to offer. Despite feeling like we had walked into an oven, many memories were formed from the trip. Great fun, great food and great company.