Palm Springs was such a surprise. David had been there before, but I had no idea what it would be like. I imagined a small town with some wealthy-looking houses and shops, and in some ways that's what it's like.
You drive north-east from San Diego along the freeway that skims the eastern suburbs and satellite towns of Los Angeles, and then you climb up, up, up into the mountains, watching as the temperature outside falls by degrees (I do so love how my car tells me the temperature outside — I only wish there was an altimeter as well).
Up here there are tiny two-bit towns, ranches and several Indian reservations — California is home to about 90 tribes — and a lot of scrub. And on Monday it was only a few degrees above freezing, with occasional blobs of snow on the side of the road. But then, all of a sudden, you come to the other side of the mountains and there before you, spread out way in the distance below, is this (click on it for the full monty): Palm Springs, visible sprawled across the valley (above), is a city of over 300,000 people with over 100 golf courses! Right out there in the desert, where the summer temperatures soar to well over 45C (113F), which is hot, even by Perth standards.
We stayed in a gem of a hotel ... built in 1947 by one of the city's famous desert architects, William Cody. It had only sixteen rooms and the current owners are doing a great job of conserving it and restoring it, with brand-new bathrooms, comfy beds ... and great retro-style decor. Even though I am not a retro fan, I loved the look and ambience of this place. We spent Tuesday at the Joshua Tree National Park — spectacularly beautiful with the snow-capped mountains in the distance. From this vantage point (above), right in the heart of the park, we could see Palm Springs in the valley, way below (off to the left of this pic), and, interestingly, the low ridge line that you can see in the middle distance is actually the San Andreas fault — spooky!
The park is high desert, and despite the sunshine and blue skies, it was freezing. It is immaculately and cleverly maintained, with plenty of hiking trails, well-marked parking sites, campsites for tents and RVs, plenty of free composting toilets, and great roads.There's also a fantastic visitors' center which gives clear and fascinating information about the wildlife and geology of the area. The only thing that struck me as odd was that they call this wilderness — two hours out of LA, Palm Springs visible in the valley below, the sky criss-crossed with con-trails and helicopters, and people everywhere! Plus, at the entrance, a big public sign informed visitors of the day's air quality (it was good, yesterday!), which to me was telling evidence of the park's proximity to big cities. It's 2600 square kilometres (1000 square miles) though , so I guess there's room to get out and get lost!