Palm Desert Sojourn Feb 2011
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Just returned from a week in Palm Desert. Superb break.

Friday 11th:

Left Vancouver in watery sunshine and temperatures around 15C. Arrived two hours later in Palm Springs in brilliant sunshine and 25C—airport concourse almost completely open air. This is the life! Picked up our rental car and headed South on 111, which winds out of the burbs of Palm Springs and into the burbs of Palm Desert over the course of half an hour and 50 traffic lights.

We find Dan and Karen's (Lynda's sister) house just off the main drag but they're out! Apparently they weren't expecting us for another hour so. Still, it's a fabulous place with a pool and grapefruit trees on the front lawn. We wander back to the main drag—which is two blocks away—for a look around and lunch. There's a residual husk of a dismal main-drag mall fronting Hwy111 but the hoi polloi who used to shop there probably moved out of town some while back and the new main drag on the street behind (closer to us) is home to Louis Vitton shops, aromatherapy salons and art galleries. I later looked on Google maps and found that most of the real estate around here is golf courses and country clubs, with only a few neighbourhoods squeezed in between.

We return to the house to find Karen and Dan at home...but find we aren't staying with them: we have a house of our own! They've just bought the place they are in so the rental home they occupied until a few days ago is free for us to use. It's only two blocks away so they take us over and we settle in to a different spacious house with a large open layout and a pool.

We spend an hour or so catching up with K&D and then it's time to take a walk across the lane at the back into the house behind: we've been invited over for "D and G" (drinks and go). It turns out that almost all the half dozen or so guests are displaced Canucks either renting or permanently residing here. Over the next few days we meet very few folks from the US, not because the Canucks are clannish but because most people here are Canucks!

Saturday 12th:

We've chosen to visit Joshua Tree National Park today, so we head East along 111 to Indio then take I10 for about an hour further East. As we approach our turn-off to JTNP we spot smoke up ahead on the highway and wouldn't you believe it, a semi has caught fire. The semi and the fire trucks trying to douse the flames are blocking our exit so we have to continue to the next exit and circle back.

I suspect that the park is not so different from any random selection of a mountainous desert area in this region but has been set aside to preserve and illustrate the various features of this type of terrain. There are quite a few stopping places with signs indicating plants and other features nearby. For the first 10K or so we're down in the Colorado Desert with its Ocotillo and Cholla cactus and Creosote bushes. We're at about 2,000 feet above sea level but we then climb about 1,000 feet to the to the Joshua Tree plateau that is in the Mojave Desert and Joshua trees are indeed everywhere. We stop for a couple of short walks, then drive around to "Keys View", which affords a lookout from the Little San Bernadino Mountains onto the Coachella Valley (where we came in). The San Andreas fault runs right below us. Lots of birds here. We take another walk out by Living Oak Boulders and have lunch on a boulder. Then continue our ride to take a nice walk out to the Barker Dam. This was built to hold water to support a brief attempt to ranch cattle here and now provides a small lake for mallards and turtles.

Eventually, after more pleasant driving, we exit the park to the north and then circle back round on Hwy 62 to meet up with I10 north of Palm Springs. It's a bit of culture shock to see some 4,000 wind turbines at the neck of the Giorgino Valley that power the whole of Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley below.

We get back in time to head over to Dan and Karen's for dinner and watch the hockey game (with several other Canucks)

Sunday 13th:

We're scheduled for K&D's daily exercise: a hike up a 600ft slope on the hills overshadowning Palm Desert. It's hardly a solitary occasion: there has to be as many hikers, dogs and bikes going up the hill as we might see on our own crowded Grouse Mountain during the summer. We make it up to The Cross, supposedly erected by Frank Sinatra in memory of his mother. It's actually a bit of an eyesore in my opinion, but we head back down and feel pleased with ourselves for having got some exercise.

We have lunch at Karen and Dan's and I can't remember how we spent the afternoon. It is my birthday so we must have done something of some interest. But in the evening, we all head out to dinner at a Mexican place and the food turns out to be superb. However apparently that is not a given as the Mexican food around here is often the American version of Mexican food which is OK but not great. (I had Mexican food in Dallas that was head and shoulders above the usual American fare so I suppose I was expecting the same here)

Monday 14th:

We're off in our rental car (four of us plus 1) to hike the Painted Canyon. We make our way across the Coachella Valley floor and can more or less see where the canyon is (on the lower slopes of the Little San Bernadino Mountains) to our left, but it is a pain getting there, through the wierd interveave of expressways and highways crisscrossing the valley. Eventually we find 66th Ave and—barely missing a roadrunner that almost chose the wrong time to run our particular road—find Painted Canyon. There's quite a few cars here; we park and head in. There's a large stone arrow telling us to turn left off the canyon about half a kilometer in and things get interesting right away. We're directed up a narrow gulch. Intriguing stuff...if you don't suffer from claustrophobia...and about 30 minutes of it. Eventually, having climbed about 500 feet we come out on the rim of the canyon. There's a little more foliage here, particularly Ocotillo in bloom, as we head across the heights for a kilometer or so. Good views too. But then we duck right, plunge down the side of the canyon and—having had lunch—make our way back along the canyon floor to complete the circuit back to the car. It's a pleasant hike, sand underfoot. It's not a place to be during the rainy season as it is easy to see how a flash flood could easily sweep one away (and has!)

Heading back, we do manage to stop in for a date milkshake at one of the several date palm farms along here. Yes, it's good. Back at the ranch, we have enough time for a quick shower before four of us head out for a game of tennis at K&D's club—10 minutes walk from where they live.

Hockey game. Dinner at K&D's and another hockey game. Where are we again?

Tuesday 15th:

The Living Desert Zoo/Nature park is about 10 minutes drive from our house. I think we can forgive ourselves for expecting that to mean California desert, given that the park is just part of the local landscape. But the first hour or so of our circuit we see camels, leopards, a cheetah, hyenas and an African village. Very well done and the animals thankfully look healthy and well cared for. Then gradually we get to see more of what we are expecting: Bighorn Sheep and an enormous caged Golden Eagle (many of these animals have been recovered from rogue private owners and cannot be returned to the wild) and a wealth of hummingbirds, butterflies, cacti and so on. Very interesting. We head home for lunch and return to hike one of the two nature trails that head out into the local hills. Very well done—lots of signs and explanations along the way. We're within about 100 meters of the main part of the park when we start to see all manner of the birds we just saw in enclosures out in the wild: Costa's Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Western Bluebird, what looked to me like a pair of Loggerhead Shrikes

Wednesday 16th

Ah, time to go, but what would a trip home be like without a little drama? Lyn and I are up at 7am, and arrive at the airport in time to check the rented car in. (I love the way Alamo does this. You drive in to the lane and park. Within less than a minute a guy comes over to our car holding a gizmo that looks like a bar-code scanner; he looks vaguely over the car, checks the mileage and prints out a receipt for .... $158 for five days rental. "That's it?". "Yup, that's it. Thanks for renting from Alamo."!)

We wander into the WestJet counter and give them our names. The lady at the counter looks a little puzzled. No worries, we went through this on the way down: they spelt Lynda's name wrongly and couldn't find us. So I hand over our itinerary and...ah! the light dawns on her face. "Your return is booked for March 16th sir, not today, Feb 16th". Oops. I finally blew a ticket after almost 20 years of doing this. Thankfully they got us on the flight. However, five minutes into the air and we almost wished they hadn't as we had 15 minutes of unbelievable turbulence. But eventually got home OK.