A Stopover in Palm Desert/Palm Springs, California

By Saul Schwartz

At the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, Palm Desert is in the center of California’s Coachella Valley.  My wife Fern and I spent several days in this small city, using the J. W. Marriott Desert Springs as a base.  We also ventured into nearby Palm Springs.  Both of the Palms are resort-oriented and have attractive climates with warm temperatures and sunshine on most days.  In early October, we did experience some unusually cooler than normal weather, with less sun than typical for this area.

J.W. Marriott Desert Springs Resort:

Marriott is the largest employer in Palm Desert and this resort was very service-oriented for tourists.  The eight story lobby has an impressive central staircase that flows down to the dock for an indoor and outdoor series of man-made lakes.  The resort features extensive recreational options, including a large gym with cardio equipment, weights and daily fitness classes with superb instructors, a spa, several outdoor pools and six restaurants.  The beautifully manicured grounds and waterways are frequented by pink flamingos and various birds.  Sleeping rooms are spread over multiple buildings.  A series of retail stores line the property, although all of them were not open during our stay.  http://www.marriott.com.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway:

Approximately six miles from downtown Palm Springs, the tramway provided us with 360 degree views as we were transported from the Valley Station (2642 feet) to the Mountain Station (8516 feet).  Taking the world’s largest rotating tram provided us with a very exciting ride to the peaks of the San Jacinto Mountains.  The views up along the cliffs of Chino Canyon are breathtaking.  Going up the sheer mountain face in day light, we enjoyed the natural beauty, as we observed plants distinctive to each elevation.  The spectacular 2 ½ mile trip takes a little more than ten minutes.  During the assent, we passed through very different life zones, going from Sonoran Desert to Alpine Wilderness.

The Swiss made tram car holds up to 80 passengers.  The tram rotates twice per trip, on assent and descent, so we could see in all directions without moving.  The tram was first opened in 1963, but the rotating cars did not begin their journey until 2000.

At the top, temperatures were pleasantly cool, about 30 degrees colder than the desert below. Located within Mount San Jacinto State Park, Mountain Station has access to hiking trails, a small natural history museum, several observation decks with panoramic views of the Coachella Valley and surrounding wilderness, videos highlighting the building of the tramway and the wilderness area and the Pines Café, a cafeteria.

Going down after dark was a different experience, as we looked down at valley floor below and the lights of Palms Springs below.  For $36 each, we paid for the tram ride and dinner in the Café.  The tram ride was a very exciting attraction and the highlight of this trip!  www.pstramway.com.


Joshua Tree National Park:

Joshua Tree National Park contains striking granite formations and mountain ranges rising from valleys.  The elevations range from about 500 to over 5000 feet above sea level.  This park is different from most national parks in that there are not many viewpoints.  On a very hot day, we drove through a portion of the park, stopping at several points to take in the desert wilderness and scenery.

In the 1930s, community activist Minerva Hoyt persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim Joshua Tree as a national monument.  In 1994, Congress renamed the area as a national park as part of the California Desert Protection Act.  The park protects over 792,000 acres, of which more than 80 percent is managed as wilderness, where the Mojave and Colorado deserts converge.

The eastern half of the park, less than 3000 feet above sea level, lies within the Colorado Desert.  The western half of the park, at elevations above 3000 feet, is Mohave habitat.  As we drove through the roads of the park, we saw jumbles of oddly stacked boulders.  These rock piles began underground eons ago as a result of volcanic activity.  We also viewed the wild-armed Joshua trees, the park’s namesake, which is a species of yucca.  Some of these trees were as tall as forty feet.  The twisted spiky trees look like something out of a Doctor Seuss book!  The admission fee to the park is $30 per vehicle.   The closest community is Twenty Nine Palms.  http://www.nps.gov.

Italian Food in the Desert:

Many chain restaurants are scattered throughout Palm Desert and Palm Springs.  For a homier atmosphere, we had a tasty Italian dinner at Bella Vita in Palm Desert.  Located in a strip mall on Country Club Drive, Bela Vita serves traditional Italian cuisine in a relaxed table – cloth setting.  The menu was varied, the portions were ample and the prices were reasonable.  We shared the eggplant parmesan, a wheat based pasta and the beets with goat cheese salad.  www.restaurantbellavita.com.

Fern and I left the Palms to travel on to San Diego, California, which is about two hours away.  Although there are not many tourist attractions to see, either of the Palms is a great setting for relaxation at a resort.