Story and Photos © Frank DiMarco
The thing I like the most about the Palm Springs Tram is that the cabin rotates while you are transported to and from the lofty Mountain Station 8,516 feet into the mountains of San Jacinto State Park.
Thus begins a jaunt to enjoy some of the “high” natural beauty of the Palm Springs area.
You will rise through five unique life zones from the Sonoran Desert Zone at the bottom to the Arctic Alpine Zone at the top. In the winter expect some snow; in the summer expect some real heat. Either way, water is a smart companion, and packing a lunch for a picnic is a great idea.
On our trip up we shared the tram cabin with an international range of people from elderly grandmothers to young eco-hipsters with hi-tech snowshoes and camping gear, ready to adventure beyond the “To Wilderness” sign on the trail guide. Once on top, taking a few moments to acclimate to the altitude, you can set off for a modest hike from Mountain Station along several well-marked trails or set yourself up for a more extensive guided or self-guided hike with advice from the Adventure Center, a short distance from the Mountain Station terminal. None of the trails will disappoint as this is breathtakingly beautiful and rugged country.
Though wildlife frequently tends to stay hidden from humans, this is a habitat for bighorn sheep, bobcats, mountain lions, coyotes, hawks, foxes and deer, along with the usual suspects of birds and squirrels. Alpine flora of the area can range from cactus to white fir, big cone pines and colorful wildflowers, especially in the Spring.
Once you are back to Mountain Station from your hike, a visit to the Forestry Department shop is very interesting as is the adjacent display of taxidermy. And, importantly, the Lookout Lounge serves a delicious Bloody Mary while food is served in two restaurants in this mountain aerie.
The tram operates from 10AM on weekdays and 8AM on weekends with the last tram down at 9:45PM, giving you a full-day in the mountains if you wish. More details at http://www.pstramway.com Tel. 760.325.1449
So, what do I mean by the “low” natural beauty of Palm Springs? This refers to the cool canyons of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation. The Aqua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians have been in the Palm Springs area for centuries. In ancient times they thrived due to a good water supply, growing a wide range of crops as well as sustainably harvesting the natural wildlife and plants.
With the 1876 acts of the U.S. Government, the Agua Caliente Indians were deeded 32,000 acres of the area for their homeland, some of the land lying within the Palm Springs city limits. Now, several of the beautiful canyons are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and a hike in them is a unique experience.
To get to the Indian Canyons, drive out South Palm Canyon Drive and you’ll come to the entrance where you’ll pay admission to this sacred land and receive a good trail map. The trails are marked by difficulty so visitors can match their strength and health to their hikes.
We hiked in both the Andreas and Palm Canyons and found them to be tranquil and full of a sense of history. The rocks and flora are beautiful with the ancient palms the stars of this natural beauty show. Palm Canyon, 15 miles deep, is redolent with this sense of history and with examples of ancient living quarters trailside. Frequent ranger talks are given at the trailhead Trading Post. While informal, these talks draw visitors and a good place to learn some details about how the ancient tribe members lived.
As always, plan ahead, and pay close attention to the precautions of hiking in the desert. Stay hydrated, sun-protected and be watchful for rattlesnakes.
More information: http://www.indian-canyons.com Tel. 760.323.6018 Before moving on, some additional websites for desert touring are http://www.desertmountains.org and http://www.nps.gov/jotr which will provide you with some basic information about a side trip to the beautiful Joshua Tree National Park located near Palm Springs.
OK, let’s eat.
Breakfast can be a make-or-break-the-day meal and I would challenge anyone to find a more consistent and hearty morning meal than Elmer’s at 1030 E. Palm Canyon Drive. The staff at the Palm Springs incarnation is particularly cohesive in their service and if you are looking for fare that will get you through a morning hike and beyond, Elmer’s is for you. On our recent visit, it was encouraging to see one of the owner’s of all the Elmer’s working the door, and greeting people around the restaurant. Loved the berry crepes. http://eatatelmers.com/?q=content/see-whats-cooking
For lighter morning fare and a scene-and-be-seen experience, try Palm Springs Koffi at 515 North Palm Canyon Drive. On a typical blue-sky Palm Springs morning, we took our coffees and pastries out back where there are lots of chairs available on the large lawn for dawdling over a paper, comparing dog notes or simply people watching; a fun place with a sistership now open at 1700 South Camino Real. http://www.kofficoffee.com
Ernesto Gastelum shares a passion for his native Sinaloan cooking with his customers at Rio Azul at 350 South Indian Canyon Drive. I’ve never had guacamole prepared tableside, a starter treat which we followed with Carne Asada with Enchilada and Adobado Shrimp. Great Margaritas and an entertaining and personable floor staff. http://www.rioazulpalmsprings.com
I’ll also include a couple of recommendations from my friend and food blogger Amy Sherman http://www.cookingwithamy.com She likes Trio Restaurant at 707 North Canyon Drive http://www.triopalmsprings.com for their Porterhouse Pork Chop and Australian Sea Bass and the King’s Highway in the Ace Hotel at 701 East Palm Canyon for their Ricotta Pancakes and Homemade Lox. http://www.acehotel.com/palmsprings
With air service directly into Palm Springs from major hubs, and a couple ofhours drive from L.A. proper, Palm Springs is accessible to a wide-range of visitors. Lodging is abundant at numerous retro-themed hotels and home rentals are a big thing as well. Web searches will surprise you with the options for stays.
A personal favorite of mine is the elegant and quiet Korakia Pensione at 257 S. Patencio Road with its amazing history, ambience and personal attention. Set close to the west mountains, it is central to town but with the feel of “off on your own.” We had an delightful stay there a few years ago and a recent re-observation was encouraging. http://www.korakia.com/ Even if you don’t stay there, check out the history on their website and drive by for a look.
Palm Springs, has a very long history with artistic people and the arts in general. The Palm Springs International Film Festival draws big name speakers and films and frequent food, wine and art festivals draw lots of visitors. Outdoor activities such as golf, biking and hiking will keep your interest and keep you in shape. Shopping? Lots of it along the main drag.
And don’t forget one of the longest running (30 years) fun shows in the desert, the Fabulous Palm Springs Follies! http://www.psfollies.com
Visit http://www.visitpalmsprings.com/ for lots more information on this great, venerable desert destination. And enjoy the “highs and lows” of Palm Springs’ beautiful setting.
I’ve posted more images at http://www.dimarcoimages.com/palmsprings/