California Desert

Posted from Needles, California, United States.

(Or: In the Land of Palms)

Wild, cool, and swingin’ photos from our time thus far in the desert can be found at accompanying photos page.

Last Thursday we left Huntington Beach and made our way to beautiful Palm Springs, where we spent the weekend with good friends from the Twin Cities.  Palm Springs is in the Coachella Valley desert region and is surrounded by mountains on all sides.  The climate is typically dry, warm, and sunny, and depending where you are could be a little windy.  It wasn’t really dry, warm, or sunny for most of our visit; in fact, it was occasionally rainy, cold, and overcast.  Very atypical, but we did not complain – we were still in Palm Springs, home of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and Dinah Shore and countless other Hollywood celebrities.  And we loved every minute of it.

The architecture in the Coachella Valley is way fun: it’s a type of mid-century desert modernism that embraces the mountain views and climate in its use of indoor and outdoor spaces, uses a lot of glass/windows and deep overhangs, and flatter rooftops.  Most of the the homes are in walled communities, so it is nearly impossible to really scope out the residential scene unless you are inside the walls.  The complementing furniture can be very atomic, kind of contemporary, kind of retro, low to the ground and minimally constructed with mostly just a chrome frame and some cushions with square corners – think “The Jetsons.”  Very swanky.  If you have a cocktail in your hand and Dean Martin is playing in the background, then you know you are doing Palm Springs right.

We had a fabulous time with our friends, exploring the nearby cities like Cathedral City, La Quinta (which had a BevMo! and so we introduced our friends to this liquor store/booze mecca), Indian Wells, and others.  We drove past Liberace’s former home, Sinatra’s former pad (see the picture here), and even toured a model townhouse that pretty much made us drool.  We also paid a visit to the famous Shields Date Garden in Indio and watched the short film, “Romance and Sex Life of the Date,” which was incredibly informative and held our interest despite the complete absence of anything scandalous.  Dates are incredibly labor-intensive and cannot pollinate without human assistance, which is why they are usually more expensive than, say, an apple.  We each had a famous date shake, which was delicious if rather sweet.  Very datey.

It was also gay pride weekend in Palm Springs (is that redundant?) so we enjoyed a couple of the activities including the fun parade on Sunday morning.  On Monday we ventured up Mount San Jacinto to the state park, 8516 feet above sea level, 6000 feet of which is approached via a tram (see photos).  It was in the 70s at street level, but at the top it was 30 degrees and there was 5 inches of snow on the ground from just the past two days.  It was cold as we ventured outside to snap pictures, and there were several people and many children up there who had never seen snow before.  Good for them.  Being cold weather and snow veterans, we didn’t stay outside for more than 10 minutes or so.  But the park itself is a great resource for the locals; it has trails and hikes and walks, and you can even camp there.  If it’s 120 in the city, you just have to take the tram up and spend the day on the mountain where it can be 40-50 degrees cooler.

The rest of our Palm Springs time was spent playing games, eating and drinking and laughing, and enjoying the hot tub with our friends at their gorgeous townhouse (make sure to check out their view here).  We even had the delight of having dinner one night with our two friends with whom we stayed while in Vancouver in September, who just happened to be in town this weekend.  If you will recall, we didn’t even know them before arriving in Vancouver, but because the universe intersected our lives we are now friends and made time to see each other despite our all having busy schedules over this weekend.

It definitely was a week of reunions, not just with our Twin Cities and Vancouver friends, but we also had a reunion with Joe’s parents this week.  After our time in Palm Springs we headed down the road about 10 miles to Thousand Palms, where Joe’s great aunt and great uncle live during the winter months (and who can blame them?).  Knowing that we would be here at this time, Joe’s parents drove from Wisconsin to visit with us and the extended family that is in this area.  On Sunday afternoon we had a big reunion with Joe’s dad’s cousins, whom he hasn’t seen in many years.

While headquartered in Thousand Palms, we mostly ran errands and did tasks pertaining to crossing the border and getting Uli ready.  One morning Uli went and had all his fluids changed, got new radiator hoses, and received an overall physical.  He was given a clean bill of health and is now more than ready to head into Mexico and beyond.  Erik got some new socks, we visited the Shields Date Garden again (with parents in tow), and pretty much did nothing exciting except hang out with our family and maybe make one more trip to In-N-Out Burger.  Joe’s grandmother passed away last year, so it was really fun to be around her younger sister, who bears a strong physical resemblance, has a similar laugh, the same occasional sing-songy speech patterns, and even some similar gestures.  We loved being there with them.  Joe’s great aunt even introduced us to a new wine – chocolate wine.  We will withhold public condemnation – er, judgment – other than to mention that even though all six of us partook of this not-really-chocolate/not-really-wine concoction, half the bottle was still left after dinner.

Yesterday morning (Friday) we said our goodbyes and began a two-day trip to Las Vegas, where we will spend time with Erik’s parents who are flying down from Minnesota.  Driving straight to Las Vegas would only have taken about five hours, but we chose to break it up into two parts.  The road was straight but not flat, filled with frequent dips that were reminiscent of a roller coaster.  Driving through the Mojave Desert, the landscape was flat and sandy with low, sprawling and scraggly bushes spaced several feet apart.  At one point early in the trip, our GPS informed us that we were more than 50 feet below sea level – a big change from Monday when we were 8500 feet above.  The horizon on all sides of us ended at mountain ranges, although we never seemed to be able to reach any one of them despite how far we would travel.

Our stopping point was Needles, California.  If you’ve already clicked on the date on our calendar, then you know that this is the home of Snoopy’s brother Spike.  Joe Camper went out in search of Spike at night, but he came home incoherent from too much sarsaparilla, went right to bed, and has been sleeping all morning with his hat pulled down over his eyes.  The closest we humans could get to Spike was his RV and Boat Storage, which was right across the street from our campground on historic Route 66 (see photo).  This was our first night camping in two weeks and also the first since the end of daylight savings time.  We were eating our dinner of PB&J sandwiches in the dark at 5:00.  But at least it was dry, if cool.  The nighttime temps were in the upper 40’s.

This was the first stay for either of us in Palm Springs, and we absolutely loved the area and the surrounding desert and mountains.  It is so different from what we would see every day in Saint Paul.  But today we are ready (and willing) to have our senses completely and unapologetically assaulted in another city we both love: Las Vegas!

Coming up:  All You Need Is Love

This entry was posted in U.S. (Sept - Dec 2011) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to California Desert

  1. Sheri Uelmen Kasten says:

    how nice that your folks are meeting up with you to visit! So glad to read your updates! Take care and enjoy your adventure!


  2. Amy Oriani says:

    Just finished rehearsal. Seriously missing you.

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