02-01 Days in the Coachella Valley

Palm Springs at Night is always lit up beautifully

Often when we are visiting this part of the desert, we fill up the days with lots of “doings”.  This time we decided that we needed a bit more “being” and a little less “doing”.  That didn’t mean we wanted to sit around all the time doing nothing but hanging out, but we did limit our excursions to one thing per day for the rest of our week at Catalina Spa.  Not counting swimming and reading of course, those two were on the list every single day. 

I finished knitting a winter scarf in camo colors for my great grandson, who loves all things camo.  Managed to get it mailed from the Desert Hot Springs post office in plenty of time.  On our first afternoon in town, after setting up at Catalina, we decided that it was time, after 8 years of driving east on Dillon Road from Indian Canyon road, past the Dillon Burger and Grill that we needed to stop for one of their down home hamburgers. 

The ambience of the bar was great, funky old bar with fun people eating and drinking, a bunch of guys from some plumbing company on a work break, and a bunch of bikers on the patio enjoying the sunshine.  The burgers were decent, not fancy or fabulous, but decent, and at 4.95 each our lunch was under 20 bucks including the beer and wine.

On another day we explored the stone sculptures at the big yard down on Dillon Road.  Another place we have passed often and never visited.  The sculptures were amazing, the artist was a character, and he talked to us about the cost of installation and transportation for these gorgeous pieces of nature’s art.  He has installations all over the country.  We imagined one the of pillars with windows sitting by our driveway at the entrance to the new house, but probably will never pop for the $5000. it would cost to do that.


On Thursday afternoon, we made the half hour drive into Palm Springs to enjoy an early dinner at a restaurant we enjoy.  Macarena’s is  Mexican place right in the center of town, with outdoor seating along the main street where every Thursday night there is a great street fair.  We got a streetside table and good service while watching the vendors set up their booths for the evening festivities.  The Happy Hour appetizer menu had perfect choices for each of us to share,and I had a killer good marguerita to go with it. I like it when a Mexican restaurant has good flavors that surprise me, instead of the same ole same ole.  Dinner was delicious and we ate every bite, no leftovers!  It is easy when you order appetizers instead of the full course deal.

As darkness fell, we joined the throngs walking down the center of the road, enjoying all the vendors and art for sale.  Before we left home, Mo and I scoped out some large exterior walls of the new house, thinking we needed a bit of house art.  I thought at the time that we might find something either in Palm Springs, or Tubac, Arizona, and we scored in both places.  We found a beautiful sun sculpted in stainless steel by a local artist at the street fair, and I managed to get through the crowd of people without puncturing anyone with the pointy sun rays.  Photos will come later for this piece, waiting now in our garage for the bad weather to lift before we decide exactly where it will be placed on the house.

As the evening wore on, the crowds thickened to the point of being tiresome. We were really glad that we came early and had supper before strolling the street fair.  We were back home by 7 fully satisfied with our meal and our outing and ready to settle in for another swim.  It was hard to share the pool with all those other people, you know the ones, the noodlers.  It seems that evening time is when folks like to “noodle”, where they all gather in little pods, floating on their noodles and chatting and laughing.  I have no problem at all with that, but I do wish that they would at least leave me a tiny lane on the far edge of the pool to actually swim.  Another reason I miss my 3 AM swims.  I actually like to swim!

The next day we woke up early to travel south again to Palm Desert to visit the Living Desert.  We went there for the first time in the winter of 2016, just after the little giraffes were born.  Those babies are now 2 year olds, and there are more young ones that are part of the group now. 

We arrived in time for the morning feeding, and while we were on the other side of the feeding fence, we laughed watching all the little kids holding out carrots to be wrapped up by those long black tongues.  Their responses were almost more fun than watching the giraffes.

The Living Desert is a zoo, but an accredited one that does great things for endangered species.  Our timing was good for this visit because unlike last time, the animals were out and about, including the wolves and especially the jaguars.  Those are truly amazing cats, who kill by using their powerful jaws to crush the head of their prey rather than going for the jugular as most cats do when killing. 

The 3 cheetah sisters were a new addition since our last visit, and they were wonderful to watch.  Each day they have the cheetah runs, where the handlers feed them at opposite ends of their enclosure, both for our enjoyment and exercise for them.  Cheetahs need to run.  It was amazing watching those long lanky bodies stretch out even for short distances.

We had to find the meerkats, of course.  I still think that Mattie is part meerkat.  I know I know, but she sure does look like one when she sits on her hind end, straight up, and turns her head from side to side with her little pointy nose in the air.  Pure meerkat.  We confirmed that when we saw the meerkats once again.  They have to be on the list of cutest animals ever.

The gardens are beautiful, even in winter, and walking the pathways will get in a good 3 miles of walking without even trying.  It is spendy, at $17.95 per senior person, but worth it.  I think we might have to go at least every other year, if not every year.

We returned to another favorite place for a lovely morning hike.  The Big Morongo Canyon Refuge is just half an hour up the hill to the north in the Morongo Valley.  It is a no dog hike, but thankfully Mattie is happy to wait at home in her MoHo bed if we want to head out for some non doggie entertainment.

We had hiked this area in the past, and knew it would provide lovely views and great open space.  It was quite chilly when we started out at 7:30 in the morning, but by the time we returned we had shed sweaters and were back to sleeveless shirts.

Unlike the Indian Canyons at Taquitz and Palm Canyon, this hike is free, but doesn’t have the waterfalls and streams, but also doesn’t have the crowds, at least when we went.  We passed a few people on various portions of the trail, but most of the time we had the refuge to ourselves to enjoy. 

In between all the activity, we still managed a lot more down time for walks with the dog, swims, reading in the chairs in the shade, and just enjoying the 80 degree temperatures, heaven after a foggy winter in Grants Pass.

01-15-2017 Wonders of the Coachella Valley

Current Location: Orange Grove RV Park, Bakersfield, California  46 F with a foggy overcast

We are parked this evening at Orange Grove, once again picking oranges to brighten winter days at home.  I am watching the big rigs roll in, up to 4 and 6 at a time, and once again the park is completely full tonight.  It is such an easy stop, after the long drive down the slopes of Tehachapi Pass.  Level pull-through sites, full hookups, nice people to check you in, quick and easy, and yes, the oranges.  It is always about the oranges.

Leaving the Coachella Valley today was bittersweet.  It was perhaps the most blue sky day since we arrived, with temperatures predicted to be in the mid 60’s.  There wasn’t a cloud in the sky when I slipped into the pool at 6am to swim through the sunrise lighting up a few small, low clouds in the east and turning the snows on Mt San Jacinto to the west a brilliant pink. 

That sea of green are the tops of all the domestic palms planted in the landscape of Palm Springs

With a short goodbye to new friend Claudia, we were on the road a little after 9am, enjoying the gorgeous light.  We decided again to take the slightly longer and a little bit slower route  through Yucca Valley, north on Highway 247 to Barstow, before intersecting I-40 West.  As we drove through the wide open desert, through what Mo called “A whole lotta nothing”, I basked in that whole lotta nothing.  It is why we love the desert, and this last nostalgic drive north on 247 is a fitting leave-taking of Southern California.

We are timing the trip north to slip between storms, with good forecasts for the next two days as we travel home to Grants Pass.  We also decided to try something different this time, and we will take the old route 99 toward Lodi instead of the wide and incredibly bumpy Interstate 5.  I’ll let you know how that goes.

The title of this blog post is also the title of a great little book that I found at the Indian Canyons visitor center a few days ago when we hiked Palm Canyon.  Wonders of the Coachella Valley, by James W. Cornett, is a lovely small guide to ten of the best natural places to visit in the area.  After 7 annual visits to this area, we are still finding new places to explore.  Finally, after our hike yesterday, we have been to all ten written about in this great book about some of the local natural history. 

Taquitz Canyon is one more treasure, another beautiful canyon at the edge of Palm Springs.  It is owned by the Aqua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians, as are the Indian Canyons we visited previously.  This canyon, however, has a separate visitor center and a separate entrance.  The cost to hike the 2 mile trail is $12.50 per person and worth every penny.  There are no senior discounts, but it is free to folks with a military ID, either active or retired.

The history of the canyon goes back at least 2,000 years, with evidence of humans occupying the area at that time, traveling to the Ancient Lake Cahuilla for fish, and building materials for their homes, and returning to the lands near the canyon for other plant and animal food sources.  Included with the entrance fee is the opportunity to view the short film about the legend of Taquitz, and the reason that no Native Americans have chosen to live within the canyon itself.

More recent history of the canyon is interesting, with hippies living in caves during the 60’s, and vagrants and trespassers ignoring the no trespassing signs.  Even though it belonged to the tribe, they didn’t have the resources to maintain the trails and keep out the vagrants.  We read several newspaper articles displayed from the last few decades that document the problems in the canyon, and the eventual successful restoration of this magical place.  The tribal people have cleaned it up, kept it clean and free of scary squatters, and allow us to walk the beautifully maintained trails to one of the loveliest waterfalls I have seen in this part of the world. 

There are lots of stone steps leading up the canyon, and the small stone bridges crossing the active creek are works of art.  I love a loop trail, and this one follows both sides of the creek to the falls, so there are options to go in either direction.  I think we picked the best, staying toward the right as we left the visitor center.  I don’t mind climbing up all the steps, with a knee that likes ups much more than downs, and I think there were fewer steps on the other side of the creek on our route downhill.

Even on a sunny Saturday around 11 there weren’t so many people on the trail that it was uncomfortable.  It is a hike that can be completed by just about anyone willing to climb the steps and we saw families with kids, runners in bright shoes, and old people with walking sticks enjoying the trail. 

The falls is enclosed in shadow, and judging from the high walls surrounding the cascade, I would imagine that the sun never shines in that alcove.  The sound was beautiful, but even with only a few people on the trail, it felt as though it would be hogging the scene to hang around too long.  Everyone wanted their photo right in front of the falls, and it was only fair to take turns.

With the dark shadows and dim light it was difficult to capture the beauty of the white bark of the huge old sycamores that thrive in the moist soils of the canyon floor and at the base of the falls.  With the brilliant yellow brittlebush that covers the hillsides not yet blooming, our only spot of color was Justica californica, Chuparosa, with a salvia type flower that was brilliant red.  Chuparosa is a colloquial Spanish word for hummingbird bush, and I did see a hummingbird hanging around in the lower part of the canyon.

Our hike was a perfect finale to the 11 days we spent in the Coachella Valley, finally visiting a beautiful place that no one should miss when traveling to this area. We now have seen all ten places listed in the book, and yet there are many more trails to explore within each of those sites. 

I know we will come back.  Whether for a day or a few, this valley is on our way to whatever desert we chose to explore.  No matter the shifts and changes at Catalina Spa, I am reasonably certain we will park there again as well.  Who knows what we will find the next time we come.  I still miss the “lower” pool, and the bigger one in the upper park is a substitute.  But it worked, I still was able to swim in the middle of the night or at sunrise, and had the pool to myself.  That is still the best part of Catalina Spa for me.

For Mattie, I think the dog park is fun, but the best part for her is the open desert to the north of the park, filled with debris from park cleanups, but also filled with rabbit smells and open space where she can run off leash a bit.  Mo and I like walking out there as well, watching whatever lightshow appears for us on the distant mountains.

I do feel incredibly lucky to have the chance to escape to the deserts, no matter how long or how short the trip may be.  There was a time, as my daughter reminded me on the phone today, when February would put me in a dark place. I don’t take for granted the shifts in my life that allow me the freedom to roam, to wander, to swim at dawn or hike on a weekday, or sit in a fabulous movie theater on a rainy afternoon.  Retirement really is incredible.