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Coachella Valley.

Floating on thermals in a hot-air balloon, you see the Coachella Valley stitched together in a quiltwork of contrasts across this pocket of the Colorado Desert. The first incngruity you notice is the verdure of vegetation poaching on desert sand.

Described by a government expedition more than a hundred years ago as "an immense waste of uninhabited country," this 25-mile stretch from Palm Springs to Indio supports 70 velvety golf courses, which drink almost a million gallons of water a day (though agricultural tiles beneath recycle more than 70 percent).

And what isn't green, it sometimes seems, is azure blue: 10,000 swimming pools and dozens of artificial lakes, streams, and cascades punctuate resort and condominium complexes.

Credit a giant aquifer (16 billion acre-feet, a gift of the Ice Age) for metamorphosing a pristine desert described in 1928 as being good for "horseback riding and hiking, hiking and horseback riding" into a semitropical fantasy-land in less than 50 years.

Today, the sheer diversity of activities available is a large part of the appeal for winter vacationers, from riding the desert range with a real cowboy to top-down cruising past chic shops, from cross-country skiing to floating in a pool under snowfrosted peaks.

The winter season--with 70[degrees] to 80[degrees] days--kicks off this month. Thanksgiving is a busy weekend, but lodging during the Christmas holidays is generally easy to get as late as early December (with limited availability right up to Christmas).

Peak season starts in mid-January with the Bob Hope golf tournament and runs through March; best bets then are mega-resorts and smaller condominiums. The April weeks that coincide with colleges' spring breaks bring crowds to lower-priced accommodations.

At resort we mention, minimum double-occupancy rates range from $175 to $275 in winter (October through May). For advice on condominium rentals, see page 26. The telephone area code is 619.



The original resort for desert rats doesn't know if it wants to go back to the grizzled old town whose first mayor was a cowboy, or let its current mayor, Sonny Bono, give it a facelift.

A certain charm still remains in Palm Springs. Eighty percent of the hotels (a city ordinance prohibits the word "motel" on signs) are small affairs with fewer than 50 rooms. One is the 56-year-old Ingleside Inn (200 W. Ramon Road; 325-0046), where Clark Gable and Carol Lombard honeymooned.

For an introduction to the Coachella Valley, visit the Palm Springs Desert Museum (101 Museum Drive; 325-7186). Besides displaying some 1,300 American Indian artifacts, it sponsors the best nature field trips ($2 to $4) in the valley. We particularly enjoyed a hike up Palm Canyon through a fan palm oasis leading to a waterfall.

Among numerous bikeways, try the Canyon Country Club loop--a 4 1/2-mile ride away from busy traffic; the recreation department (323-8272) has free maps. Rentals are available by the hour, day, or week from many bicycle shops and some resorts. Desert Cyclery (70155 Highway 111, Rancho Mirage; 321-2453) will deliver bikes throughout the valley.

Smoke Tree Stables (2500 Toledo Avenue; 327-1372) offers guided horseback rides to the Indian Canyons; cost is $40 for 2 hours.



Rancho Mirage reflects the exclusive glamour of desert life. Monikers of major streets boast of residents such as Dinah Shore and Bob Hope, and three main resorts let visitors live the life of the well-heeled.

Marriott's Rancho Las Palmas (41000 Bob Hope Drive; 568-2727), has sprawling adobe-style haciendas that are well suited to families. The Moroccan-style Westin Mission Hills (Dinah Shore and Bob Hope drives; 328-5955) reopened in August.

The sumptuous Ritz-Carlton (68900 Frank Sinatra Drive; 321-8282) backs up to a 900-acre refuge for bighorn sheep, which regularly visit the hotel to munch on the petunias. Best viewing is in mornings and afternoos; to catch a glimpse, reserve for Sunday brunch ($29.50).

Our favorite bike trail (6 1/2 miles) offers a look at action on such famous private links as Morningside and Tamarisk. It begins at Wolfson Park (Frank Sinatra and Da Vall drives).



This is the heart of the valley, with rapid growth in condos, resorts, and golf courses. The largest of the valley's mega-resorts is the 891-room Marriott's Desert Springs (74855 Country Club Drive; 341-2211), surrounded by 23 acres of lakes and waterways. Its 50-million-gallon lake starts in the lobby and extnds outdoors along 3 miles of shoreline.

Palm Desert's vast supply of condos, popular with families, gives the town a residential feel. It also helps bring traffic to a standstill. The rule of thumb is to take alternate routes to Highway 111 whenevr possible. (To connect retail centers, the city is considering a Disneyland-style monorail.)

Along six blocks of palmlined El Paseo, shops, restaurants, and art galleries make it the desert's Rodeo Drive. To see the real desert, visit The Living Desert (47900 Portola Avenue), a 1,200-acre wildlife and botanical park. Hours are 9 to 5 daily; admission costs $5.50 adults, $2.50 ages 3 through 15.



If Palm Desert is the center of the valley, La Quinta is its essence. Both the town and its world-famous resort feel intimate, off the beaten track, and old California.

La Quinta Hotel (49499 Eisenhower Drive; 564-4111) was bult 65 years ago as a 20-casita hotel at the foot of the Santa Rosa Mountains, still one of the valley's most beautiful settings. Today, Mexican-style cottages are scattered around desert gardens and 25 pools.

To sample the area, take a cowboy-led ride past wispy smoke trees and prickly ocotillo at the Ranch of the 7th Range (564-1414). Ponies are available for children as young as 5.



The valley's oldest city is also "Date Capital of the World," and it has several direct sales growers. One of the oldest is Shields Date Gardens (80225 Highway 111; 347-0996); it has a tasting room, and a theater continuously shows Romance and the Sex Life of the Date.

Indio is also known for polo. Eldorado Polo Club (342-2223) and Empire Polo Club (342-3321) are both on 51st Avenue between Monroe and Jefferson streets. Except for some celebrity tournaments and special events, admission is free. Picnic on the lawns to enjoy the mixed ambience of cowboys drinking beer in the back of pickups parked next to limos hosting tailgate parties of champagne and catered food.


If you want to golf around, some 30 courses are open to the public. A short list of our favorites includes Indian Wells ($80 greens fee), La Quinta ($100), Marriott's Desert Springs ($100), Mesquite Country Club ($60), PGA West ($175), and Westin Mission Hills ($80). (Some private courses have reciprocal arrangements with lodging facilities.)

A lesson at the Institute of Golf in Palm Desert (341-2491) costs $30. The Junior Golf Clinic (341-4323), for ages 6 through 17, offers free lessons 1:30 to 3 Saturdays.

Desert Adventures (324-3378) 3uns a 2-hour trolley tour highlighting Palm Springs' heritage and the Indian Canyons. Or take a 3-hour jeep ride into the Santa Rosa Mountains or along the San Andreas Fault. You'll learn how Cahuilla Indians roasted stalks of agave so they tasted like asparagus, and such tidbits as the fact that Wyatt Earp once owned a gold mine here. Daily tours cost $25 to $125.

Covered Wagon Tours (347-2161) leads mule-drawn prairie schooners through the Coachella Valley Preserve. Cost is $40 adults, $20 ages 7 through 16.

California Jeep Rentals (322-9799) rents daily ($50) or weekly ($290) to those who want to explore off-road on their own.


The bigger your family or the longer your stay, the more you may want to considera condominium or rental home. While you won't get daily maid service, you will--in general--get a place to cook, a washer and dryer, and more living space.

On a daily basis, most two-bedroom condominiums are comparable in price to the double-occupancy hotel rooms we've mentioned. Weekly and monthly rates vary greatly, but an average two-bedroom condo costs $750 to $1,000 a week, $1,500 to $2,000 a month.

Most condos are in Palm Springs or Palm Desert, but some are available in other communities as well. Call Continental Properties (772-9951), Desert Condo Rentals (320-6007), Desert Sunshine Rentals (568-9629), The Rental Connection (320-7336), or Sunrise Company Rentals (345-5695)
COPYRIGHT 1991 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Title Annotation:Travel and Recreation; California
Date:Nov 1, 1991
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