Printer Friendly

MOJAVE MECCA : DISCOVERING DESERT DELIGHTS AROUND PALM SPRINGS.

Byline: Carol Bidwell Daily News Staff Writer

A manmade oasis in the Mojave Desert, Palm Springs was a mecca to movie stars seeking relaxation in the 1930s and '40s. Kids looking for a place to bust loose during spring break discovered it in the 1960s, then a decade or so later, golfers descended, attracted by the carefully irrigated spots of green in that hot, brown desert.

Now families are finding it's a great spot for a short vacation, particularly in the cooler months.

Although Palm Springs is a city, its borders seamlessly intertwine with six other desert communities - Cathedral City, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage - to make up a desert oasis of nearly 171,000 people.

Many visitors to the desert areas go simply for relaxation, sunning around the hotel pool, golfing on some of the 85 golf courses or cruising Palm Canyon Drive in a convertible with the top down.

But there's lots more to do. Here are some sights to see:

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Palm Springs: The ride to the top of 8,516-foot-high Mount San Jacinto in one of two 80-passenger, seatless cars would be a cliche if it weren't such fun. As the 1-1/4-mile ride begins, the cars dangle on a 2-inch-thick cable over desert landscape far below; nearer the top, they slide frighteningly close to the rocky mountain face.

Each car pauses for just a moment as it skims each of five steel towers, then briefly drops a few feet as it dips back onto the dangling cable, giving passengers a thrilling taste of weightlessness for a second or two.

But the real thrill is stepping out amid snow and pine trees in Mount San Jacinto Wilderness State Park; the temperature at the top is usually 30 to 40 degrees cooler than the desert below.

Many families bring backpacks filled with hiking gear or a picnic lunch; others rent cross-country skis at the top and spend the day in the snow. Others opt for a burro-train ride. The visitors center includes a snack bar, gift shop, small natural history museum and tiny theater that shows a 22-minute film documenting the building of the tramway.

Village Green Heritage Center, Palm Springs: Here, in this parklike setting adjacent to busy Palm Canyon Drive, you'll find a microcosm of the history of this desert oasis, born as a dusty stagecoach stop in 1872 and officially founded as a farm community in 1879 by John Guthrie McCallum, a San Francisco lawyer.Soon, a thriving community had taken root, helped along by a tunnel through the mountains to provide a year-round water supply.

The Heritage Center consists of two pioneer homes plus a re-created Depression-era general store; the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, which displays American Indian arts and artifacts, also shares the site.

The McCallum Adobe, built by the town's founder, is the oldest building in town; it houses a collection of memorabilia from the earliest days of Palm Springs. Next door is Miss Cornelia's ``Little House,'' built in 1893 of railroad ties from the defunct Palmdale Railway and showing off the finest of period furniture and knickknacks.

The most fascinating of the center's buildings is Ruddy's 1930s General Store Museum, which houses the personal collection of local resident Jim Ruddy. It's a throwback to the days of Uneeda Biscuits, Rinso laundry soap and and pickle barrels, with neatly stocked shelves of patent medicines, toys and other items found in local general stores nearly 70 years ago.

But nothing's for sale, said curator Marian Weigel.

``Almost everything on the shelves is unused products in their original packages,'' Weigel said. ``If he runs across something else that's unusual, he might add it. But he doesn't have room for much else, really.''

Cabot's Old Indian Pueblo Museum, Desert Hot Springs: Cabot's, a cross between a junk yard and a desert outpost, stands on the edge of the desert, where Cabot Yerxa - a veteran of the Alaska gold fields - homesteaded 60 acres in 1913.

Yerxa wandered the desert, picking up whatever he thought would be of use and hauling it home; he used many of those materials to start this four-story, Hopi-style adobe home in 1941, and continued to build until his death in 1965 at age 83.

``He'd find an abandoned cabin and bring back the lumber and add onto this house,'' said Colbert H. Eyraud, who now owns and leads tours through the weird, rusty desert wonderland. ``If he needed nails and he found a cabin, he'd burn it down, wait till the fire cooled down, and collect the nails to use on this house.''

Judging by the adobe's construction, Yerxa was either crazy or a practical joker: The home, crammed with wooden Indians, old newspapers, photos, American Indian artifacts and crockery, contains 35 mostly tiny rooms, 65 doors and 150 windows - ``every one a different size, shape and design,'' Eyraud said.

Yerxa even installed an open-ended pipe in the living room wall so the rattlesnakes could slither in from the desert and curl up on the sandy floor in front of the rock fireplace to keep him company. When his wife demanded her own upstairs apartment to get away from the snakes, he built her one - up an impossibly steep, narrow flight of stairs, with a 12-inch door at the top.

The Living Desert, Palm Desert: Straddling the boundary that separates Palm Desert and Indian Wells, this 1,200-acre open-air zoo and botanical garden gives city folks a look at what desert terrain and its inhabitants are like - without the accompanying dangers.Paths wind through areas designed to simulate desert areas throughout the world, with animals and birds native to those areas caged or penned nearby: Big-horn sheep have their own mountain to roost on, Asian wild cats (very much like domestic tabby cats) hide in the foliage, Arabian oryxes snooze in the shade, desert tortoises ease over rocks and dunes.

Shields Date Gardens, Indio: One of the oldest date producers in Indio, Shields produces 119 types of dates that it ships to more than 150,000 customers worldwide. Visitors can wander among the date palms, sample date milkshakes and other treats at a gift shop/soda fountain, and learn about date production via a movie.

Newly married to his bride, Bess, Floyd Shields bought 13 desert acres in 1924 and gambled his future on 25 date palms imported from Algeria. In the film, Floyd explains that it takes only one male palm to pollinate 48 female palms, producing up to 100 pounds of dates per tree.

``Nature made no adequate provision to polinate the date,'' Floyd explained. So humans do it, using powder puffs to collect pollen from the male date palm and dusting the pollen over the female flowers in February, March and April.

Las Palmas Carriage Tour, Palm Springs: For fans of old movies, a perfect end to a day in here is an evening ride in a horse-drawn carriage through the town's oldest residential area, the Las Palmas District, where stars like Clark Gable and Carole Lombard and Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and others used to relax.

John Mertz, owner of the Palm Springs Carriage Co., steered his horse, Danny, up and down the dark streets of downtown, Mertz, himself a movie buff, pointed out the O'Donnell Golf Club, a vast expanse of green where stars such as Johnny Carson and Bob Hope have played since 1925. ``Membership is so exclusive, you almost have to be born into it,'' Mertz said.

The carriage slowly slid past Our Lady of Solitude Catholic Church, where President John F. Kennedy worshipped while vacationing here; the home where showman Liberace died (a candelabra shimmers outside the front door), which the new owner rents out for posh parties; and the modest ranch home where Gable and Lombard once trysted before their marriage.

Leaning back in the open-air carriage, gazing at a desert sky full of stars, it's easy to see why all those movie stars, golfers and college kids ended up here - for a weekend or two, anyway.

On Location

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway cars depart every half-hour from the Valley Station at the west end of Tramway Road starting at 10 a.m. weekdays, 8 a.m. on weekends. The last car leaves the mountop at 9:45 p.m. (10:45 p.m. in summer); cost is $16.95 for adults, $10.95 for children. Information: (619) 325-1391.

The Living Desert, at 47-900 Portola Ave., Palm Desert, is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily September through mid-June. Admission is $6 for adults, $5.25 for seniors 62 and older, $3 for children age 3-15. Information: (619) 346-5694.

Cabot's Old Indian Pueblo Museum, at 67-616 E. Desert View, Desert Hot Springs, is open 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. Admission is $2.50 for adults, $2 for seniors 65 and older and $1 for children over age 5. Information: (619) 329-7610.

Palm Springs Carriage Co. tours leave from the corner of Tahquitz Canyon and Palm Canyon roads; hours vary. Costs range from $8 for 20-minute carriage rides along Palm Canyon Drive to $20 (two-person minimum) for a one-hour celebrity tour. Information: (619) 320-8765.

The Village Green Heritage Center is at 221 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs. Admission is 50 cents for each museum; open noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Sunday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, October through May. Information: (619) 323-8297. Ruddy's 1930s General Store is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays October through June, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays only July through September; admission is 50 cents. Information: (619) 327-2156.

Shields Date Gardens is at 80-225 Highway 111, Indio; open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Memorial Day through Labor Day, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. the rest of the year; no admission fee. Information: (619) 347-0996.

CAPTION(S):

3 Photos, Box

Photo: (1--Color) From atop Mount San Jacinto, visitors can see much of the seven cities that make up the Palm Springs area, which has become an oasis for families looking for new sights to see.

(2--Color) Cabot's Museum was built by a 1913 homesteader. At left, a carving of an Indian brave decorates the front yard.

(3) The Living Desert, a combination garden and zoo, gives visitors an idea of what the desert is like - without the desert dangers.

Carol Bidwell/Daily News

Box: On Location (See Text)
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:TRAVEL
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 24, 1996
Words:1757
Previous Article:GETTING COZY WITH MOBSTERS OVER GOLF LINKS AND KARAOKE.
Next Article:B&B REVIEW : INN SERVES UP A BIT OF OLD JAPAN IN DESERT OASIS.


Related Articles
FREIGHT TRAIN CARRYING HAZARDOUS LOAD DERAILS.
WORK BEGINS ON REROUTING HIGHWAY 58 CLEAR OF MOJAVE.
NO FRILLS - JUST A ROOM.
POSTCARDS : MORE SPICE IN PALM SPRINGS LIFE.
JUST DESERTS : AT JOSHUA TREE, HIKERS FIND A UNIQUE SETTING.
HOT ... IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE WATER PARKS, MARGARITAS AND GREAT FOOD MAKE PALM SPRINGS COOL - EVEN IN SUMMER.
MINI-MARVEL IN THE MOJAVE DESERT GETAWAY COMBINES '40S AMBIENCE AND LUXURIOUS DETAIL.
STANDING TALL ROUGH TIMES FOR JOSHUA TREES, BUT NAMESAKE NATIONAL PARK REMAINS A TREASURE.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2018 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters