Sunday, January 12, 2014

Palm Springs and the San Jacinto Mountains

There comes a point for some people when making big plans for New Year's Eve is about as attractive as scrubbing out the bathtub. Sure, there was a time when I wanted to go to a club, stay up all night, and not recall what happened the next day. But that period ended for me when I was about 25. Nowadays, if I have a couple days off I want to go to a good restaurant, shop for vintage stuff, and share a nice bottle of wine with Anson. Yes, I am old, but I'm okay with that.
So this past NYE, Anson and I carried on our new tradition of a local road trip and returned to Palm Springs.    
I can't go to Palm Springs without doing a little vintage shopping, so our first stop was Victoria's Attic Antique Mall in Cathedral City, a few miles southeast of Palm Springs. Sure, there are really pricey, mid-century stores all along Hwy. 111 (Palm Canyon Drive) leading into Palm Springs, but this was a true vintage shop, with great prices and enough merchandise to keep someone like me busy for hours. I bought two beautiful Japanese cork-topped ceramic storage jars for the kitchen for $18.
We moved on to downtown Palm Springs, which was bustling with people on this summery winter day. The main drag through downtown is Palm Canyon Drive, where you'll find dozens of independent restaurants, fudge stores, "resort wear," galleries, and bars. We had a relaxing lunch at Kaiser Grille, where we sat on the patio and had a front-row view of the busy sidewalk.
The biggest draw in downtown Palm Springs seems to be this three-story statue of Marilyn Monroe, which was installed last summer in honor of the 50th anniversary of her death. It was fun to watch the crowd of people patiently wait their turn, and then step up to be photographed between her legs. Full disclosure--had it not been so crowded, we probably would have done the same.
By late afternoon, it was time to move on to our destination--The Mojave Resort. We found this hotel several years ago and have returned a couple times since to take advantage of the great location just off the El Paseo shopping district in Palm Desert (about 15 miles southeast of Palm Springs), the really reasonable room rates, and it's mid-century modern charm.
The fireplace was really the clincher for us. But the large, comfortable bed, mid-century furnishings, friendly staff and a generous continental breakfast with delicious coffee certainly don't hurt.
No matter how cold (and yes, it gets cold in the desert), we always spend some time in the little hot tub.  The front desk will happily provide you with plastic cups enjoy a glass of wine tub-side.
The Mojave Resort, like many in the area, is a remodeled classic motel, and as a result the oversized rooms include a private patio that opens onto a center courtyard. No shoebox rooms with a view of the rooftop air conditioning unit here.
And in the center of the courtyard is a trapezoidal pool for cooling off, if you happen to be there any time other than the winter. 
We dined at Matchbox that night to celebrate our ninth(!) anniversary. Good thing we made reservations because the restaurant was packed with the panicked-people-desperately-feeding-toddlers crowd. Luckily, we were seated on the balcony, where we scarfed down a delicious meatball pizza and spicy sausage pasta.

After a cozy night watching Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper in Times Square, warmed by our fireplace and red wine, we decided to take the long way home--south through the San Jacinto mountains. 
First, we made the steep climb on the "Pines to Palms" Highway 74 where we looked back on Palm Desert and the San Gabriel Mountains in the north. In most years, you'll see snow-topped peaks up there.
Then, slowly, the road leveled off, and we found ourselves in a totally different landscape of pine trees, tall grass, horse farms, and...
...Lake Hemet! We never would have guessed there is a lake at the top of the mountains. As I was reading up on the area after, I learned that the San Jacinto mountains are considered a "sky island" because of the vast difference between the ecosystem in the mountains and that of the valley floor. Now you know too.
Hippie tree hugger.
And after a brief detour through the charming town of Idyllwild, we came out on the south end, overlooking the San Jacinto Valley. From there we descended to the valley floor, ending up in Hemet. A quick stop at our favorite winery, Hart Winery in Temecula, with Anson's parents and we were on our way home from a whirlwind trip to the desert.
After living in Southern California for 20 years it's nice to know there is still more to explore.

1 comment:

  1. Would you believe I've never been to Palm Springs?

    And to indulge my inner eight-year-old (and ask the question that is likely on at least one other person's mind): Is Miss Monroe wearing skivvies under there?


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