A fine site

Palm Springs and Environs

Being in San Diego is great , but one tends to develop certain rituals in everyday life especially of living separately for three months, so when Howard returns for a visit, he shakes things up a bit and that adds to the chaos, but also the fun.

So we decided we would drive 2 hours towards Palm Springs. And because friends weigh in on what to do and see, we follow suggestions. It’s hard to imagine a much more majestic vista than Joshua Tree National Park. Immediately the formations of huge granite rock ,that look like sandstone but are 250 million years old and predate the dinosaurs , remind me of Ayers Rock in Australia. We are in Hidden Valley and Jumbo Rocks Area. Interestingly, rock climber learners are attempting to scale the fairly smooth surfaces, planting their ropes and wires into the ledges, cautiously ferreting out spots to plant their feet.

The formations are incredible, sone resembling dolphins and whales, others faces, and the most incredible piles upon piles of boulders, all sizes. Against a clear blue sky, they are awe- inspiring and one can really imagine how immense dinosaurs were in contrast to these stony mountains. Paths lead into “ these exhibits” as they are listed from the road and the Joshua trees are ubiquitous. I learn they are not cactus, but a part of the agave family, some even with tight white blooms resembling faded hydrangeas. Because their innards are fibrous, Joshua trees are hard to date although a typical lifespan would be 150 years. Mormons believed the arms of the trees resembled Joshua leading the the faithful to the promised land.

There are picnic areas in the park and in spite of this being desert, it is pretty chilly late February and we are up high. But the air quality is could easily spend a day exploring.

We drive to a viewing ledge called Keys View where the San Andreas fault, Indio Hills, Coachella Valley, Salton Sea and San Bernardino Mountains are visible amidst the point where the Mohave and Colorado deserts merge. Again, a breath- taking view with very different textured hills, scrubby green to smooth grey against a cerulean blue sky partly eclipsed by streams of fluffy clumping clouds.People perch on the overhanging cliffs and gaze.

However, one wonders why the tourist information centres are outside of the park. In deed when we stop for a coffee at the official visitor centre located at the base, the café door – where we likely would have purchased a box lunch before entering the park, is not only closed, but the people sitting on chairs outside of it are rudely informed to go somewhere else because the Café is now closed. It’s about 2 o’clock.

No one would expect , especially since there are overnight ( not to exceed 14 nights!) camping sites, that the information is OUTSIDE the park itself. In any case, we had warm clothes, beautiful sights and although I would have liked to visit the cactus garden, we will return- ether packing our own tasty sandwiches or arriving early enough to avoid the ire of the café lady.

On the next day, we walk El Paseo in Palm Desert, not to be confused with Palm Springs. As Howard wears his Blue Jay shirt proudly we are constantly stopped by other Canadians. They are here from Brampton, Winnipeg and London,Ontario. It is a gorgeous walk of high class shops beneath palm trees that stretch to the skies with many hidden passages of more fancy shops for the rich elite. It’s before noon but only the Canadian visitors are prowling the streets, enjoying the sunshine and the snow capped mountains that frame the scene .

For something completely different after walking the poor cousin strip of Palm Springs, we do a self tour of the movie star homes, of old Hollywood. Although the guy behind the counter of Ace hotel has marked the must- sees, we follow the entire map. Not surprisingly, many are behind blockades of trees: Dean Martin’s practically on the street seems pretty ordinary and Frank Sinatra’s place actually looks pretty run down; Bing Crosby’s also looks as if it needs some ( actually a lot of)  work. Howard, a Sinatra buff, wonders where is the enclave Sinatra constructed for JFK but never lived in. According to the biography, JFK’s father felt Sinatra had too many mafia connections and persuaded Jack not to accept the generosity of his host. Sinatra was more than miffed. Yet we see no evidence of another house.

Marilyn Monroe’s resembles a cottage, kinda cute with awnings and curlicues above doors in white and black and I think I may have seen scenes of this house, perhaps of her overdosing here. The only house that is not completely or partially obscured is Elvis and Priscilla’s,   an overhanging gable in orange hangs out over the lush lawn and a running fountain descends besides their love nest. It is impressive. If you peer over the tree edge, Ron and Nancy Reagan’s looks very Mexican in style and quite lovely. One can almost imagine Nancy swishing through siena tiled floors as she her high heels, likely red, clapp against the ceramic floors. Leonardo di Carprio’s is partly obscured although it is fantastically landscaped with a great carefully shaped tree mid-entrance. This was Dinah Shore’s estate previously. We smirk as there is a garage for three cars for this energy conscious star. Because there are only service vehicles and no other rubes in this secluded area today, we can gawk and peer, imagining the stars, cigarettes dangling from their mouths, slightly tipsy from alchol or drugs, their hubbub of former irreverent days in these quiet winding streets.

Having enquired of our Uber driver what he suggests we should see within our limited time, he recommends Sunnylands Center and Gardens. Nine and a half acres with paths to wander are covered with fantastic gardens. There is aloe vera, ocotillo, palo verde, Texas ebony, mesquite, milkwood, golden barrel, lady slipper plants and cacti all meticulously arranged and perfect for rambling or meditation. In a performance circle, a performer in blue becomes a living sculpture. Indoors we pause at a display of Steuben glass delicately incised with diverse designs submitted from around the world. Unfortunately we have not purchased( online) tickets for the Annenberg house although a documentary film has wowed us with the family residence that includes recognizable paintings by Gauguin, Renoir and Van Gogh. The Annenbergs, originally from Philadelphia, hosted numerous presidents and their home considered equal to Camp David. Most recently Barack Obama rambled the gardens withthe president of China, Nixon as well, a friend and guest. Both husband and wife worked as US ambassadors. I’m surprised to learn that Annenberg was the publisher of TV guide and Seventeen magazine, but interestingly but perhaps not surprisingly, the documentary film shares that Annenberg’s father went to jail for tax fraud, no doubt, the seed money for the wealth and eventual philanthropy. 

A work of Modernism, the house was created in three short years, huge windows allowing for the outside to enter the premises, with indoor pools and sculptures appearing to naturally coalesce. Modernism Week has just passed in Palm Springs and I had noted there was a tour of the house during that time, so I’m a bit disappointed we’ve bypassed that opportunity. However , I’m quite sure we will return-here and to Joshua Tree National Park: these are places that call you back.

Add delicious dinners at Copleys and Spencer’s, perfect weather and you have a sense of our time in Palm Springs.

In the midst of all this, our baby granddaughter arrived in Philadelphia: Georgia on my mind, and always associated with the beauty of Palm Springs.

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