Posted by Linda Watanabe McFerrin
on Jan 3rd, 2011 | 0 comments
From the Travel Notebook:
I’m back in Palm Desert again. I love deserts largely because they never cease to amaze me. Yesterday, for example, it snowed … just northwest of Palm Springs. It hasn’t snowed here for ten years. The past couple of days I’ve been spending my time in the outdoor pools because even in the middle of winter it’s warm most of the time … mid-sixties to low seventies this time of year. I actually like the desert best when it’s being “desert-y,” although hiking Death Valley in the summertime (like Tim Cahill did some years back) might be a bit of a stretch. I can warm up just thinking about past visits, like this old date with the desert:
The heat is blistering here in the Colorado Desert. I’m told temperatures in late spring and summer can climb to 124 degrees during midday. The sun is pounding down on me, frying in freckles in spite of my SPF 48 block. It is midday, and all I can think about is a date. A bag of dates actually, or maybe an ice-cold date shake. And suddenly, there they are – quivering in an oasis of air conditioning – veritable mountains of Medjools (Royal Mediterranean Jewels), Deglet Noors, soft Blondes and sweet Brunettes. No, I am not hallucinating. On this sun-kissed strip of southern California desert I’ve found a kind of Eden, a world of year-round sunshine, succulent fruit and bubbling hot springs and spas; a place of simple pleasures, a center of plenty and peace.
It used to be a secret, one that belonged first to the ancestors of the Agua Calientes, a band of Cahuilla Indians who kept it for more than 1,000 years. In 1774, Juan Bautista de Anza‘s expedition, traveling through the area, caught a quick glimpse of its potential. But it wasn’t until 1853, when a government survey mapped Palm Springs and its natural hot mineral pools that the secret was finally out. Settlers followed – a few sickly souls in need of the regenerative power that the region naturally provides and a few hardy souls agriculturally savvy enough to know that 350 days a year of sun is a very good thing, as long as you also have water. But mainly the area drew visitors who came to loaf and lounge unmolested in the kind of seclusion that distinguishes deserts.
The heat is a natural gatekeeper, and word spread quickly that this sun- baked backyard, located a mere 110 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 140 miles northeast of San Diego, was the place for the world-weary to go to get away from it all. In the 1920s, silent film stars such as Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino and Charlie Chaplin referred to the place as their second home. By 1938, when the village of Palm Springs was incorporated, it had become world famous as the winter playground of Hollywood stars such as Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, though it still retained its tiny town charm. Today, Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston have replaced Gable and Lombard. Schwarzenegger and Shriver stand in for Tracy and Hepburn. Liberace is gone; Barry Manilow isn’t; and while Greta Garbo no longer slinks around in the shadows, Lily Tomlin might show up in the supermarket. These days the “Down Valley” towns of Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Indio are included with Palm Springs in the uber-appellation of Palm Desert Resorts, but the cheek-to-jowl developments that make up this getaway destination still exert the same sleepy outback appeal.
I call it flatlining.
—Linda Watanabe McFerrin
Excerpted from an article by Linda Watanabe McFerrin first published in the San Francisco Chronicle March 28, 2004
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2004/03/28/CMGQI5DIKR14.DTL#ixzz1A0VSU3Xh