Droves of RVers descended upon the Palm Springs area , including Desert Hot Springs, every winter. In fact, the area is only 150 miles west of the even more popular winter RV area of Quartzite, Arizona. And you pretty much cannot call yourself an RVer without knowing about Quartzite.
I decided to go from the rainy chilly Oregon coast to the warm dry desert of southern California for several reasons. First, obviously, the weather. Second, several RVing friends were going to be there so it seemed like a good place to land. Third, its proximity to LAX (Los Angeles Airport) meant my sister could come visit.
I planned on staying a month but ended up staying two. When I arrived, I wasn’t doing too good. All the electrical outlets in Quill (my trailer) stopped working the day before I left Oregon. I thought my dog only had a few weeks left to live. Fortunately, Solstice pulled through. (But, as this posts, she is no longer with me).
So, I arrived feeling utterly defeated. I was so sad. In fact, I barely did anything the first couple weeks except cuddle my dog, coax her to eat and shove pills down her throat. Since she wasn’t eating, I couldn’t hide the pills in food. Honestly, from the start of my time there, I told myself I wouldn’t be writing a post about Desert Hot Springs because I wasn’t going to have any adventures.
But like all funks, I came out of mine. Certainly, it helped having friends in the same RV park. In fact, they gave me the RV park recommendation when I stayed in their driveway between my stays in Portland, Oregon, and Long Beach, Washington. We got together a couple days a week for cocktail hour and it helped. A lot.
The area is called the Coachella Valley and is made up of several towns. In addition to Palm Springs, there is Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indio, Cathedral City, La Quinta and Indian Wells. I thought of them collectively as the “Palm Springs area” since Palm Springs is the most well-known of the towns.
Palm Springs, of course, was the playground of the Hollywood elite. It doesn’t seem as true anymore. But movie stars visited and bought houses in the area from the 1930s into the 1970s. For instance, Nat King Cole, Liberace, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor all had houses in the area. As you can imagine, there are several tour companies that offer celebrity tours in which they highlight the houses once lived in by famous people. In addition, you can even tour the house where Elvis Presley honeymooned.
In other words, tourism is a big part of the local economy. The the area rolls up the sidewalks from April thru September. I’d heard this but then discovered it to be true as I worked on this post. I went to the website of a museum I visited to pull some information. That information is no longer on the website because high season is over. Another museum was opened most days while I was there. Now, it’s opened one day per week. Big difference.
Where I Stayed
According to Wikipedia, the area has a population of 500,000 people. That number balloons to 800,000 in January and diminishes to 200,000 in July. Weather is everything to the area.
Many of those who flood the area are RVers. So, as you might imagine, there are tons of RV parks to choose from. On average, I like to keep my monthly RV park budget between $400 and $550. Like Portland though, the Palm Springs area is popular enough to charge a more premium price. One friend who was near downtown Palm Springs paid $1,100 per month.
I paid $660 the first month and $700 the second (they’d raised the price). I stayed at the Catalina RV Resort and Spa. It was nice with beautiful pools, hot tubs and lots of socializing opportunities including classes, sports and games.
But, as I wrote in that review, they are a 5-star RV park with 1-star management practices. So, if I return to the area, with so many to choose from, I’ll definitely try another RV park. You can read my full review HERE.
Museum and Thursday Night Fair
I came out of my sadness as Solstice improved and decided I could leave her for a few hours at a time for adventures. And I found a few right up my ally. My friends had discovered that every Thursday night in Palm Springs a section of downtown is blocked off and filled with vendors and entertainment. The shops stay open. They enjoyed it and wanted to go back.
The Palm Springs Art Museum is only a few blocks from the action. And, best of all, was free on Thursday nights. You know me, I love free adventures! So we had a double-header adventure one Thursday evening.
The museum was fantastic. It was hard to pick a favorite piece because so many tugged at my heart. An entire section of glass was beautiful. But, how can you go wrong with saying your favorite piece was a 6-foot tall dog? Well, maybe that was my second favorite.
My favorite (and I forgot to photograph the information plate so I’m not sure the title) piece was a dripping carpet. You cannot tell by the photo but this is a textile, not a painting. Up close it is amazing. A carpet runner that drops in the middle. It’s a carpet waterfall.
After falling in love with food tours after my first food tour experience in Portland, I look for them now. Turns out there was a food tour in Palm Springs.
The timing was perfect because my sister’s birthday is in early February and she was going to visit then. So, I surprised her with a seven-stop food tour with Desert Tasty Tours. My friends also joined us. It was a completely different experience than the one in Portland. Firstly, it was a walking tour.
Secondly, and most surprising, we went to two places that you might not think of as being part of a food tour—a toffee candy shop (started by two high schoolers) and an oil and vinegar shop. At those places, we got samples and then a take-away gift. I loved having a take-away gift.
At the end of the tour, we received a sheet with each of our stops on it and a discount offer at each place. We were stuffed full (just like on the Portland tour), but went back to the toffee and vinegar shops to take advantage of the discount. My sister bought toffee brownies and I bought balsamic vinegar for bread dipping. Neither lasted very long.
1,000 Palms Nature Preserve
I pondered the difference between a nature preserve and a refuge on my recent trip to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. Well, today I want to add to the conversation because I ended up similarly confused in Palm Springs.
So, 10 miles east of Palm Springs in the bluffs and mesas of the Indio Hills you find the 20,000-acre Coachella Valley Preserve. But when you click on the website, you end up at 1,000 Palm Nature Preserve.
On the one hand none of this stuff matters and doesn’t lessen my enjoyment of these adventures. On the other hand, I just get so curious. It’s a mystery begging to be unraveled. The 1,000 Palms Nature Preserve is within the Coachella Valley Preserve. I figured that out pretty quickly but was left wondering how one preserve can be inside another. Isn’t that like double dipping? Overkill?
Then I found at the bottom of the “about” page what I think is the answer. It shows a map of the Coachella Valley Preserve and then various subsets of it. To the right of the map, it says “Coachella Valley Preserve Land Ownership.” And each of those subsets is owned and managed by a different government entity including US Fish and Wildlife, California Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Land Management, etc.
Mystery solved. Sort of. Really, it just left me with a bigger mystery. Why? Wouldn’t it make more sense for one agency to care for the entire area?
I’ll continue to do my sleuthing (which my sister refers to me as nosy neighbor because I always want to know everything, including stuff that’s really none of my business) and update you on any new discoveries. In the meantime, let me tell you all about the 1,000 Palms Nature Preserve.
Two Oases: Walk and Talk
First, let me share a tiny tidbit. The plural of oasis is oases. I didn’t want you to think I had an error in the heading. And it was new to me so it might be to you too.
The 1,000 Palms Nature Preserve is free and it includes 30 miles of hiking trails and the rustic cabin Visitors’ Center was built in the 1930s by Paul Wilhelm who spent most of his life in the cabin. Paul’s father had purchased 80 acres of Thousand Palms Oasis (as it was called then) for two mules and a wagon in 1905 from the original homesteader who got there three years earlier.
During the high season, the preserve offers free guided walks and hikes from volunteer naturalists. I was amazed by the quantity and variety offered. Hikes included ones that focused on wildflowers, birds, native plants and one was specifically for families. They ranged from thirty minutes to three hours. And they ranged from one mile to three miles.
While not necessary, I saw many people with hiking poles. Up Squaw Hill, they would’ve been useful. So, if you go, consider bringing yours. My problem is that I never think about hiking poles until I see someone else with them and usually that’s when I’m on the trail.
I originally chose the Oasis Chat for me and my friends. It is a one hour, one-mile desert overview and I thought it a good place to start. I liked the idea of a three-hour hike but I’m always hesitant. Get a bad tour guide and three hours is torture. Usually I sign up for tours that are about an hour.
However, the day we planned to go didn’t offer good weather so we canceled our plans. With so many options, as a result, I easily chose a different hike two days later.
We went on the Walk and Talk guided hike with Jack. It was a two-part walk and most of our group did the first hour, one-mile portion. But he was so good that we continued on with him for the second hour, second mile.
We smelled plants, rubbed leaves between our fingers, learned their properties and how ingenious people of the area used them. Then, he asked us to imagine we were Indian mothers to teach us how Squaw Hill got its name. Jack led us to the top of Squaw Hill and we figured out it was a great vantage point to keep an eye on children playing on the desert below. We even tasted the fruit from a California Fan Palm tree.
Here are a few things I learned:
- The California Fan Palm (also called the Desert Fan Palm or California Palm, and for those who love biology its official name is Washingtonia filifera) tree is the only native palm tree to southern California. The ones you think of when you think LA are not native to the area. Those are called Mexican Fan Palms.
- Oasis means water in the desert (my definition). There are places in deserts where underground water comes up which allows more things to grow and you get an oasis in the middle of the desert. The Thousand Palm Oasis is fed by water seeping up through the San Andreas Fault.
- The widest swath of the San Andreas fault line is in the Thousand Palm Nature Preserve.
- The San Jacinto Mountains (which we got an awesome view of from the top of Squaw Hill) were formed (and continues to be formed) when the San Jacinto Fault dances with the San Andreas Fault.
- Full skirt refers to a palm tree that hasn’t been trimmed.
The hike was everything you want in a guided hike: a little bit of a workout, educational, hands-on and fun. It left me wanting to go back for the other ones though I never made it.
Would I Return to the Palm Springs Area?
So, this turns out not to be an easy question for me to answer. In other words, I don’t know.
I liked the area to be sure. But I cannot say it’s on my list of places I am drawn to returning to. I’m not sure if this is more about the area or the head space I occupied while there. And you can tell by the above that I had very few adventures during my two months. And, this, in an area geared toward tourists. Consequently, should I return, I’d have plenty of new adventure opportunities.
And it’s funny because other places like Fredericksburg, Texas, Walla Walla and Long Beach, Washington, I really did most of what was offered in the area and yet they remain high on my list of places to revisit despite the fact they’d offer few new adventures.
I don’t know. Time will tell. Have you been to the Coachella Valley and what are your thoughts on the area?
Links to Referenced SSL Blog Posts Above:
- Tips for Making RV Reservations
- Obituary of a Supersize Dog
- People Come to Portland for the Food
- Willapa National Wildlife Refuge
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