Friday, October 12, 2007

Palms to Pines in Palm Springs

Photo: Near the Palm Desert end of the Palms to Pines Highway, near Palm Springs, California. Note there are NO palms or pines visible here. Looking into the Coachella Vally towards route 10.
Photo: by/COPYRIGHT 2007 Ross Care

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Took a new route to Palm Springs last week, the Palms to Pines Highway, something I’ve always wanted to do. (Tried this on my last trip but the high winds on the Palm Desert end buffeted the Honda so violently we turned back at about 3,000 feet).

Going east from LA on route 10 you pick up the highway, route 243, at Banning (just before the Cabazon casino and dinosaurs). Palms to Pines quickly winds from low to high desert, soon hitting about 5,000 feet where the pine forests begin. Once in the pines the landscape becomes quite similar to the Sierras and northern California. In the midst of this is Idyllwild, an “Alpine village” and artsy-craftsy stopover in the mountains before the descent into more high desert. (Off-season it was pretty much of a snooze and reminded me of Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania).

On the way to Idyllwild is a beautiful little lake, the name of which I do not recall at the moment. This little gem, nestled in beautiful woods of oak and other deciduous trees, is however also suffering from the current western dry spell. A ranger told us it is a natural lake fed by rain and snow melt and of course we’ve had very little of any of that for many seasons now. The pea green color of the water is due, we were told, to the proliferation of algae, now so pervasive that the lake is being studied by UCLA and cannot even be stocked with fish. Even so it’s one of the prettiest, most tranquil spots I’ve seen in southern California.

Moving on from Idyllwild route 74 and the descent begins. The landscape shifts almost immediately, and moves though a huge flat valley plateau of high desert that is unlike anything you see in the lower Coachella Valley/Palm Springs deserts. Getting closer to the posh town of Palm Desert the landscape takes on almost Biblical proportions. A huge chasm appears on the right side of the road, a kind of mini-Grand Canyon that could easily serve as the backdrop for a film of Jesus (played by Jeffery Hunter, of course) being tempted by Satan.

Stopping a bit to explore the roadside one could look apprehensively into the abyss and on the other side of the road observe the remnants of the flash floods that can rampage through the area. Hard as that may be to believe in this arid environment the evidence is there in the shattered plant life (and unfortunately) the trash – beer cans, bottles, whatever – left in the aftermath of the floods.

Mostly everything about the Palm Springs area is surreal, but nothing more so than coming down from the high desert wilderness heights of this end of the Palms to Pines highway into the posh town of Palm Desert. In the mini-megapolis which runs from Indio and Palm Desert to Palm Springs the Old Testament crags (which grow to look more like barren and forbidding slag heaps as you approach Palm Springs) merely serve as a backdrop for Starbucks, Chuck E Cheeses, and unnaturally green and grassy byways with names like Bob Hope Drive and the Gene Autry Trail.

And then there’s the disarmingly retro Palm Springs itself.

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