Monday, March 31, 2014

Palm Desert 2014

It was time for our annual trip to Palm Desert so we packed our bags and hit the road, this time with Monte and Aleta.  We decided we wanted to get away from the snow and cold as quickly as we could so we headed straight south to take “the southern” route.  With four drivers we were able to get to Mt. Pleasant, Texas by early evening without wearing anyone out.  When we got there the temperature was in the 60s; almost balmy for us Decaturites.

Over the next couple of days we covered a lot of miles; motoring through Dallas, Abilene, Midland and finally El Paso.  Then for a few miles we were in New Mexico and shortly after we were in Arizona.  Soon we started seeing saguaros....that’s when it began to really feel like we were away from home!  

Soon after Tucson we stopped at the Saguaro National Park.  This is a great park with lots and lots…and lots of saguaro and every other kind of cactus you can find the Sonoran Desert.  We did some learning up on desert plants outside the visitor center and then took a drive on the Bajada Loop which winds its way through thousands of saguaros, some over 200 years old.   Saguaro has lots of trails and we want to revisit here and do some serious hiking!

We spent the night in Casa Grande so we could visit the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument.  This dwelling/observatory/canal control center was built in the 1300s by the ancient Sonoran Desert people.  They lived and successfully farmed in this arid desert by building a network of canals, starting from the Gila River and then winding throughout the valley.  Casa Grande (big house) still stands tall after all these years and it remains as one of the largest pre-Columbian structures in North America.  The structure is four stories tall and has adobe walls that are several feet thick at the base.  Historians still aren’t sure what the building’s primary purpose was, but it has several windows/ports that align with key celestial events; thus, lending credence to the observatory theory which would help the ancients decide when to plant.  Casa Grande is another one of those “I didn’t know that, did you?!” sites that we love to find when we travel.

After our visit, we hit the road for our final destination: the Coachella Valley which includes two of our favorite cities: Palm Springs and Palm Desert.   Our first stop was Palm Springs for our Coachella Valley arrival ritual.  Yep, Blue Coyote and their Wild Margaritas.  (After one Wild Rita you’re howling at the moon…or at anyone who happens to be walking by!)  Then we went a few hundred feet down Palm Canyon Drive to Azul’s for a little more relaxation….and howling.  We spent the night in Palm Springs and were to able to deal with our post-howl morning by visiting our favorite breakfast spot, Pinocchio's.  Not only is the food great but they have all-you-can drink champagne...which we skipped because we needed to head to Palm Desert.

Our timeshare villa is located at the Marriott Desert Springs Resort in Palm Desert.  Once there we unloaded, unpacked and began our typical Coachella Valley activities: hiking, reading, swimming, geocaching, dining, walking, cooking out and just relaxing in the sun.  Ahhhhhhh!!!!!  That pretty much defines our week except for one excursion up the mountains.
Scenic, but cold!

We have been talking about visiting Idyllwild for years so one morning we took a ride up into the mountains to check it out.  Our route took us up Route 74 which rises up from Palm Desert’s elevation of 25 feet below sea level to well above 5200 feet above sea level.  It takes a lot of switchbacks and hairpin turns to do this and Mona loves to drive it about ten miles per hour over the speed limit.  Me, I keep my eyes closed and try to keep my screams as silent as possible.

Idyllwild is nice…artsy and crafty with lots of little shops and art galleries along the streets; very quaint.  But we soon made an important discovery….Idyllwild is cold!  We decided that we hadn’t driven this far just to be cold again.  We found a cache, grabbed a quick lunch and safely headed back down the mountain.  Safely, because this time I drove!  J

We love to drive a convertible in the valley so we rented another Mustang; we’ve had yellow, and we’ve had black, but this year Mona chose red.  I think that color fit her perfectly!

Another of our favorite places to visit is Indian Canyons.  This is Cahuilla Indian land just south of Palm Springs.  As you drive past the entrance it appears that this is barren desert…almost a wasteland.  But as you travel deeper into there  you find hidden oasis filled with Washingtonia Palms and frigid torrents coming down from the mountains above.  These places feel like a little slice of heaven.  We come here to relax, recharge and reflect.  This time we brought a picnic lunch and found the perfect spot on a boulder right in the middle of the stream.  That was one of the best meals of the trip!

Another must-do for us is Sunday polo.  As usual, we started the morning with field-side breakfast at
The Proper Tools for Divot Stomping
the Eldorado Polo Club.  Here you are so close to the field that the horses ride within feet of your table.  Then we moved to the Empire Polo Club and got settled into our seats.  These seats are also close to the field, but they are elevated so you can see more of the action.  One of the features of Empire is the Champagne Divot Stomp.  Everyone gets a free glass of champagne which you then drink as you stomp divots on the field.  The trick is making sure it's a divot and not a biscuit! 

I know it’s a clich√© but, all too soon it was time to leave.  We turned Hi (that’s what Mona calls her Highlander) east and headed for Arizona.  At Quartzsite we turned north on Route 95 on our way to Cedar City, Utah.  This route is yet another beautiful Arizona highway as it follows the Colorado River leading us to Lake Havasu City.  There we checked out the London Bridge…the one that was falling down and then shipped to Arizona and rebuilt there.  After our break we continued north making our way through the middle of Las Vegas, where we appropriately marveled at the glitz, and then finally arriving at Cedar City, Utah…where it’s also cold like Idyllwild!

There are several ways to get from Cedar City to Bryce Canyon.  The obvious route is straight west.  The other two require an extra 30 minutes each.  I was skeptical about the obvious route because of the how "squiggly" it looked on the map so I asked the desk manager which route was better.  She said the direct route was the best.  Next morning at checkout I asked the morning manager which route was best.  "Direct route," came the reply.  I asked if there was snow on it.  "No, no.  There's snow alongside the road but the road is clear."  So, that's the route we chose. 

The direct route is Highway 14.  It starts out in Cedar City at a gentle incline...winding a bit as we merrily make our way through the pass.  Life is good.  Then we see this sign, "Snowchains required until March 31st."  It's March 27th.  Hmmmm....  We continue on our way....a little less merry.  Then we see a patch of ice on the road.  Okay...not, bad.  Then more ice.  And the temperature drops from 36 to 16.  We are still climbing and the road is squiggling and now the road is coated in ice.  No guard rails.  Hairpin turns.  White knuckles at 5 mph.  The entire trip is supposed to take only 60 minutes and we've now been on this mountain for 90 minutes before we finally reach the crest at 9600 feet.  Whew!  But wait…our relief was premature.  Now we have to make it down this mountain…still with squiggling roads and ice, but now also with a blinding sun in our eyes.  Yikes!
Short story: we lived.  But I definitely do NOT want to do that again! 

After safely making it to US 89 it was only about 40 miles to Bryce Canyon, a bucket-list item for us.  We made our way to Inspiration Point and there it was….a breathless overlook of one of nature’s wonders. It’s almost impossible to describe the hundreds of spires of red rock…we’ve never seen anything like it, and so a picture will have to suffice.  But a picture doesn’t really transmit the depth and wonder of this canyon.  You’ll need to see it yourself…and learn what hoodoos are!

There are several national parks in this area, each with wonders of nature and beauty.  We would have loved to visit them all, but those visits will have to wait for a return trip.  We have commitments back home and need to continue on.

Our plans were to head east on I 70, visit Arches National Park, and then head east only stopping in Denver to visit our friend, Paul.  However, that was not to be.  A look at Colorado’s DOT site showed that a 110 mile stretch of I 70 west of Denver was snow-covered and chains were required on big trucks.  Odds were good we could have made it, but we had no provisions in case something went wrong: Not one glove, no heavy coats, not even an ice scraper.  It was obvious we needed to turn south.

South it was, back down US 89 towards Kanab, Utah, then eastward where we would cross the Colorado just below the Glen Canyon Dam.  This is a beautiful route with mountains, mesas and incredible scenery on both sides as you twist and meander your way south.  We stopped here and there, a rock store, or a place to get a Navajo Taco…wherever took our fancy.  Our fancy let us to stop at an overlook for Lake Powell where the ice blue colors of the water were surrealistically painted against the red rock canyon.  If we had seen that on a painting we would have thought the artist had dreamed up that palette of colors.
Loved walking this bridge!

We also stopped at the Glen Canyon Dam Visitors Center.  Here is a museum telling the story of this massive dam’s construction and providing an overlook of the dam.  Awesome. Mona and I took the opportunity to walk across the adjacent Navajo Bridge which spans the Colorado just below the dam.  What incredible views!  Walking the bridge gives you a better appreciation of the engineering and effort it took to harness the Colorado.  It’s hard to believe this was built in the 1930s!

Afterwards, we continued south on US 89 to Flagstaff and then turned Hi eastward.  Only 1200 miles to home!

This trip has spanned over 4000 miles.  Over those miles we’ve seen so much of this beautiful country and we've met new friends everywhere we go. And of course, the four of us have had a lot of fun together, in the truck for all those miles and in all the restaurants and hotels we’ve visited.  We are so lucky to be able to travel like this.   We can’t wait to pack our bags and head out again!

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