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Palm Springs an Ideal Destination for Outdoor Lovers

The music festival Coachella as well as the stunning natural landscape are a couple of reasons why this is a great place to visit

Driving along Hwy. 111 towards Palm Springs from the greater Los Angeles area in the early evening twilight and one truth becomes perfectly clear: the Coachella Valley is really dark, the surrounding mountains foreboding and shrouded in mystery. And, apparently they like it like that, and keep lighting to a minimum. It makes the contrast between the mass that is greater L.A. and this particularly magnificent sky that much greater.
 
This is just one of many idiosyncrasies of this incredible desert landscape in eastern California. The second is the difficulty in finding a good taco on Main Street, despite numerous Mexican eateries. No idea why.
 


A few decades ago, Palm Springs was the stuff of legend. This dry-as-a-bone region managed to attract Hollywood royalty to its idyllic little oasis of fun in the middle of the California desert as a result of its perfect weather, its proximity to L.A. and its gorgeous surroundings. Bob Hope was a fan, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Liz Taylor. Oh, it was the scene man. Heck, even Elvis Presley was a regular inhabitant.
 
Although it had fallen out of favour with the trendy set, the area is back thanks to one of the most popular and influential music festivals on the planet: Coachella. Make no mistake, the town itself has always been gorgeous, a natural beauty tucked lovingly under the Santa Rosa mountains. But everything has changed thanks to Coachella. Now, Leo has a place in Palm Springs after recently purchasing the old Dinah Shore estate, Ryan Gosling has checked into town and the festival has subsequently influenced an entire generation of scenesters. The cool factor is off the charts.
 
But one thing that has never gone out of style, for those more interested in outdoor adventure than the latest Hollywood heartthrob, is the valley itself: stunning, diverse and packed full of enough adventures to make it the perfect spring getaway spot. And, if your visit happens to coincide with a certain hippie-esque music festival, well that’s just an added bonus.
 
When people think of Palm Springs nowadays, it might conjure up images of dapperly attired elderly ladies and gentlemen out on one of the more than a hundred golf courses, blue hair blowing in a gentle summer breeze. But things are changing, and quickly.  Here are a few things to keep in mind, when consider the Coachella Valley as an outdoor adventure destination.
 
Joshua Tree National Park: If there is one spot to embrace upon visiting the Coachella Valley it is the massive Joshua Tree National Park. Driving from Palm Springs, up through Morongo Valley, passed Yucca Valley and into the park, the diversity and uniqueness of the area is evident. The Joshua trees themselves are the stars of the show, each one a unique and twisted work of art, but there is much to appreciate. The massive area is littered with hiking trails, short scenic jaunts and much longer including the Hidden Valley trail and the Keys View scenic lookout. Lost Palms Oasis is a moderate loop that really shows of the varied terrain, offers plenty of beautiful views and is home to a large grove of palm trees. There are also old mines in the area that provide for a unique look at the history of the area during the gold rush. There is a great local outfit called Desert Adventures that offers an eco-tour of the park, amongst other programs. It is highly recommended for those who want the inside information on what makes Joshua Tree so fascinating.


 
Cycling and mountain biking are allowed in the park, but only on vehicle roads. Still, it is stunning, and it is hard to imagine a better testing ground than in these hills in this heat. If the Badwater 135 in Death Valley is in your future — considered to be at the top of many endurance athletes bucket list — Joshua Tree is the perfect training ground given the heat, the sun and the luxury that awaits in Palm Springs after a gruelling day on the run. It is just training, after all.
 
In addition, there are some choice camping spots in the park tucked in the rocks for those looking for a multi-day adventure at Joshua Tree. And climbing is huge, with many world-class crags and more than 8,000 routes of all shapes and sizes.


 
Palm Oasis: Closer to the town of Palm Springs and well within cycling range is the Indian Canyons palm oasis, which is the perfect spot for an extended hike in some of the most stunning scenery you could imagine. Palm Canyon itself is 15 miles long, with the majority of the most impressive foliage close to the trailhead and trading post. The Palm Canyon trail to the Victor trail is a fairly easy loop of 1-2 hours, but opportunities for longer forays into the surrounding countryside are plentiful. Be sure to pack plenty of water and wear a hat and sunscreen. Best bet: try a morning hike followed by a picnic lunch along the steam with a little light yoga or meditation thrown in for good measure. It’s the kind of place that cries out for contemplation.
 
Aerial Tramway: A visit to the Coachella Valley is not complete without a 10-minute ride up Mt. San Jacinto on the world’s largest rotating tram car. The ride affords some splendid views out over the valley, but more importantly, it allows visitors to access additional playgrounds. There is some wonderful hiking available, 54 miles within Mt. San Jacinto State Park alone, most of it pristine wilderness. There is also camping, and nature walks as well as a the Peaks Restaurant. The tram can be used to access cross-country ski and snowshoe trails during the winter. 


 
How to get there: Fly into Los Angeles, grab a rental car and drive due east for two hours along the state’s highway system. Adjust travel time accordingly during rush hour.
 
When to go: The valley is hot. In the summer, expect a steady stream of 100-degree days and blinding sun, which is cool if you like that sort of thing. Any other time is glorious, especially during late winter and early spring — March and April are high season.
 
Where to stay: The valley itself includes nine cities, Palm Springs is the largest and has the greatest concentration of hotels and restaurants, including such name brand sleep spots as the Hilton Palm Springs (located next door to a casino, no less), which boasts a fab centre court pool and outdoor lounge area.
 
Where to eat: Be careful here. There are many restaurants on Palm Canyon Drive — the main drag — to avoid as they seem to cater to the senior circuit and eschew any reasonable level of spice and seasoning. Lulu on Palm Canyon Drive is a large, beautiful restaurant with good California cuisine, tasty local wines and a fun vibe, which has become a local favourite. The Fishermen’s Market, despite its desert location, is a seafood lovers’ dream. 


By: Ron Johnson
 

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