Always looking to take advantage of good deals on accommodations, we were lured into Coachella Valley by an email received a month prior. The promotional offer was from a lavish golf resort in the town of Rancho Mirage: four nights in a luxury villa at an on-budget rate if we listened to their one-hour sales pitch.
Situated between the desert havens of Palm Springs and Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage was not on our bucket list, but Joshua Tree National Park was and lies 40 miles away. No brainer!
For the first time since Seattle (almost two months back), we had a kitchen.
Cooking dinner followed by lively conversations with other guests in the hot tub became our nightly routine.
Our stay in Rancho Mirage was an extravagant gift that we appreciated fully…
Trey played a round of golf while I spent the afternoon at the spa.
We basked fully in luxury’s lap while we could.
Mt. San Jacinto
The two excursions we made outside of the resort was to drive through old school celebrities’ neighborhoods north of downtown Palm Springs, and to travel up the side of San Jacinto Mountain via the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. (Trey also spent an evening at a local casino, but doesn’t want to talk about it.)
The rotating tram travels 2.5 miles up the mountain, dropping you off at the edge of a massive wilderness.
The views across the valley to the Little San Bernardino Mountains are stunning.
Along with restaurants, a gift shop and other amenities, the top offers access to loads of hiking trails. We hiked only about a mile down from the mountain station because it was late in the afternoon (tram ticket prices are lower), quite chilly, and the climb back up was steep. Yet, we ventured far enough to sense the wild vastness ahead. We hoped to see wildlife, but I think the cold and late hour kept them away.
If we had planned better, we would have gotten an early start and hiked to San Jacinto Peak, which is a 5.5 mile one-way trail that connects up with the Pacific Coast Trail. But alas, darkness was approaching so we dangled back down Mt. San Jacinto and drove to Rancho Mirage where we spent the remaining evening plotting our course for the next two weeks.
Joshua Tree National Park
We were heading eastward toward Texas, to our home. Joshua Tree was on the way, so we waited until we were leaving California to visit it.
Best I can tell, the park’s 794,000 acres encompass five mountain ranges (Coxcomb, Eagle, Cottonwood, Hexie, & Little San Bernardino) and two deserts (Mojave & Colorado).
We entered from the south off Interstate 10 and through the Cottonwood Mountains.
A ranger at the Cottonwood Visitor Center helped us to strategically plan our time. He suggested continuing our drive north through the heart of the park and hiking the Barker Dam Loop Trail.
The drive alone is a great way to experience the joshua trees… they’re everywhere!
Scattered among them are mojave yuccas and cholla cacti.
The Joshua Tree cactus gets its branches through a unique process. It grows straight upwards until it blooms…. no blossoms, no branches. Once it blooms and the blossoms die and fall off, a new branch will leaf out from residual scar and grows until it blooms and restarts the process.
On the drive to Barker Dam, there are several places to pull over and enjoy the scenery.
We particularly enjoyed the Cholla Cactus Garden…
and the “jumbo rocks” along Park Boulevard.
The Barker Dam loop is perfect if you’re crunched for time.
It’s just over a mile long, and wends through giant rock formations on a pathway lined with impressive and playful joshua trees.
Although our time was limited, we gained an appreciation for, and were inspired by, the plant-life, mountains, and deserts that make up Joshua Tree National Park.
Next stop… Tucson, Arizona