The drive east into the desert and the Coachella valley should take around two hours, and I got off on a flying start by crashing the car. Whee. Ironically I’d negotiated the freeways of LA safely, and was doing two miles an hour in a petrol station outside Corona (where Fender guitars are made, fact fans) at the time. I blame this on two things: firstly, Americans might be surprised to hear that in the UK petrol stations are a one way affair: cars enter at one side and exit at the other rather than attacking the pumps from all sides like a swarm of angry metal bees around a jam jar. Secondly, the Ford Mustang, for all its loud, petrol-guzzling charms, has a few blind spots: they’re called the bonnet, sides and rear of the car.
On the road this limited visibility is no problem – point the car, put your foot down, go – but it makes parking a total bastard. Speaking of total bastards, someone thought it would be a good idea to put a two foot high metal bollard in the parking lot, into which I elegantly scrunched the offside front of the car. Fuck.
Fortunately the damage was minimal – it left the indicator light hanging off, but after five minutes under the car I had that back in place. Praising the man who invented the damage waiver clause, I went on East into the desert. All of LA was covered in a thick cloud that looked like it might rain at any minute, but on finally getting out of town the difference was amazing – the clouds burned off, the sun burst through and everything seemed less stressful. Not much later I entered the valley.
When you enter the Coachella Valley, the first thing that hits you is the windmills. They’re everywhere, hundreds of them lining the road. The second thing that hit me was the car door after I attempted to open it into the amazing wind that roars through the valley spinning all the windmills. Oops.
Coming into Palm Springs I headed to the “Aerial Tramway”, which takes you up into the San Jacinto Wilderness, a national park that lies atop the mountain side. I was quite pleased that it was a tramway – I figured this would be a funicular railway – rather than a cable car, as I have a terrible fear of hanging from thin metal cables. Predictably, it turned out that “Aerial Tramway” is, in fact, idiot speak for a cable car. Having come so far, though, I went up anyhow.
On the valley floor, the heat was about a million degrees. Up at the top the other passengers pulled out jackets and thick coats, warning one another, and me, about the freezing cold outside. I’d left all warm clothing in the car, but it turned out to be about 25 degrees. At the top lies a restaurant, where most passengers went, and a long path down into the forest. At the foot of that path was a map with walking trails – I was surprised to see that the longest was less than two miles, so I took a spin around there in half an hour or so, which was well worth it to see the views down into the valley below. Serious hikers with the right equipment can get a permit to go off into the forest proper.
Back at the base I headed into the town, only to find the road blocked for the “American Heat 2008” motorcycle festival. The main street was packed with bikers, Harley-style bikes, stalls selling bike-related crap and, amusingly, “the motorcycle injury lawyers who ride”. I took a look in an oldey-timey convenience store full of old packaging and the indian reservation museum, then headed out to the Alpine Gardens motel.
The Alpine Gardens is a classic 1950s motel, now kept in a state somewhere between preservation and crazy kitsch. Fake flamingos, pool balls and plastic bell peppers abound in the garden, alongside part of the original pool sign (“no bobby pins”) and other items from the ’50s. It’s slightly mad but totally charming, with really friendly owners and a gorgeous heated pool and spa in the middle. And for $70 or so it’s a bargain – easily the best place I stayed.
Things advertised on local TV in Palm Springs:
- The BigHorn gated community (looks shit, full of golf courses and $5 million McMansions)
- More gastric bands (a new type, they say)
- Wind warnings (timely)