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California Road Trip! - Part 1

12/25 - 12/26/10 - Palm Springs, CA

First stop: the California Desert - enjoying the mild weather and natural beauty of Palm Springs on our Christmas-New Year's holiday road trip

Shortly after Thanksgiving, when we learned that a couple bands we enjoyed during our days in San Francisco would be playing on New Year’ Eve at a club we also favored, we knew immediately what we were doing this New Year’s Eve – time to head to San Francisco!   As many of our friends and family know, we gave up traditional gift giving long ago.  But with a black-tie optional event scheduled on NYE in San Francisco and no other plans between Christmas and New Year’s (combined with four paid holidays from work for Scott) we decided it was a perfect time to treat ourselves to the California road trip we had been longing for in lieu of all those gifts not given. 

Christmas Eve was a quiet affair at home, occupied largely with the final preparations necessary for spending over a week on the road as well as preparing a celebratory holiday meal for two.  Trip preparations complete, we dimmed the lights, tuned into a Pandora Christmas station and savored a wonderful meal of oeufs en meurette, a dish we discovered while in Burgundy last fall, paired with a perfectly prepared grilled rack of lamb.

Very early on Christmas morning, we jumped in the van and headed straight for Palm Springs, the first stop on our itinerary.  Since it has worked well for us in the past, we decided on a sort of “planned spontaneity” (ala Rick Steve’s, the European travel guru) strategy for our trip, booking hotels for each night but nothing more, leaving our days open for general exploration.   During the month of December, while everyone else was busily racing around the malls shopping for gifts, we were diligently researching destinations and booking hotels.  We’ve done it both ways, at times traveling with no hotel reservations at all, and have found that we generally prefer the ease and relaxed nature of the trip itself that booking at least some hotels in advance offers.  Our itinerary started us off with two nights in a wonderfully balmy Palm Springs at the even more wonderfully inexpensive Palm Court Inn.  What the Palm Court lacked in amenities it more than made up for in location - walking distance to downtown - and price.  We then headed for the coast and followed it north, spending two nights in Laguna Beach at our one splurge hotel, The Pacific Edge, followed by a night in Morro Bay on the central coast and concluding with two nights in San Francisco at our old favorite, The Mosser Hotel.  (We spent a final night at the Motel 6 in Kingman, AZ simply to break up the very long drive back to Albuquerque, but that wasn’t much to write home about.  Trust me.)

Arriving in Palm Springs around dusk on Christmas Day, we set off for a stroll downtown, after checking into the Palm Court.  During our walk, we were struck, not to mention pleasantly surprised, by how bustling it was out.  Many people were out on the sidewalks and the bars and restaurants became increasingly crowded with convivial patrons as cocktail hour turned into dinner hour.  After a long day on the road, we chose the super casual JJ's Mexican restaurant where we had tasty burritos with a curiously Asian flavor, while at the next booth over, the owner and his family were enjoying the holiday in between taking care of their few customers.

Though we'd visited Palm Springs several times before, our past trips typically revolved around lounging in the sun by the hotel swimming pool. While highly enjoyable, it was not very adventurous and we were feeling ready to branch out a bit on this trip.  Although the temps were pleasant, it was certainly not pool weather, but perfect for exploring.  After a complimentary pastry-coffee-and-juice breakfast at the hotel's diner next door, we set off for Indian Canyons, a natural area full of hiking trails owned and operated by the local Agua Caliente Indians and conveniently located right outside downtown Palm Springs.  Home to one of the largest fan palm oases in the world, Indian Canyons was a paradise of rushing streams and waterfalls surrounded by towering palm trees and picturesque boulders, smack in the middle of the desert.  We hiked a couple of the main trails, feeling like kids in a candy store as we marveled at the never-ending natural beauty, getting a good enough feel for the place to know we would definitely return to this incredible hidden gem some day.  Wondering how we had never been here before, we ate a quick lunch of concession stand hot dogs (considering the steep entry fee, the food was surprisingly affordable) and headed back to the hotel to change into our tennis clothes for the next activity on our Palm Springs agenda.

After a summer full of tennis in Albuquerque followed by a chilly November and December, we were itching for some time on the courts.  Palm Springs is, of course, known for its multitude of tennis as well as golf opportunities, so we couldn't resist toting our tennis gear along and hitting a few balls.  As you'd expect, Palm Springs is full of nice public courts and we chose one not far from our hotel, where we passed an hour of satisfying sea-level power hitting.  Ahhh, good stuff!

Beautiful fan palms at Palm Canyons


Scott admires the rushing waters at Palm Canyons


The rushing waters of Palm Canyons


Dragonfly, resting on the native foliage at Palm Canyons


Scott ponders the palms from his boulder chair


Palm trees!


Waterfall amidst the boulders at Palm Canyons


Scott goes off-trail at Palm Canyons


Scott goes off-trail at Palm Canyons


Palm Canyons vista


There were several water crossings to contend with on the Palm Canyons trails


The budget-friendly Palm Court Inn where we stayed for 2 nights


Playing warm-weather tennis in December was a highlight of our trip


Mid-century Modern California desert cool


Caroline poses amongst the giant palms at Palm Canyons


Lush Palm Canyons


Palm Canyons


The giant boulders provided a striking backdrop for the palms and waterfalls at Palm Canyons




Caroline, the intrepid photographer, gets the shot


Caroline & Scott stop for a pose in front of the rushing waters


Palm Canyons desert vista


Caroline poses with the funky palm tree


Scott goes off-trail at Palm Canyons


Scott goes off-trail at Palm Canyons


Scott succeeds in keeping his feet dry...this time


Palm Canyons - water everywhere!


Lunch with a view at Palm Canyons


Snowcapped Palm Springs