I’ll never forget the first time I saw the mountains of Palm Springs. I remember rounding the bend of the 111 and staring in amazement at their immensity and grandeur. It was 1998 and I was relocating to Southern California after growing up in the rolling green hills of Kentucky.
Palm Springs is surrounded by mountains: the San Bernardino Mountains to the north, the Santa Rosa Mountains to the south, the San Jacinto Mountains to the west and the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east. These create a magical, sheltered landscape that, even after all these years, still thrills me. There’s nothing like making the drive into Palm Springs, especially after some time away, and feasting your eyes upon on the mountains disappearing into the high blue sky, careening down to verdant lawns, riotous flowers and iconic architecture.
Many ancient civilizations believed that mountains are sacred places—deeply spiritual, mystical and magical. And I agree. After all this time, I think the mountains of Palm Springs have pretty much become encoded into my DNA. When I’m in the desert, my day’s not complete without a hike on one of the many wonderful trails studding the Coachella Valley.
Though I’m normally not an early riser, Palm Springs seems to coax me out of bed early, as if I can’t bear to miss a second of a day in the desert. I grab a coffee at Koffi, work the crossword, then hike the trail of the day—the South Lykken Trail at the end of Ramon Road has long been a favorite haunt. I climb up the mountain’s craggy face, looking down on the manicured lawns stretched beneath—lined up like Technicolor kings and queens on the chessboard of the desert floor. Then, higher up, the untamed desert, and then—all around—mountain sage and brittle bush, road runners and jack rabbits, hummingbirds and coyotes. And everywhere beneath, bougainvillea—an adornment atop even the starkest concrete wall.
If you’re not a hiker, but wish to enjoy the native flora of the desert, visit Moorten’s Botanical Garden, or go on a wildflower or birding expedition in Joshua Tree National Park. There are also wonderful Horseback Riding and Hummer tours, and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway—so many ways to see the wonders of the Coachella Valley. Start your visit at www.PalmSprings.com/active for ideas of fun things to do and see!
Framing all this nature, the arcs and lines of midcentury architecture for which Palm Springs is famed; the art collections; fashions glowing like draped jewels on the long limbs of its denizens, tanned amber by long afternoons at the tennis club or one of hundreds of preternaturally emerald golf courses. The desert, both cultivated and feral, seems a bit of a dreamscape. Almost anything seems possible. One can easily see why so many artists, writers, and designers have not only chosen to live or retreat here, but also have chosen it as a source of creative inspiration.
I invariably find myself relaxing back into my own skin after a few days of all this broad sky and mountaintops, Jacuzzi soaks under a star-swathed canopy—my own humanity and cosmic insignificance remarked upon, redeemed and swallowed whole by grace beneath the infinite desert sky. It’s as if, in embracing the infinite possibility of this landscape, I remember my own.