Desert Star: Palm Springs

Whether its golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, shopping, or hiking Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago when it was just a village in the desert and a popular weekend Hollywood getaway destination.

Only 100 miles east of Tinseltown, it was an easy drive, even in the days before freeways. And even though Hollywood’s winter climate was mild, the celebrities of the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s headed to the desert for weekends of poolside relaxation.

Shopping El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Today, the village has grown and attractions consist of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, hiking, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Palm Springs and its many neighboring cities are in the Coachella Valley of Southern California, once an inland sea and now a desert area with abundant artesian wells. An escape from winter’s chill and snow, it is also a destination filled with numerous places to visit and things to do.

Shopping El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Agua Caliente Cahuilla peoples were among the first to settle here and their descendants have established the Agua Caliente Indian Canyons, listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Indian Canyons are one of the most beautiful attractions for any Palm Springs visitor, especially if you love to hike. You can hike Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon. Unlike other area trails, most of the trails in the Indian Canyons follow running streams. Washingtonia filifera (California Fan Palm), and indigenous flora and fauna are abundant.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

A moderately graded, foot path winds down into Palm Canyon for picnicking near the stream, meditating, exploring, hiking, or horseback riding.

The contrasting greens of the magnificent fan palms and more than 150 species of plants within a half-mile radius beckon the hiker into lush Andreas Canyon. A scenic foot trail leads through the canyon passing groves of stately skirted palms, unusual rock formations, and the perennial Andreas Creek. To access the Indian Canyons, take South Palm Canyon from Highway 111.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There are so many great trails to choose from—but none can surpass Tahquitz Canyon. Nowhere else can you to see a spectacular 60-foot waterfall, rock art, an ancient irrigation system, numerous species of birds, and plants—all in the space of a few hours.

Tahquitz Canyon is at the northeast base of 10,804-foot Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs.

Hiking Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located at the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center, at 500 West Mesquite, just west of Palm Canyon Drive, offers exhibits, an observation deck, and a theatre room for viewing a video that narrates the legend of Tahquitz Canyon.

Hiking Tahquitz Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Needing a change of pace? Let the Palm Springs Aerial Tram do the climbing, 6,000 feet of it. Along the way a wondrous panorama of the desert lands stretches below and beyond. From Mountain Station at the top, there are short nature hikes or longer trails of varying lengths. Be sure to bring a warm jacket as the temperature difference is dramatic at this elevation and snow is not uncommon.

Palm Springs from Tahquitz Canyon trail head © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Rising abruptly from the desert floor, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National  Monument reaches an elevation of 10,834 feet. Providing a picturesque backdrop to the desert cities, visitors can enjoy magnificent palm oases, snow-capped mountains, a national scenic trail, and wilderness areas. Jointly managed by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, the Monument can be accessed using Highway 74 (Palms to Pines Scenic Byway) from Palm Desert.

Shield’s Date Garden © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located in Palm Desert, the world famous El Paseo Shopping District features over 300 world-class shops, clothing boutiques, art galleries, jewelers, and restaurants lined along a picture-postcard floral and statue-filled mile. Known as the Rodeo Drive of the Desert, El Paseo boasts a wide spectrum of stores from Sak’s 5th Avenue to individually owned boutiques.

Browse your favorite luxury labels and chic boutiques, savor gourmet cuisine by the Coachella Valley’s top chefs, and wander through an array of art galleries set against a scenic backdrop. 

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum in Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Complete your Coachella Valley journey with something sweet by visiting the Shields Date Garden in Indio and you’ll find yourself in a date oasis where the Shields’ have been growing their own since 1924. Enjoy a date milkshake, a variety of date-centric dishes in the garden café, or educate yourself by viewing a short documentary on the cultivation of this exotic fruit which continuously screens in the café’s own theater. Be sure to also take a stroll through the garden in the back.

Worth Pondering…

We have 51 golf courses in Palm Springs. He (President Ford) never decides which course he will play until after the first tee shot.

—Bob Hope

The Absolute Best Places to RV This February

Looking to make plans for RV travel in February?

The holidays are officially over, New Year’s resolutions have slowly begun to wane, and that relaxed RV vacation feeling is all but a distant memory—welcome to February.

For many Americans and Canadians, February means windy, wet, bitterly cold weather. Plenty of people wish longingly to escape the miserable weather. Yet where the weather is frigid or dreary in many parts of the United States, it is superb across the Sun Belt.

Whether you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day, the Super Bowl, taking advantage of the Presidents’ Day long weekend, or just taking a break, you have plenty of options for an RV vacation in February. Where to go depends on what kind of a break and weather you’re looking for.

Southern California offers warm February temperatures, but why not try Gold County? Daytime temperatures in February in cities like Jackson and Angel Camp are around 60 F. Explore California’s gold rush history, go antique shopping, or taste the 35 wine varietals from Amador and Calaveras counties.

Thinking about a February getaway but not sure where to go? These destinations are particularly ideal, offering something for just about everyone.

Saguaro National Park, Arizona
You know those comically oversized cacti Wile E. Coyote used to fall into? Those are modeled after the Giant Saguaro cactus, the most distinct feature is this park straddling the city of Tucson. The park, created to preserve the cacti, boasts some great hikes. Even during mild weather, a trek into nature here can take you up 5,000 feet of elevation in 15 miles of desert. Driving Saguaro will take you through a Western landscape that’s unmistakably Arizona.

New Mexico

The Land of Enchantment boasts some ridiculously gorgeous desert ‘scapes. Ghost Ranch, the terrain made famous by Georgia O’Keefe, is full of crimson and gold cliffs and big blue sky. White Sands National Monument has a mind-boggling 275 square miles of gypsum sand dunes set in the shadow of the mountains. And we’d be remiss to leave out Carlsbad Caverns, a collection of over 100 caves and one of the state’s top attractions.

The cities are no slouches either. Santa Fe is one of America’s great art destinations, and not just for the turquoise, silver, and artist galleries in the town center. Santa Fe also has an awesome food scene, where meticulously-made Southwestern fare shines with ancient recipes and ingredients. Meanwhile there’s fantastic skiing in Taos, and still far less expensive than Park City or Aspen.  

Alabama State Parks

From a shaded retreat on John’s Bay in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta to the boardwalk atop the highest mountain in the state, the Alabama State Parks System offers an incredible diversity of nature’s wonders to explore. Just north of the point where the Mobile-Tensaw Delta and Mobile Bay converge, Meaher State Park offers a respite from the hustle and bustle that can be seen in the distance on the Bayway crowded with travelers.

Meaher offers 61 improved campsites, 10 improved tent sites, a couple of primitive tent sites, and four cabins. Two more cabins will be available later this year.Part of the draw is the easy access to the Delta and being able to stay overnight between Mobile and Baldwin counties.

Newport, Rhode Island

If you thought Newport, the former stomping ground of the Astors and the Vanderbilts, was only worth visiting in the summer, think again. The seaside town—known for its Gilded Age mansions and outdoor music performances—is perfect for cold weather getaways, particularly in mid-February. This is when the Newport Winter Festival brings the city to life with concerts, beach polo, and even a chili cook-off.

Palm Springs, California

Fed by underground springs, the desert comes alive here, not only with signature palms, but also with a string of resort communities—Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Indio, and others, as well as the namesake town of Palm Springs—sporting a cool, mid-century modern vibe and countless ways to relax.

Every Thursday evening, this desert city takes on new life for VillageFest, a weekly street fair that brings casual party atmosphere to its downtown neighborhood.

Give yourself plenty of time to stroll along the swanky El Paseo district in Palm Desert. First, you’ll want to see all the art. A roughly 1-mile strip and adjacent streets are home to one of the largest concentrations of art galleries anywhere in Southern California.

Worth Pondering…

Recently I ran across a few lines by Pierre de Ronsard, a 16th-century poet: “Live now, believe me, wait not till tomorrow. Gather the roses of life today.” Maybe it’s time to stop dreaming about that trip you’ve always wanted to make—and just do it!

5 Best Places for Snowbirds This Winter

Earn your snowbird wings by RVing to one or more of these Sunbelt destinations this winter.

This winter, instead of willing the season away, do as the snowbirds do.

What is a snowbird, you ask?

A snowbird is someone who migrates to a warmer destination to avoid the wrath of winter. If you dread scraping the ice off your car windshield, shoveling snow, falling on black ice, and swear you must be cold-blooded, you just may be a snowbird at heart.

Earn your snowbird wings by RVing to one or more of these Sunbelt destinations this winter.

Here you’ll find comfort (and warmth!) in our list of the best snowbird destinations, where snow plows and ear muffs have no place.

Yuma, Arizona

Average high in January: 70 F

Many cities seem to shut down during the chilly months, but not Yuma. With the sun still shinning and the mercury resting in a comfortable range, this southwest city keeps its calendar full. Every January, the Yuma Medjool Date Festival (January 26, in 2019) puts on a show, celebrating the sweet fruit grown in the desert area. The wintertime is also ideal for hosting the Yuma Territorial Marathon and Half Marathon (January 26, in 2019) —you just might find yourself trading your mittens for some sweatbands.

Snowbirds love to: Visit a real working farm with Field to Feast farm tours and pick some produce to take home.

Sarasota, Florida

Average high in January: 71 F

Sarasota and her string of eight islands are tucked into the Gulf Coast of Southwest Florida. Sarasota County encompasses nearly 40 miles of shoreline and includes Sarasota, Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key, Manasota Key, Siesta Key, Casey Key, Englewood, Nokomis, North Port, Osprey, and Venice. Thanks to the legacy of circus magnate John Ringling, Sarasota is known as the “Circus Capital of the World,” with many offerings designed to honor the past, present, and future of the circus.

Snowbirds love to: Visit Venice Area Audubon Rookery is a renowned location for bird photography and is free to all visitors daily year-round.

Mission, Texas

Average high in January: 70 F

Located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, Mission welcomes the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. Nestled against the Rio Grande River, Mission has long been known as a center for citrus farming, home of the famous Texas Ruby Red grapefruit. But, what many don’t realize is that Mission has a rich history of birdwatching with more than 465 species reported in the Rio Grande Valley alone, and that the area is considered the top destination in the United States for birders.

Snowbirds love to: Hike, bike, observe birds, and ride the tram at Rio Grande Valley State Park, a 2,400-acre nature reserve.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Average high in January: 62 F

Whether you’re looking for a snowbird roost or a vacation escape, RVers will find what they’re looking for—and more—along Alabama’s Gulf Coast. While Alabama’s shoreline may not be the first place that pops to mind when planning a winter getaway, don’t overlook it. It’s a rare person who does not find the sea and sand tempting, especially during the cold winter months.

Snowbirds love: The fresh seafood. Seafood markets offer shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. There are numerous seafood restaurants with an endless assortment of dishes.

Palm Springs, California

Average high in January: 71 F

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

There are two weekly markets that are more than just shopping trips, they are events. On Thursday evenings, Palm Canyon Drive turns into Villagefest. Saturday and Sunday mornings, the College of the Desert in Palm Desert hosts another street fair.

Snowbirds love to: Enjoy some of the 30 miles of trails, picnic areas, cool oases, and wildlife and wildflowers at Coachella Valley Preserve. Walk into the past in their rustic Visitors’ Center, the Palm House, a palm log cabin built in the 1930s.

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.

The Absolute Best Places to RV this January

Many people are all traveled-out after the festive season, and feeling the pinch of a credit card bill with an extra page. Yet your RV travel opportunities have been conveniently restocked, and the sheer variety of potential getaways never better.

It’s not the shoulder-season gem that is September, but January is still a pretty stellar month to get outta town in your RV, especially if you’re a snowbird en route to a warm weather roost. The weather is near perfect in spots like Palm Springs, Phoenix, South Texas, and Tampa-St. Petersburg, all of which are great options for snowbirds. The mild temperatures are ideal for days spent idly exploring or relaxing by the pool.

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is one of those places that’s reliably sunny and warm this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card.

Palm Springs acquired the title “Playground of the Stars” many years ago because what was then just a village in the desert was a popular weekend Hollywood getaway. Today, the village has grown and consists of much more than just hanging out poolside. Whether it’s golf, tennis, hiking Tahquitz Canyon (photo above), or a trip up the aerial tram, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise.

Tampa Bay, Florida

Florida makes for a great getaway any time of the year that isn’t August. Sure, you can relax on one of the best beaches in the world at Siesta Key, hit the undertow in St. Pete Beach, or enjoy a boat trip at Myakka River State Park (photo above)—but those spots aren’t going anywhere.

In January, the place to be is Tampa, when it hosts the annual Gasparilla Festival. The festivities honor José Gaspar, the former Spanish naval officer-turned-pirate who may or may not have terrorized the waters around Tampa Bay. Historical accuracy kinda gets pushed aside, though, to make way for the third-largest parade in America. It’s a daylong bacchanal of folks dressed in pirate attire that spills over into the bars at night. And the calming waters of the gulf are just a short drive away, the perfect anecdote for a pirate festival.

Utah

The obvious draw for a Utah vacation in January is the skiing, and we’re not gonna lie, that’s the No. 1 reason to go. But Utah is a big state, and even if the slopes aren’t calling you, January is the perfect time to check it out.

The big, red desert parks (Arches and Canyonlands) in the southern part of the state aren’t nearly as packed as during the summer and are sometimes covered in a soft blanket of white snow. Further south, there’s St. George and Zion National Park (photo above) in Utah Dixie that’s just a short day trip from Las Vegas. Then there’s the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, where for better or worse, Hollywood descends on the beehive state.

Rockport-Fulton, Texas

The quaint fishing village of Rockport has been a favorite coastal hideaway and snowbird roost for years. Envision the life of an affluent Victorian family while exploring Fulton Mansion, built in 1877 with comforts not easily found: gas lights, central heat, and running water. At Goose Island State Park (photo above) you’ll find the wintering grounds for whooping cranes and other migratory birds. It’s also home to the 2,000-year-old Big Tree, one of Texas’ largest live oak.

Arizona

Arizona is a warm-weather perch for snowbirds from around North America and one of the most popular getaway destinations in the Southwest.

Home to cactus, prickly pears, rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon, roadrunners, the world’s oldest rodeo, and the bolo tie, the state is rich in attractions that entertain the cultured, the curious, the wild, and untrammeled.

Although mostly a truck stop in the summer, snowbirds descend upon Quartzsite (photo above) with more than 100,000 RVs spread over 70 square miles. The main attraction is the annual rock and gem shows, the flea markets, and the RV show under the Big Tent. Nowhere on earth will you find such an assortment of “stuff” as you will at Quartzsite.

Gulf Shores, Alabama

With miles of sparkling turquoise Gulf waters and stunningly white sand, RVers will find what they’re looking for—and more—along Alabama’s Gulf Coast (photo above). Seafood markets offer shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. There are numerous seafood restaurants with an endless assortment of dishes. Gulf Shores is a coastal, resort community known for its white-sand beaches.

Worth Pondering…We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce