It's 6.30am; I relax on my private patio and watch the magnificent sunrise lift over the mountains. They gaze benignly over the gleaming white bungalow style suites, glistening pool and gently waving palms in my idyllic setting.
Palm Springs first became popular as a retreat for Hollywood stars of the 1920's - Clark Gable, Jack Benny and Greta Garbo, who all bought hideaway homes. In the heady 60's and 70's, it was the hangout for Frank Sinatra and his infamous Rat-pack, but afterwards, it declined, transformed into a sleepy retirement community, well off the radar screen.
However, Palm Springs is now undergoing a renaissance, with millions of dollars being spent on new projects that will spark renewal. After all, the location remains perfect - nestled in the Coachella Valley between the San Jacinto and San Bernardino mountains with a wonderful dry sunny climate. The city now positions itself as a destination for all ages and families. For snowbirds, it's an alternative to Arizona or Texas.
There's plenty of glitz with the shopping, gambling and dining, but I enjoyed the green Palm Springs - hiking in Indian canyons and exploring Joshua Tree National Park, a few miles outside of the town.
San Andreas Fault
Most land around the Indian canyons, including 6700 acres of Palm Springs is
owned by the peace-loving and well-educated Agua Caliente Indians who arrived centuries ago.
For a small fee, take one of their guided hikes. Our guides, William and Mr. Longboat were quite knowledgeable and helpful in Andreas Canyon.
They informed us that although many still speak their native Navajo Language at home, they now live in luxurious homes in Palm Springs with English their first language.
We encounter a lush oasis, one of several canyons, once a Caliente settlement, with a foot-trail through groves of Fan Palms, ancient rock formations and cooking areas that have survived over thousands of years. Nearby Palm Canyon offers steep trails leading into a picnic area and a trading post with native crafts.
Enjoy a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, a marvelous piece of Swiss engineering, up Chino Canyon to the mountain station 8516 ft high, with magnificent views over the valley and town of Palm Springs.
Next, after a nerve wracking Jeep excursion to the St. Andreas Fault and the North American divide, we stand on the fault line between the Pacific
and North American plates which last shifted only three years ago.
Then, we ride up the Valley bathed in sunshine, to Joshua Tree National Park which encompasses 1200 miles of the Mohave and Colorado Deserts. Giant Desert Fan Palms, one of the largest and longest living palm trees, rare to North America and Neolithic monuments dot the landscape. With these huge flat stones piled one upon the other, geologists believe that the modern landscape was born more than a million years ago when molten liquid oozed upwards and cooled below the surface of overlying rock.
Among the scrubland and giant cacti, the famous Joshua Tree gave the place its name. A giant yucca, part of the lily family, it was long recognized by native Indians for its practical and medicinal properties, but legend has it that in the mid 19th century Mormons who crossed the area, named the tree after the biblical Joshua, the limbs of the tree outstretched and guiding travelers westward.
A globally significant eco-system, it became a National Park in 1994. At Hidden Valley in the centre of the park, we watch a Boy Scout troop from Arizona on a rock-climbing expedition, some hardened campers pitching tiny tents on the windswept terrain. A hiking trail leads to wonderful mountain view and abounds with rare plants and wildlife. Schedules for ranger-guided walks and lectures are posted weekly at the visitor centre at the park entrance. Hiking, bird-watching, rock-climbing, camping: it's all here in this peaceful wilderness paradise, only an hour from Palm Springs.
Tess Bridgwater is a travel writer who lives in southwestern Ontario, not far from Oxford County. She writes for the Record and other publications in Kitchener/Waterloo County, national magazines and is a member of SATW, the Society of American Travel Writers