Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley

We’ve wanted to spend time in Southern California for quite some time. It’s one of the corners (literally) of the country that we’ve scarcely visited. So with an opportunity to spend 7 weeks in the Coachella Valley, the “headquarters” of which could be considered to be Palm Springs, we eagerly signed up.

The Coachella Valley is a desert valley running about 45 miles from northwest to southeast. The northwest entrance to the valley is just an hour or so east of Los Angeles, and the southern end of the valley is marked by the Salton Sea, whose shores lie barely more than 20 miles from the Mexican border.

If you’ve heard the name “Coachella”, it’s probably from one of two annual events. The more popular is the Coachella Music Festival, formally the “Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival”, is an annual festival held at Indio’s Empire Polo Club every April. It’s an eclectic festival of many musical styles, and past headliners have included AC/DC, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Madonna, Nine Inch Nails, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Eminem, and lots of others. It’s clearly a big deal.

The other reason you might have heard of Coachella recently was an NPR piece on the surprising history of the date industry (as in the middle eastern fruit). There’s lots of agriculture in the valley, but probably the most interesting is how a fruit indigenous to Iraq came to be so prolific here. It’s an intriguing Indiana Jones style story involving the US Government, date palm trees, a 1920’s fascination with Arab culture, and another annual festival that once involved elephants and camels…oh my! Read about it here.

We’ll have several blogs about specific things we did during our seven weeks here, but to wet your travel blog appetite, here are some initial impressions and highlights.

The Heat – We were in the desert in July and August. Every day, high temps reached into 3 digits. But the first few days we were there and the week before we left, they had heat spells that pushed the thermometer up around the 120 degree mark (about 49 Celsius).

Windmills  – Everyone who’s passed through Palm Springs on Interstate 10 has seen the hundreds of windmills lining the interstate. They’re mesmerizing. We had planned to take a windmill tour, but never got around to it. We’ll keep that on the list for next time.

Bats – Our Carlsbad Caverns bat experience might have been a little disappointing, but we made up for it where we stayed in the Coachella Valley. Every evening as the sun set we could spot the flying mammals fluttering around overhead, a regular source of amusement.

Stargazing – And then, as the sun dropped below the horizon, the stars would come out. Local ordinances limit light pollution, making the town of La Quinta where we stayed a great spot for watching stars and spotting satellites. The Perseids meteor shower was the next to last week we were there, and we were treated to a fantastic natural fireworks show.

Hummingbirds – Back east we’re used to skittish, fleeting, and colorful sightings of these tiniest of birds. The Coachella Valley is home to the Rufus variety of hummingbird, and they’re common here: we spotted them every morning and every evening.

Dates – As we mention above, date palms were everywhere. Almost all of the dates bought in the United States are grown right here, and some of the date farms have a curious travel legacy. Naturally, we learned more about these tasty little fruits than we ever knew before.

Mountains – Valleys are, by definition, ringed with mountains. But these mountains are unique. Craggy, jagged, and dangerous-looking, they jut up suddenly out of the valley floor like the walls of a giant bedroom. The valley floor is flat, and it seems you could be driving along and, if you’re not careful, crash head-on into a mountain.

Golf – There are about a billion golf courses in the Coachella Valley, for the 9 months of the year when the temperatures are pleasant.

Tennis – It’s also big here, with tennis courts everywhere you look, and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden being a significant landmark.

Sand Storms – Twice during our visit we were afflicted with sand storms (something this couple of travel bloggers from the Southeast have never encountered, hence worthy of mention on our blog). The first time visibility was so limited we could hardly see across the street from the restaurant we were visiting.

Bifocals – It was time: time for Chuck to get his first pair. You might notice them in some of their pictures. If they didn’t work so well to enable him to see, he’d be more depressed about them.

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A Date Palm in Indio, California

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