Tuesday 24 May 2016

Road Trip Diary: The Desert

Day 65
Big Bear Lake to Desert Hot Springs
Tuesday 7th July 2015

Following on from our awesome lunch in the kitsch Peggy Sue Diner's, the two-hour drive through the desolate desert brought us to Desert Hot Springs. We were staying in a mid-century condo in a little complex with a pool overlooking the mountains. This was one of the first AirBnb's we had booked when we were planning our trip after I fell in love with it online and decided it was too cheap to pass up- only around £130 for all 4 nights! It was a beautiful studio apartment, decorated with amazing vintage furniture and cool decorative touches that ticked all our boxes.

Desert Hot Springs would probably be described as Palm Springs slightly sleazier, down-at-heel neighbour. It's a little more gritty and not as pretty but we were looking for a well-priced base for our time here and this was perfect. It has all the amenities you need and is only a short drive to everything you would want to see in the area. 

Day 66 
Desert Hot Springs 
Wednesday 8th July 2015 

Today was our chill out day, we wanted to lounge by the pool and soak up the sun, drink beer, eat ice cream and generally do and see nothing! We drove to the supermarket to pick up some supplies where I discovered Coolhaus Sammies - ice cream cookie sandwiches - and we stocked up on Big Wave hawaiian beer for the evening ahead.

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Day 67
Desert Hot Springs
Thursday 9th July 2015

After a very lazy Wednesday, we wanted to cram a lot in to this day so we left the house at 7am to drive to Joshua Tree, first to the national park and then to Yucca Valley.

The Joshua Tree National Park is a truly beautiful and serene place. We seemed to be the first people there so drove in alone and parked up in the already scorching heat to wander around and explore. I could have stayed there for hours, looking at the strange rock formations and the even stranger insect life that lives in such an environment. We stopped at the visitor centre and the Joshua Tree market shop on the way out whilst noticing more quirky details that seem to inhabit the desert - the rainbow bus for example!

Yucca Valley and, more specifically, the stretch of the 29 Palms Highway that rolls through Yucca Valley is home to an amazing group of artisans and retailers that make up an incredible local community. I'd heard about a lot about it through Instagram and made sure it was on our 'must do' list. We stopped for food at the Ma Rouge Coffee House, which sadly I've just learnt had to shut a couple of months ago due to a greedy landlord. It's a massive shame because we enjoyed the food and iced teas we had there and it was the perfect little pitstop in a sprawling desert strip.

I had two shops on my list to visit- first up Hoof and the Horn, a beautifully curated clothing and lifestyle shop with an impeccable eye for amazing design. Secondly, The End, an insanely gorgeous vintage shop with huge brightly coloured murals adorning the outside walls and rails and rails of the loveliest vintage treasures and locally designed fashion, accessories and jewellery. I ended up (no pun intended!) spending a small fortune in the latter!

We headed back to the apartment to freshen up and have a little rest as we were headed to Pappy and Harriets that evening for dinner. The one thing we did notice in the desert is that it really is impossible to get anywhere without a car. Not just an inconvenience or difficult, impossible. Pappy and Harriets is a saloon based in Pioneertown, about half an hours drives from Desert Hot Springs and basically in the middle of nowhere. It's an old movie town, created for the backdrop in a bunch of westerns and comprises a 'high street' of wooden shops, houses and a ranch at one end and at the other sits Pappy and Harriets, a saloon which bizarrely has a reputation for hosting some of the best intimate music gigs on the West Coast- Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age etc have played here in recent times. Due the car issue, Ed had to drive so couldn't have a drink and there wasn't a decent gig on whilst we were there so we grabbed an early dinner, played some pool and soaked up the quiet atmosphere in a place that obviously knows how to party.

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Day 68
Desert Hot Springs
Friday 10th July 2015

We headed out early again and drove through the desert, past the plains full of wind turbines and into the refreshing mirage that is Palm Springs, home to the rich and famous and many, many beautiful houses. We drove around for a while when we first arrived, gawping at all the amazing properties but then I spotted a sign for a thrift store and we spent the next couple of hours hopping from shop to shop, where I bought some incredible vintage clothes for a few dollars.

We stopped for lunch and juice, had a walk around the busy strip at the centre of Palm Springs and stood in awe as the biggest Motorcycle crew I'd ever seen rode past. I started filming it (below) but it just went on and on, much longer than my video shows, it was like being an extra in an episode of Sons of Anarchy.

The last stop on our desert list was dinosaurs, very big dinosaurs, in the middle of nowhere. The Cabazon Dinosaurs to be exact, a brilliantly odd roadside attraction originally built to promote the now-closed diner next door. You can climb them, take photos in them, visit the shop inside one's belly, what more could you want? There's a separate museum and gift shop which we wondered round for a small entrance fee, but really it's just the huge model monsters you should bother with.

The desert was both mine and Ed's favourite place of the whole trip, the quietness of it, the strangeness, the way the community thrives somewhere that is seemingly impossible. We were sad to leave but happy knowing we would definitely be back someday, back to the dust and heat of the desert.

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  1. Yay! So glad you've updated and that you managed to do all the amazing things the desert has to offer. Unfortunately I couldn't help read these posts without feeling some serious regret. When you mention that it's impossible to do the desert without a car well we would be living proof of exactly that! It's a loooong story but as the only part of our trip that we were planning to drive it was a bit of a disaster when our hire car fell through and we were left totally stranded! Uber saved the day getting us there from Palm Springs, but taxis in the JT/Yucca area just plain don't exist, there just isn't the demand, I mean who comes to the desert without a car! Errmmm us. We actually went past The End in an Uber which was utterly painful. I failed to convince my sister it was worth a stop. Admittedly we had been up since 5 am and spent the entire day in car-hire-cancellation-wtf-do-we-do-now hell. We also failed to make it to the dinosaurs, Pappy & Harriet's or the Integratron. On the plus side being car-less meant that we had to ride quite a few buses, usually after walking forever then waiting for at least an hour in the crazy heat (oh and one bus broke down) where we met so many lovely bonkers Americans who wanted to know all about us. Plus we spent lots of time with very kind park rangers who did their best to help us experience at least a tiny teaser of the edge of the park - you wouldn't believe how long it took to get to just the park entrance on bus & foot. To know that all that incredible epic nature was so tantalisingly close but so so out of reach was :( depressing! Luckily our Air BnB was in walking distance of the main JT strip where the Natural Sister's café was where at least we could eat. As vege/vegans if it wasn't for that I don't think we would have eaten for 3 days! And of course the Saloon bar, thank god for the Saloon!
    Oh well, we certainly learnt many lessons about California and in particular just how friggin' HUGE it is. Why on earth we thought we could do the North and South in 2 weeks I do not know?! But, it can only mean that next time we will know exactly how to go about it and most probably either go for a few months as you guys did, or not attempt so much. For instance I'd happily stay in just Palm Springs for 2 weeks, again a 'city' that is almost impossible to cross without your own transport. What we saw passing through (again Uber) was so so beautiful and the little bit we stayed in was blissful. Thankfully we did the aerial tramway and it was dreamy, snow at the top :)so pleased we got to do that.
    One day, the rest :) xxx

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