Tag Archives: desert

Poodle Springs.

Big Bear Lake, California

Big Bear Lake, California

I went to Big Bear and all I got was this lousy cold.

Well, actually I also picked up some postcards and some nice scenic shots of the lake and had a good time playing games with friends. Some germs I picked up while in Big Bear just came back to haunt me the following weekend when I was in Palm Springs for an archivist conference. Super drag!

In Palm Springs I managed to lead a pretty awesomesauce panel on privacy issues in archives (yay panel), and then came back to LA Saturday night and spent the rest of the weekend flopping between the living room couch and my bed. I’ve been doing my best to not hack up my lungs, but only with moderate success.

So while I’m confined to spreading my germs within the limited square footage of my apartment I thought it would be a great time to think about not being caged by illness and to relive the past two out of town weekends.

The view from my hotel room balcony, Palm Springs

The view from my hotel room balcony, Palm Springs

When I think about Palm Springs it’s really tough for me to not call it Poodle Springs, since my knowledge of the area was very recently limited to little more than Raymond Chandler’s mocking pseudonym for the city and an awareness of the existence of a crapload of midcentury modern architecture.

I’ve driven by the town on the way to Arizona and Texas.  It’s an easy 2 hour drive from my corner of the LA metropolitan region, but for whatever reason I’d not made my way out there yet.  Now that I’ve been I’d say it’s worth a revisit.  Between getting as much out of the conference as possible and then becoming miserably sick I didn’t get to see as much of the town as I’d hoped, but I saw enough that I now know I want to go back.

The conference hotel was ridiculously expensive so I looked for alternatives.  My inner hipster really wanted to stay at the ACE hotel, but it was even more expensive than the conference hotel!  Instead I ended up three hotels down at the Curve, which despite lukewarm Yelp and tripadvisor reviews is actually a pretty nifty little hotel.

The Curve has the bones of an old motel, but an updated outer appearance.  I got an upgrade from a standard peasant room to a a mountain and pool view room.  I was a little worried that the noise from the pool would be bothersome, but I wasn’t in the room much during the day and they were good about shutting down music and controlling noise after 10pm.

The hotel was great and I’d stay there again.  I had lunch and evening drinks at the ACE, and though the ambience in the diner was retro-fun, the hotel itself didn’t seem all that fancy.  I didn’t see the inside of any hotel rooms there, so I can’t speak to that, but the hotel bar, pool area, and corridors weren’t much swankier than the place I stayed at.

I should probably frame my hotel reviews with the statement that I’m not too picky of a hotel goer.  Sometimes I read hotel reviews and feel like the reviewers’ expectations are way too grand.  I once stayed in a motel in Monterey that my traveling companion said was the type of place where hookers take their clients.  I really didn’t see it that way, but I’m a pretty easy going traveler.

Mostly when I look for hotels I like to find non-chain locations in older well maintained buildings that retain some old timey charm.  Not everyone I know appreciates this aesthetic, but that’s what you’re going to end up with if I’m left organizing the travel plans.

Balcony at the Curve hotel, Palm Springs

Balcony at the Curve hotel, Palm Springs

So the Curve was perfect for my requirements.  I had some mediocre food at Lulu’s Bistro in downtown Palm Springs, but had a pretty exciting blueberry lemon lavender shake at Great Shakes around the corner.  Mixed reviews on other food I also ate there, but there are so many restaurants I think I’ll have to go back and try out a few other places.

I got a little peek at opulent midcentury design with the chance to visit Sunnylands for the conference reception.  I’m not really sure which architectural style is my favorite, but I’ve got an ever growing appreciation of midcentury modern design.  All those strong clean lines and industrial materials are pretty sexy.

Sunnylands, Palm Springs

Sunnylands, Palm Springs

Being out in the desert means seeing stars!  I didn’t drive far enough outside of town in the dark to really appreciate the night sky, but that is definitely at the top of my list of reasons to drive back out into the desert.  I probably should try desert camping one of these weekends to really get to see the universe.

Now, if I could just kick this cold I think I could call last weekend a smashing success.

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Roadside: Thoughts, plus Blythe, California and Shields Date Garden, Indio, California

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I think the perfect roadside kitsch is a combination of authentically old remnants of past structures and cultures combined with an almost sideshow like willingness to exploit these remnants. Parking is always available and if you’re a city dweller there is something especially great about getting to talk to people who work and live in these areas.

I think part of why Wall Drug was fun to stop at but not as memorable was the lack of opportunity to really talk to anyone local. What made a small jewelry stand in Quartzsite, AZ so interesting and a stop at an old bar counter in Goodsprings, NV and Randsburg, CA so satisfying was the chance to talk to locals about where they come from and what they do.

On the Quartzsite trip me and my road trip buddies also stopped in Blythe, California at Courtesy Coffee Shop and at Shields Date Farm in Indio, California.  We didn’t spend too long at either place, but they were both worthwhile stops.

Courtesy was worth the stop for the ambiance.  We totally didn’t realize that there’s a nighttime mood lighting dinner menu side and a bright, cheery, family friendly diner on the other side of the building – we ended up eating diner breakfast in romantic mood lighting, whoops.  What rebels.

Shields blew away my conception of dates.  Thanks to a (generous, enthusiastic, date promoting) researcher at work I’d already had a chance to sample a couple different kinds of dates, but going to ground zero of datedom is an experience that further altered my feelings toward the fruit.  There are so many kinds of dates that I’m starting to believe there’s one for everyone (I liked the honey ones best, and the date bread was also pretty killer.).

Now, where to next?  I’ve got a full tank of gas and a case of the go-sies.

 

Roadside: The Tomb of Hi Jolly, Quartzsite, Arizona

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In the 19th century the U.S. Army decided to test out using camels in the deserts of the American southwest. If it worked in the deserts of the Middle East, why not in America? Well, the experiment didn’t quite play out the way the Army hoped and the U.S. Camel Corp shuttered. Lead camel driver Hadji Ali (who came to be known as Hi Jolly) was brought in to work with the camels while the project was running, but decided to stick around after the experiment tanked. He became a pretty beloved local and after his death a pyramid topped with a metal camel was erected in his honor in Quartzsite, AZ.

While driving between Los Angeles and Phoenix last week the Tomb of Hi Jolly was a must-visit. It’s located in a small cemetery off the 10. We hit the town just as the last sunlight was dipping over the horizon, so it took us awhile to figure out where the cemetery was located. If you get off the 10 and follow internet directions to go west, it’s likely you won’t see the sign pointing in the direction of the cemetery. As far as we could tell in the dark there is only a sign facing the road when you’re headed east down Main St. (just a tip if you venture out that way to pay your respects).

Flashlight in hand, we headed into the cemetery. I was a little bummed to not get to see much of the rest of the place, but there is a bit of a spooky bonus for wandering around a strange cemetery at dusk. The Tomb was pretty much as expected, but it was still satisfying to visit. Thanks Hadji Ali for your services – what a strange, strange life it must’ve been to be a Middle Easterner living out in this place in the 19th century.

As a bonus we stopped to pee at a gas station where one of my companions pointed out a little jewelry stand across Main St. It was the only store that looked open at that hour and we decided what the heck, let’s go check it out. My two friends picked up some jewelry souvenirs and a bonus story from the shopkeeper. He’d come out to Quartzsite decades ago, on his way to Oregon from Pennsylvania. A woman in a bar captured his interest and he stuck around, living a very different life than the one he probably would’ve had in Oregon, but no less worthwhile. Neat guy.

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Roadside: Charlie Brown Farms, Littlerock, California

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Charlie Brown Farms is pretty much a grocery store and a restaurant with ok food. I was pretty impressed they had a vegan chili (I guess it’s close enough to the Los Angeles health cult aura to merit throwing a few bones to the health conscious metropolitans passing through town.). I can’t judge a desert place on their vegan chili (I’ve had way better – thank you Phoenix Saloon in New Braunfels, TX for setting the veggie chili bar impossibly high), but my friend got the ribs and rated them only ok, so I’m gonna say food is not the reason to come here. They had a fun selection of honey, molasses, snacks, candies, and sodas, so I don’t regret the stop, but the charm is just not there. They had some small dinos hanging out by the parking lot, but nothing to write home about.

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Roadside: Randsburg General Store, Randsburg, California

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On a trip up to Red Rocks Canyon State Park (the California one), me and my hiking buddy stopped at Randsburg, CA. Randsburg is a bit more touristy than Goodsprings, NV, but it was still a heck of a lot more engaging than Calico. At the Randsburg General Store we got to sit at a 100+ year old counter in tiny little bar chairs constructed for the size of the average American circa 1900. The diner style food was only average but their lime phosphate was legit and it was fun talking to the cashier/server/waitress about her life out in the desert.

Roadside: Goodsprings, Nevada

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On the same Vegas trip that we visited Calico, we also stopped in Goodsprings, NV for lunch – now that was a cool town! People still live there and there is a great restaurant/bar with all the old timey saloon atmosphere you could hope for. The bartender was great to chat with and the food was pretty good. I had an Irish coffee because I wasn’t driving and I was still in Vegas weekend mode. It was more Irish than coffee, but I’m not complaining. Plus, if you’ve ever played Fallout: New Vegas, you might recognize Goodsprings as the town where your character first wakes up. The saloon and general store in the game were modeled on their real life counterparts, and it’s a lot of fun to geek out and pretend to be in a postapocalyptic wasteland.

Roadside: Calico Ghost Town, Calico, California

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Everytime I drove between Southern California and Las Vegas I wistfully looked at the signs advertising Calico Ghost Town and wished we had time to stop and take a peek. Last Vegas trip my dreams became reality! It was sort of a disappointing reality. It was July and well over 100 degrees, which was sort of exciting to experience in a masochistic way. The little shops and town were cute, but they looked more touristy than ghosty (I know, I’m writing about my love for tackiness and I complain it’s too touristy?!). I don’t regret the stop, but I probably won’t be back.