Palm Springs, California
Steps in the Right Direction

Steps in the Right Direction

Discovering what nature-lovers get so excited
about with a visit to Palm Springs

By Andrew Schaeffer

I’m not an outdoorsy guy. I’m in my element when I’m lounging on the couch binging something on Netflix. But, I needed to change that habit and get out and get moving—and what better way to do so than by going somewhere with plenty of outdoor activities?

I still had some vacation time available and I was in between big projects, so this was perfect timing. All I needed was a destination (if I stayed at home saying I’d get outside, I’d definitely end up watching TV all day). Thinking of places within driving distance, and remembering I already broke out of my shell when previously visiting Palm Springs, I figured that’d be the best place to once again shake things up.

Share this story

A toast to the retreat

I arrived at Escape Resort—just next door to Triangle Inn Palm Springs, where I bared it all on my last Palm Springs trip—and realized just how warm the weather would be during my stay. It was perfect for lounging naked by the pool, but I wanted to get some exercise while I was here so I needed to make sure I was ready to go each morning to beat the heat. Waking up before 10am was definitely worth it for the great summer room rate, and I didn’t mind getting an early start to the day.

For this first evening, though, it was all about relaxation at the resort. One of the owners of Escape Resort, Greg, led me to my room, which was designed with a modern and minimalist style. Stark whites and contrasting blacks made up the majority of the furnishings, with bright teal and orange accents characteristic of Palm Springs.

After settling in, my rumbling stomach required attention. Greg had recommended the authentic Mexican food at El Mirasol at Los Arboles Hotel. The idea sounded great—so did a margarita!

Los Arboles packs in the Mexican flair with its bold warm colors and Southwestern clay-tiled roofs.

Chips and salsa greeted me at my table, and I soon ordered the jalapeño margarita. The spiciness paired perfectly with the salsa and chips, making the drink just a little bit hotter. 100% would recommend. I also ordered a tostada with beef chile rojo—seasoned tender beef cooked in a red chile sauce. When my dish arrived I couldn’t see the tostada shell. I thought I had the wrong order, but it turned out the tostada was overflowing with toppings to the point that it was completely covered. I chowed down on the mammoth meal, and left with quite the full belly.

Share this story

Pedal powered

The next morning I took an early bike ride with Big Wheel Tours through the San Andreas Fault zone. The ride was 20 miles, which seemed daunting considering my longest bike ride to date was about five miles, but this ride descended about 1,600 feet over the course of the route. If I couldn’t hack it, I could catch a lift in the support vehicle that followed close behind, though I was determined to go the distance.

Leaving Palm Springs at 7am, two other riders, our enthusiastic tour guide, and I set off. Our lively group chatted as we drove about 40 miles outside Palm Springs to the starting point. Our guide gave us interesting history of the area—to hear things straight from a local’s mouth is always wonderful.

We pulled off at the start of Box Canyon Road. With no crossroads, no turns, and little-to-no traffic, we were set to go at a comfortable pace. No surprise to me that the other riders immediately pulled ahead, but this wasn’t a race, and I wasn’t stressing. It wasn’t long before the road dipped between the canyon walls and we were enveloped in the evidence of the active fault line. Upturned and twisted, the strata jutted out of the dry wash in shades of grey, brown, and even some glittery pinks. Added bonus: The canyon provided a good amount of shade and the ride itself brought a welcome breeze.

We stopped in the heart of these geologic formations to replenish water and admire the scenery—the stark beauty of the desert was positively striking. Once we came to the end of the canyon, we faced a stunning view overlooking the agriculture of the Coachella Valley with Mt. San Jacinto and the Salton Sea in the distance.

After pedaling 20 miles (and I’m not going to lie, it was a bit of a struggle for me), I rode up to the rest of the group waiting for me. I joked that I wasn’t out of shape and was last to finish because I was closely examining the rocks. But then I nearly toppled when dismounting with my tired jelly-legs, so I bet no one bought that.

We capped the bike tour with a date shake from Oasis Date Gardens, which is a definite must-have. We learned a bit about the history of growing dates in California, including the town, Mecca, whose name came about to better sell the fruit originally from the Middle East.

Back at Escape Resort, I cooled off in the pool in my birthday suit. Being there in summer meant there weren’t a lot of other guests, but that's part of the appeal if you’re a bit more introverted like myself. The serenity was as welcoming as it was relaxing, especially after a tiring day.

Share this story

Sights to behold

After a well-earned rest, the next day called for a new activity. Remembering how much cooler it was after a ride on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Mt. San Jacinto State Park seemed like a great place to get a taste of a real woodsy outdoor adventure. Instead of staying on the short paved path like last time, I wanted an actual hiking experience. Maybe I'd learn why some of my friends like to do this outdoorsy thing even though it sounds like work.

I wanted an easy trail first, so I headed to the Long Valley Discovery Trail. This three-quarter-mile loop led me through huge pine trees that circled a picturesque meadow. I enjoyed reading the informational signs along the way about the park's plants and animals. Being a flat trail, though, made this much more of a pretty walk than a hike.

I aimed for a slightly more challenging path. I found what I thought was the trailhead for the Desert View Trail. (I soon learned I was actually at the end of the loop, so I inadvertently hiked the trail backwards. Hey, I'm new to all this!) While still not an intense hike, this one and a half mile trail was much more of a hike with climbs and a twisting path.

There are a total of five views from the trail that overlook the valley—hence the name—and they were good resting stops. The vistas from five and four were definitely beautiful, showing more of the mountaintops with the desert floor as the backdrop.

I still didn't totally grasp the appeal of hiking. Because of the previous day’s bike ride, I was already getting exhausted. It took effort to move my legs, and I chastised myself for not eating a larger breakfast. I figured it would take just as long to go back as it would to finish the loop, so I trudged on.

I'm glad I did.

Immediately upon getting to notch three, I was awestruck. The view was unlike anything I'd ever seen. I found a rock to sit on underneath a mighty pine and just stared out at nature's splendor.

Tree-covered mountaintops—dotted with steely gray boulders—encompassed the whole view to the right, and then gradually transitioned to the arid beauty of the desert as I turned my head to the left. What felt like a large sprawling of communities on the valley floor before now looked tiny and inconsequential from my viewpoint on the jagged peaks that stood next to them.

The view made me feel small, and made any worries or stresses feel smaller still. The soreness in my legs receded. My stomach's plea for food subsided. There was nothing else in the world other than this view, and me witnessing it.

I finally understood why people crave time with nature.

After spending who knows how long admiring the world and getting a taste of the outdoors, I was fully energized for the rest of the hike. The views at notches two and one were amazing, but nothing could compare to what I had already seen. What was a big surprise to me, though, was that I actually had fun hiking the rest of the trail.

Once I got back into cell service at the tram station, I sent a text to a hiker friend of mine.

"I think I like hiking now."

Share this story