Monday, January 31, 2011
Day 166: Alien Wind Slaves
Rancho Mirage to west of Palm Springs. 19.7 miles/3209.1 total
Saturday, January 29, 2011
8:15 a.m. I’m leaving from in front of the Thai Smile restaurant in a shopping center at the corner of California Route 111 and Bob Hope Drive in Ranch Mirage, heading west through Cathedral City and Palm Springs, to a point a few miles west of downtown Palm Springs, a distance of 19.7 miles.
I’m back from a week-long rest and sojourn in Palm Springs with Uncle Ed. I took advantage of the warm weather to loll at the pool, partook of his excellent cooking, and enjoyed his hospitality.
All good things must come to an end. I have a journey to complete and today is the beginning of the last portion of that journey, what you might call the home stretch, with about eight more days of walking until I reach the ocean.
Another beautiful cloudless day in paradise with the steep rise of what I believe are the San Jacinto Mountains to my left and in front of me, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains off to the right. It’s about 65 degrees, promising to get up to the mid-70s.
Rancho Mirage is another affluent Coachella Valley city. I’m looking at tasteful one-story businesses done up to look as little as possible like the crass centers of commercialism they really are. Once people have acquired wealth they don't want to be reminded of how they got it. But why should they? Must everything look like the strip on the way into Yee-ha City on a Saturday night? I think not.
The hedges, many of them sculpted bougainvilleas, bloom as tastefully as the strip malls. All over the meticulous desert landscaping are blue and yellow-brown lantanas, subtly aromatic in the cool morning air, and everywhere tall palm trees, lots of palm trees. And speaking of desert flora, I wish to thank one of my readers—a random follower as it turns out—for answering my query regarding those willow-like evergreen trees I saw out in the desert last week. They are tamarisks, also known as salt cedars. You won’t see many of them in town here, though, because they just aren’t pretty enough to be included in a landscaping plan.
Past old shopping plazas and new ones I go. Doctor’s offices, interior design places, intimate ethnic restaurants with cute one-word names. One exception to the subtlety of all this is the Rancho Car Wash, with a large neon sign shaped like a pink elephant, probably an example of what in the world of zoning they call prior nonconforming use. And for your car purchasing pleasure we have dealerships for Jaguar, Audi, Bentley, Maserati, and Land Rover. Buy your Chevys elsewhere.
I was mistaken in my last post when I suggested that a person must be dead to get a street named after him around here. It certainly helps, but many of these streets were named when the celebrities were still alive—Bob Hope and Dinah Shore, for instance. Some, like Monty Hall, are living still. To be sure they all got old (except that poor tree hugger Sonny Bono), but that sort of goes with the territory.
I pass a bronze sculpture of a cowboy holding a saddle in one hand and a rifle in the other. It’s entitled “George Montgomery, Rider of the Purple Sage.” The piece was started by the actor himself, a man of many talents it seems, and completed after his death in 2000 by Gary Schildt. Old George died right here in Rancho Mirage. In the saddle, so to speak.
Behind tasteful walls sit tasteful low flat-roofed one-story houses and condos. Thunderbird Terrace and Thunderbird Cove and Thunderbird Villas. Nestled up in the foothills south of 111, well above the desert floor but below the higher peaks behind them, are some exceptionally choice houses. In one of them, here or in Palm Springs, lives Dolores Hope, the widow of Bob Hope. Dolores is 101 years old, having lived even longer than Bob, who made it to 100. Uncle Ed, who is full of good and sometimes true gossip, says that Mrs. Hope is (or was when she got out more) a terrible tipper, as was her husband. If I remember my Dante correctly, there's a special place for bad tippers.
I pass the Richard and Annette Bloch Cancer Survivors’ Park, just like the one in downtown Phoenix, and with the same sculpture of people walking through the doors of cancer and cancer treatment and coming out on the other side.
Just past that, at Frank Sinatra Drive, is the Rancho Mirage City Hall, very modern and architecturally innovative. It reminds me of a synagogue.
At about 4 miles I leave Rancho Mirage and enter Cathedral City, named for nearby Cathedral Canyon. Cathedral City’s population is over 52,000, about three times that of Ranch Mirage. Immediately the tone of the commerce changes. It’s less elegant and understated, which is not to say that it’s cheesy, just a little closer to normal. I pass the Palm Springs Auto Mall, selling cars that mere mortals can afford to buy—Mazdas, Fords, and the like.
I cross Monty Hall Drive. Here 111 is called East Palm Canyon Drive. There’s a downtown movie complex with an Imax theater, and the usual array of fast food joints. In addition to their shopping avenues on or near Route 111, all these towns have a port, as it were, a few miles north on I-10.
One of Cathedral City’s claims to fame is that it contains a branch of Forest Lawn Cemetery, where a number of notable people who lived around here are buried, including Frank Sinatra himself, Sonny Bono, Dinah Shore, John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, and Harold Robbins, to name a few. I do not pass near there on the walk, or I would most definitely go in for a visit.
At 6.1 miles, right next to Glory to God Ministries International, a large modern church, I leave Cathedral City and enter Palm Springs, population 42,000 plus, elevation 415 feet.
Having spent a few days here already I can say that it’s a fairly well-rounded city. Obviously it’s no slum, but it has a fair cross section of middle to upper income people. Up in the hills there are more luxurious houses. Lots of golf courses and gay bars.
I cross Gene Autry Trail and continue to head down East Palm Canyon Drive. I walk over a bridge across a wide swath of sand that I believe is the main watercourse. I’m told that once in a while it does fill up with water. Seems hard to believe.
After a spate of car dealerships Palm Canyon settles down into a street of attractive residential developments—apartments and condos mostly, offering one and two bedroom places with swimming pool and other amenities. Restaurants dot the way.
At about 9 miles I arrive at Sunrise Way, behind which Uncle Ed’s complex is located—the Smoke Tree Raquet Club, a very well maintained two-story quadrangle of one and two bedroom apartment condos with a swimming pool and spa in the middle. Most of the residents are older than me, it would seem, and older than Uncle Ed, too. A good number of them are people who rent during the winter from private owners. Lots of couples from Canada and other cold places and also a number of "singles," male and female.
A mile or so after Smoke Tree, Palm Canyon Drive takes a turn to the right and heads into the downtown. At Camino Parocela I take the left fork and stay on Palm Canyon, running toward me one way. I suddenly notice that I’m walking on the Palm Springs walk of fame, complete with stars on the sidewalk just like in Hollywood. Lots of these people are residents who are not exactly household names, like Dr. George Ordon, "TV host/ plastic surgeon/ humanitarian." Eventually I begin to recognize a few names. Chevy Chase, William Powell, Ruby Keeler, Cheetah the Chimp, Rick Nelson, Elvis Presley.
It was along this section of Palm Canyon where Uncle Ed took me to the Thursday night street fair. Every week traffic is shut down for a few blocks to make room for booths selling food as well as jewelry and crafts, all hand made.
Many boutiques, nice restaurants, and high end antique shops continue to line the street, and pairs of guys, almost identically well-dressed, are out and about walking their dogs and window shopping on this warm afternoon. Eventually I ease out of the downtown shopping area.
At 14 miles I come to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. I’m not sure what the name of the mountain is, but a rotating tram car goes up to about 8,500 feet, and there's a restaurant at the top. Today it’s a bit hazy, but I can just barely make out the cables for the tram in the distance, against Chino Canyon.
Just past the aerial tramway is the large Palm Springs official welcome sign for traffic coming the other way. West of the sign the settlements begin to thin out. I go past one more golf course and a couple of luxury housing developments and I’m out in the country on a four-lane divided highway.
Just like that I’m back in the desert, mesquite bushes growing on the flat sandy land up to the gray-green foothills. I come to a great slab of sharp rock, perhaps thirty feet high and a hundred feet wide. On it is a brass plaque that says, “Please Help Preserve This Revered Monument.” But it doesn’t say what the monument is, or who reveres it, or why.
Through the palm trees and over the roofs of the last development a vast field of windmills comes into view to the north up by I-10. This is as large a gathering of windmills as I have seen on my journey—thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of them. There are more here than in the western plains of Texas, I think. Some stand on erector-set towers that resemble old oil wells, but the majority are on the modern white poles. There appear to be several different sizes, too, arrayed along a 50 or 100 square mile tract between the mountains on either side of the interstate. Some stand in lines of fifteen or more, some stand randomly by themselves. They are like huge stationary alien slaves, sent to do our bidding, locked down to the ground, waving their three arms slowly in the air to make electricity for us. Where did they come from? When will they leave?
What’s left out here on California 111 as it makes its final way up to the interstate is an interesting study in contrasts. To the north are the windmills, the aliens who make our power. To the south are some absolutely pristine expanses of desert and mountains, giving almost no sign of visitation by humans, looking like the backdrops and settings of a hundred old westerns. On one side it’s the Sci-fi Channel, and on the other it’s TV Land. But because this is California, it’s all for our entertainment.
As I get further down the road I come to a point where it turns sharply to the right and crosses a dry stream bed, where the steep mountains have come right up to the south edge. The wind has picked up greatly here and I have to hold on to my hat. The sand from the dry stream has blown up to the road and created dunes, and even now is swirling across the ground. I can see clearly why there is a wind farm here. Climbing uphill, and going around another bend, fighting the headwind, I spot the motor home.