Southwest Adventure | Palm Springs, Joshua Tree + More
The southwest features a landscape that couldn't be more different than Indiana if it tried. Between the snow covered mountains, swaying palm trees, prickly cacti and blowing sand, it's unlike anyplace I've ever visited. It almost feels like four different places all at once.
My first visit to Palm Springs was actually five years ago. My family took our first big trip to the desert over Christmas. (First time I've ever worn a swimsuit on Christmas Day!) I'm pretty sure I could visit this part of the country in the winter every year and never get sick of it.
Based on our most recent trip, I've included a few of my favorite places to stay, eat, see and do. I hope everyone has the opportunity to visit this beautiful landscape one day!
While there are some really neat hotels in Palm Springs, I would highly recommend renting a a mid-century house for a few days. Most have a pool, fresh citrus trees, killer views and some extremely interesting architecture - right out your back door. We stayed at my sister's rental home, and I felt like I was living in luxury.
If you're looking for a grocery store, Trader Joe's is a personal favorite of mine and prices were comparable to those in Indiana. Wine was even a bit cheaper! We tend to eat meals at the house and pack snacks for the car, so this was a great option for us. We also found a local Mexican grocery that had a great selection of authentic foods.
If you do venture out, my top recommendations would be:
- VillageFest Farmer's Market (6-10pm Oct-May ; 7-10pm Jun-Sep)
- Thursday night street fair on Palm Canyon Drive. We picked up some delicious produce. Don't forget your loaf of cinnamon bread from Aspen Mills Bakery & Bread Company!
- Larry's Wine & Spirits
- Don't be scared off by the fact that this is a liquor store, they have some AWESOME sandwiches inside! The wine selection looked nice, too.
- Fisherman's Market & Grill
- We bought some salmon to take home and grill. It was excellent! You can also dine-in, but you may want to make some reservations as it can be quite busy.
- Peppers Thai Cuisine
- Extremely tasty thai restaurant on Palm Canyon Drive. We shared several dishes and all were excellent.
- Joshua Tree Coffee Company
- Tyler found this little gem after our hike in Joshua Tree. It's kind of tricky to locate as it's tucked behind a few other businesses, but you won't be disappointed. This was the only pour-over coffee we found in the area.
- La Perlita
- EXCELLENT Mexican food and margaritas. Tyler and I split the fajitas, my Dad had fish tacos and my Mom had a tamale. I would recommend it all. Plus, the staff is super friendly!
Driving south of Palm Springs into the desert is full of surprises. Much of the agriculture in the area in grown thanks to irrigation systems supplied by the Colorado River. There is also a big body of water just south of Palm Springs called Salton Sea. Ever heard of it? I had no idea it even existed. I assumed the desert meant no water, so I had to go check out this phenomenon.
We headed south on HWY 86 because I read there was a beach on the west side of the sea. Well... not so much. We approached what appeared to be a VERY rundown area. Graffiti, trash, and dirt roads were the only things to be found. No beach in site! As it turns out, Salton City is now better known as California's "post-apocalyptic beach town". I guess we weren't going to lounge around in our swimsuits after all.
Since we were already in the middle of nowhere, we decided we might as well continue south to another strange southern California phenomenon - Salvation Mountain. The "mountain" is located in Niland, CA. Outsider artist Leonard Knight painted divinely inspired visions on a dirt ridge he called Salvation Mountain. I think Tyler and my parents were really starting to question my mental stability at this point... It's quite an interesting site, though! You can drive a bit further and check out Slab City, too. It's the epitome of "off the grid" living.
After our hippie binge, we started to head back north to civilization, and I must say that despite all of the weirdness, HWY 111 is quite a beauty.
Along the drive, we once again started to see signs for Salton Sea. We wondered if the eastern side of the water was a bit more inhabitable. We decided to pull over and check it out...
The Salton Sea, California's largest lake by volume, exists entirely by accident. It was created in the early 1900s after a heavy rain caused the Colorado River to burst through the banks of an irrigation canal, sending millions of gallons of water into a previously dried out lake bed in the California desert.
Unfortunately, the sea quickly became something of an ecological nightmare soup. The Salton Sea is surrounded by nearly half a million acres of agricultural land, and water from this land runs off into the sea, taking with it salt and fertilizers and pesticides. By the 70s, the water was becoming too hostile to sustain much of any kind of life, and the shoreline became littered with thousands and thousands of dead fish.
Today the water is a murky brown—it only appears blue because it reflects the desert sky. The white beaches, it turns out, are white because they're made up of the pulverized bones of millions of dead fish. Oh and the smell? THE SMELL! Wow. Words cannot do it justice. I think our photos are pretty telling...
It honestly smelled SO BAD. A mix between bird poop, dead fish, and rotting who knows what. Eek! While it wasn't quite so funny at the time, I'm glad we caught some candid photos. :) Funny enough, a "bad smell alert" was even issued for Palm Springs the day we left because of the smell from the Salton Sea. haha...
The landscape in the southwest is stunning, but the only way to truly capture the beauty is on foot. Hiking trails abound in this area, so take off and see what you can find. We spent most of our time exploring Joshua Tree National Park. We entered through the west and south entrances, and I don't know that I have a preference. Both are equally stunning. The west offers an abundance of joshua trees and some amazing rock formations. The south is much more desert-like, but the views are vast. I would recommend the Ryan Mountain trail which you can access from the west entrance and the Lost Palms Oasis/Mastedon Peak trail from the south.
I would visit this area again in a heart beat. The desert is quite a magical place, and there is still so much I'd like to do! If you have any additional recommendations, please comment below.