National Geographic Traveler columnist Christopher Elliott is trekking through the Los Angeles area with his family in search of the real Southern California. This is his second dispatch; read the first here.
Mention Palm Springs and images of golf courses, gated retirement communities and windmills probably come to mind. And while there are plenty of those, the real Palm Springs is far away from all that.
Like, on a mountaintop.
We ascended high into Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness aboard the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway to get above it all, and discovered something so unexpected, it took our breath away. Literally. At an elevation of 8,516 feet, the air is noticeably thinner — and cooler — than in the valley.
During the quiet summer months, that means relief from the triple-digit temperatures baking the brave remaining residents that aren’t snowbirds.
What you’ll find up here, along the 54 miles of alpine hiking trails, is a world away from the Palm Springs everyone knows. You can wander through ancient forests and ascend to overlooks that, on a clear day, let you see most of Southern California.
It was a fitting way to start our two-week tour of LA.
A few towns over from our hotel, the photogenic La Quinta Resort & Club, we stumbled upon yet another real California adventure: dates.
in Thermal, Calif., we visited a 175-acre working date ranch. It is one of several date farms you’ll find in this area, where visitors can drop in, sample dates and try one of their date-inspired specialties, like a date shake. Here’s a picture of my daughter enjoying one.
We didn’t expect dates out here, in the middle of Retirementville, USA. But there they were.
I’m grateful that we were able to show our kids this authentic part of Southern California while it still exists. Development is already encroaching on the farms and nurseries of the valley, and it is only a matter of time before the date palms are felled to make way for more condos and golf courses.
Sadly, Mount San Jacinto State Park is reportedly among the state parks proposed for closure as part of a deficit reduction program.
I can’t believe I overlooked these attractions on my last visit to Palm Springs. Makes me wonder what else we’re missing.
Contributing editor Christopher Elliott writes The Insider column for National Geographic Traveler. He blogs at Elliott.org and tweets at @Elliottdotorg. Photos: Christopher Elliott