The Coast News Group
Hit the Road

Plenty to see in wintertime in Palm Springs

Got snow?
Palm Springs does. More precisely, the mountains above this desert city do, and the best thing about it is that you don’t need chains to get there. You can glide up to the white stuff on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway — all the way up to 8,526 feet where you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Coachella Valley, as well as dining, shopping, hiking and playing in the snow.
In this case, getting there is as much fun as the destination, and you actually start ascending before you step on to the tram.
The drive to the Valley Station where you board the tram takes you up more than 2,000 feet. Our host told us that the many acres on either side of the canyon road have been targeted by developers for a golf course and other amenities, but so far, that hasn’t happened.
I first rode the tram in 1966, three years after it opened and a time when Palm Springs was still the hideaway for Hollywood’s elite, who would come to escape the public eye. My first tram ride was a thrill, especially for a teen from the Midwest. The old rectangular cars held only 17 people and didn’t rotate like today’s state-of-the-art, 80-passenger cars. (There are only three rotating Tramcars in the world; Palm Springs’ is the only one in North America.)
The tram cars may have changed over the years, but the sites on the way up haven’t.
Within the 10-minute ride, you pass through the same flora and fauna you’d see if you drove from the Sonora Desert of Mexico to the Transitional Zone of Alaska. Every 1,500 feet to 2,000 feet of elevation showcase plants, trees and animals of a different climate zone.
On a recent ride to the top, there was plenty of the white stuff, courtesy of a couple of recent storms that had blanketed Mount San Jacinto. Those of us who were bundled up and wearing heavy shoes enjoyed a brisk hike down the shoveled walkway that took us into the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area. We gave equal time to the sun-warmed patches between the trees and the shady spots kept cold by the occasional gust of brisk wind. Our companions from the San Francisco Bay Area couldn’t believe that a short tram trip could result in a 30-degree temperature drop. (At this writing, the daytime temperatures are in the mid-40s and there is still plenty of snow.)
After our walk, we headed inside for a bit of warming, then strolled onto the deck that provided an unhurried, panoramic view of Palm Springs and other Coachella Valley towns. Our host told us that when summer and 100-plus degree temperatures arrive, the tram is filled with locals using season passes to escape the sizzling heat. They also come to hike some of the 54 miles of trails in the 14,000-acre state park and wilderness area. Visitors also hike the 5.5 miles to the peak of Mount San Jacinto (second highest Southern California), or just sit on the deck and enjoy the cooler clime.
On your way to or from the tram, stop in at the Palm Springs Visitors Center, at the corner of Tram Way and Highway 111 (North Palm Canyon Drive).
The restored building, once a gas station and later an art gallery, is a prime example of mid-century modern architecture.
Inside, the staff and dedicated volunteers will tell you anything you want to know about the area’s history, including stories of celebrities from Hollywood’s golden era, as well as today’s glitterati.
The center also is a super place to pick up useful area maps, original vintage photo postcards from the 1950s, and other fun mid-century memorabilia.
For more, visit www. and www.