03 JUL 2019: Joshua Tree National Park has this uncanny seduction. Is it the aridness? Maybe it's the stark, utter desolate wilderness caked from the high desert sun? Or perhaps it's, “I still haven't found what I'm looking for,” a rock ballad made famous by U2 from their 80s album, The Joshua Tree.

I had to find out. Last month I took a post IPW FAM tour of the Greater Palm Springs area to scour the California desert.

In the old days of the Hollywood studios, movie stars had to be available within a 2-hour radius for any unexpected filming. Voila Palm Springs! Ideally positioned 2-hours east from Hollywood, cocktails are forever poolside. The late great Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Marilyn Monroe all had lavish homes here.

“There's always been a mystique about Palm Springs that has attracted artists, designers and other creatives,” says John-Michael Cooper with Visit Palm Springs.

Home to nine cities over two counties (Riverside and San Bernardino) in the Coachella Valley this is unbeatable territory for fun, pleasure and sun-scorching outdoor adventures. Depending on your mood, head west for tree-covered mountains or south for desert escapes.

Is it any wonder Canada is the number one international market for Greater Palm Springs?

The CVB reports over a three-year period (2015-2018) Canadian visitation spiked 14.6 percent. Growth can be attributed to the direct and seasonal air service with carriers like Air Canada and WestJet plus the popular festival circuit and Instagram crowds heading to Joshua Tree.

Now here are three easy ways to find the stars of the desert:

Desert Adventures

Desert Adventures takes groups on various guided desert tours. Ours hightailed it to the entrance of Palm Canyon, which our guide De explains was on the route to Disneyland's original entrance until, “Mr. Walt Disney saw another location and built it there,” alluding to Disney's Anaheim.

The story is, that the abandoned holdout was to become Mr. Ralph Marsh's prized gas station for Mouseketeer-bound fans on their way to the new Disneyland.  Of course, it never happened.  Today, the derelict building sits in the middle of nowhere but is aptly en-route to desert adventures from this local tour operator.

Highlight – Standing on the menacing San Andreas Fault, surrounded by sky-high palm trees and chomping on bean powder, the very powder sold on Amazon.com for muchos dollars. Known as honey mesquite powder it was a common food source for the local tribes. It's nutrient rich with calcium and I'm told is good for relaxation and mental health.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

In the rugged Chino Canyon you skim treetops on your way toward a snow-topped mountain in the world's largest rotating aerial tramway, open since 1963. Don't get comfortable because the cable car continuously rotates during the 10-minute ride, giving you peek-a-boo moments of the clear wide open views.

Turns out the visionary, Francis Crocker one day longed to, “Go up there where it's nice and cool,” as he mopped his brow gazing at Mount San Jacinto at an elevation of 10,834 feet during a visit to the area. After many roadblocks, deep pockets and new legislation, his dream turned into a reality. Today you can marvel at what has been labelled as, “The Eighth Wonder of the World” for its engineering and tactical prowess.

Highlight – The view at the top. On clear days it's said you can see to Mount Charleston north of Las Vegas. I saw California's Salton Sea, Windmill Alley, Palm Springs and the barren ripples emanating from the San Andreas Fault line.

Joshua Tree

The night before my Joshua Tree encounter was a desert party hosted by industry folks from a desert town called, 29 Palms. I was in heaven. The setting was the former residence of Huell Howser, a popular host of the 90s hit TV show, California's Gold. I love mid century modern architecture so already I was gobsmacked.

But before entering this sleek party palace a high-spirited welcome was directed my way. “It's you, how are you?” asks David Smith, flashing a California smile the size of the Mojave Desert. He is the superintendent of Joshua Tree National Park.

Smith fielded questions later in the evening during an impromptu media scrum beneath the stars. “You feel the heat percolate inside your veins. The sun's a killer and there's no cell reception,” he deadpanned as each onlooker took mental notes.

The next morning as the temperature skyrocketed to 32 Celsius we entered the park gates heading into a surreal landscape where two deserts meet: the Mojave and Sonoran deserts.  As we drove by the giant branching yuccas and peculiar rock formations with some that look like skulls our host, Park Ranger Keith Flood refers to the survival bit again. “There are no concession stores, no cellphone service, and no gas stations throughout the park.”

Despite these challenges the latest arrival numbers indicate last year over 2.8 million visitors toured the park, setting a new record. Smith attributes the increase to visitors heeding the suggestion to visit during off-peak times, mid-week and, “Using the entrance at Cottonwood to avoid big weekend crowds.”

Highlight- Joshua Tree National Park is one of the newest Dark Sky Parks in the US National Park system. Be sure to hang out with folks from Sky's The Limit Observatory and Nature Center

For a moment, the universe with the Milky Way Galaxy twinkling a gazillion light years away you really could feel the stars were close by... and not the Hollywood kind either.

Visit Greater Palm Springs 

PALM SPRINGS
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author

Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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