Tag Archives: Palm Springs

From mountain top to desert floor, three easy ways to enjoy Palm Springs

With spring so late in arriving this year, winter-weary Wisconsin residents can’t be blamed for dreaming of a warm-weather getaway.

What better place than Palm Springs, Calif.? There’s still a hip, Rat-Pack vibe to this celebrity-packed small town, located about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. While the original Rat Pack is long gone, the homes remain where Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Liberace and Elvis transformed Palm Springs into a swinging retreat. 

And speaking of Liberace, Palm Springs has established itself as one of the most LGBT-friendly towns in America. In the past five years, there has been an explosion of gay businesses and gay residents, according to the Gay Palm Springs website. It estimates that gays comprise 40 percent of the year-round population.

Better yet, there are still plenty of nice days ahead before the scorching heat of desert summer arrives. April and May, while considered slightly “off-peak” months, feature bargain rates for lodging, airfare and rental cars. 

Although there’s nothing better than sitting back, soaking up the sun and gazing at the towering palm trees, Palm Springs also offers plenty to do ­– not all of it involving golf or swimming. 

Touring the San Andreas Fault

A number of tour companies will let you explore the area’s desert wilderness from a Jeep or a Hummer. Desert Adventures can accommodate six to eight riders in its trademark open-air red Jeeps and more in its air-conditioned tour buses. The half-day trips take visitors to Indian Canyons, Joshua Tree National Park and other off-road attractions.

On my recent Jeep tour, Phil La Greca proved to be an incredibly entertaining, accommodating and informative guide. He told us that employees must pass a course in the area’s history, culture and flora/fauna before becoming guides. Like many of the area’s guides, Phil is supposedly “retired.” But his energetic appeal is contagious, and his bright red Jeep tore along the bumpy back roads toward the San Andreas Fault. (This area proved its reputation as an “active earthquake zone” by producing a 4.7 quake the very next day.) 

I doubt such an event would have caused fearless Phil to raise an eyebrow. Tanned, fit and gregarious, he kept the group hopping on and off the Jeep as he explained the surprising attractions. One native bush he showed us served as a “grocery store” to the native Cahuilla Indians, he explained, while another he pointed out was considered the tribe’s “drugstore.” How amazing that such scrubby, ugly plants could provide so much sustenance to the first humans who lived here.

Desert Adventure Tours are available in the early morning, the afternoon and sometimes the evening. A 3- to 4-hour tour costs about $150 and includes water and granola bars. It’s an unforgettable ride. For more information, go to red-jeep.com.

Downhill bike tours

A 20-mile bike ride in the blazing sun might not sound appealing. But with Big Wheel Tours, the ride goes in only one direction – downhill. More properly called the “Earthquake Canyon Express,” the tour transports riders, bicycles, helmets and water to the top of a cliff in the San Andreas Fault zone. The ride is all on paved road that sees very little traffic.

Somewhat disappointingly, the downhill glide is very gentle. There are no steep drops and no sensation of careening down a mountainside cliff. That’s probably a plus for the company’s insurance liability. On the day of my ride, a stiff headwind required me to expend quite a bit of effort to keep my bike gliding.

The tour winds through several distinct areas of high- and low-elevation vegetation. At first, sections of steep, slanted rocks reflect the sliding of massive tectonic plates through the area. The effect is starkly dramatic. Eventually more open territory appears, with mountains in the distance. Near the end, riders are greeted by an overwhelming citrus scent at the valley floor. Rows and rows of trees and plants produce lemons, oranges, cauliflower, softball-size avocados and the area’s renowned dates. Almost every date consumed in the U.S. begins here, in the desert’s Coachella Valley. 

“Bill,” the guide for our group, is another active retiree. Lean and fit, Bill is a former professional bicycle racer who competed in 200-mile rides when he was a teenager. He still looks as though he could outride us all. He followed patiently behind our group in a van, equipped with spare chains and other bicycle parts. Most of his work during my trip involved swapping empty water bottles for full ones. The combination of fresh air, sun and exercise made for an exhilarating experience.

Big Wheel Tours offers a number of different bike tours, including off-road mountain bike tours. The “Earthquake Canyon” tour is $95; prices for other tours vary. For more information, go to bwbtours.com.

Mountain climbing

The most comfortable and effortless way to scale the sheer cliffs of Chino Canyon is a ride on the Aerial Tramway. In about 10 minutes, the rotating tramcar (yes, it actually rotates slowly while in motion) ascends to San Jacinto State Park.

Two trams are in motion simultaneously – one beginning at the bottom, the other at the top. The ride is amazingly smooth, and the view at the top is well worth the trip. Outlooks provide breathtaking views of the valley below, as do the large windows from the appropriately named Peak Restaurant, a full-service eatery at 8,500 feet. There’s also a more casual lounge area and a cafeteria line for families with squirmy kids. Bring a parka and boots – it’s not unusual for temperatures on the mountaintop to be 50 degrees cooler than in the valley.

A visit to Palm Springs almost isn’t complete without a trip on the tram. For Wisconsin visitors, the best part is playing in the snow atop the mountain, and then waving goodbye to it while descending. Daytime visits offer plenty to do. Cross-country skis and snowshoes are available for rent.

Sunset at the top of the tram is magical. On clear nights, the lights of Palm Springs glitter below from their glamorous desert oasis.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway operates year-round (except for routine maintenance in August and September). Tickets are about $24. For more information, go to pstramway.com.


Luxury gay retirement community planned for Palm Springs

A stylish retirement community under development in Rancho Mirage, Calif., will cater to gay retirees – but everyone is welcome.

The $250 million community, called BOOM!, will be built in the desert near Palm Springs. Encompassing more than 100 acres, the project will feature eight neighborhoods, each designed by a different architect, and about 300 residences of various sizes.

The community is designed to appeal to pedestrians and includes elements such as a funhouse for kids and grandparents as well as a mist disco and a network of pools. Developers have not yet started the building approval process, but press materials say the project will break ground in late 2012 and complete late in 2014.

There’s an online site where prospective residents can provide feedback on the designs, join advisory boards and help steer the overall trajectory of the project.

Housing for gay seniors is an issue of growing concern due to the unprecedented number of out LGBT people and the aging of the baby boomer generation. The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce estimates there are more than 3 million gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans over age 65.

Many gays and lesbians who are out feel fear being forced to return to the closet when they enter assisted living facilities.

About 25 retirement communities in the U.S catering specifically to gays and lesbians are available now or planned for the near future.

Stonewall Miner, a planned gay retirement home in Boston, never got off the ground. The developer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. After a slow start, a similar community in Santa Fe, N.M., called RainbowVision, appears to be doing well.


Scandalous pix posted of Mary Bono Mack

An online publication has posted pictures that show U.S. Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., in a compromising position with another woman.

In the pictures posted by Radar Online, Mack is having her breasts licked by Edra Blixseth, a major Bono campaign donor and former billionaire who is currently under investigation for fraud by the FBI. The photos allegedly were taken during an event at Blixseth’s $75-million estate in Rancho Mirage four years ago.

Radar Online’s sources said Mack “was blitzed and clearly having a great time” at the function.

Julie Bornstein, Mack’s 2008 congressional challenger, said the congresswoman’s partying ways are well known in both California and Washington.

“Several women in the California Congressional delegation were embarrassed repeatedly by Mary Bono’s behavior and conduct in the Capitol and encouraged me to run because of the embarrassment she brought to the legislature,” Bornstein told Radar Online.

Mack is the widow of the late Sonny Bono, who was elected to Congress in 1995. She took over Bono’s seat after he was killed in a Nevada ski accident in 1998.

In November, Mack won her re-election bid over Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet, who is openly gay.