We spent about ten days exploring the desert near Palm Springs, California, dividing our time between exploring the city of Palm Springs, checking out Joshua Tree National Park, and hiking in various state and local parks in the California desert. When not running around trying to take it all in, we were soaking in the mineral hot springs located in our RV park.

Palm Springs Art Museum

Yes, we went to an art museum. I know ya’ll think it’s just beer and screwing off around here, but sometimes it’s beer and art and screwing off. So there.

Downtown Palm Springs, California
Downtown Palm Springs is home to lots of cool shops and restaurants and a whole lot of palm trees…

Thursday evenings from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., the Palm Springs Art Museum offers free admission and, conveniently, that same night, from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m., the city of Palm Springs hosts a street festival right outside the museum. So it was pretty hard to justify blowing off the art museum when we were going to be stuffing our faces at the street festival right outside.

The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California
If you build it, and don’t make people pay to visit it, they will come.

The museum was really pretty nice. It’s not huge, but it has a nice collection of interesting pieces… including a large glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly – who even I know….

Artwork by Dale Chihuly at The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California

this super cool rug/wall hanging combo…

The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California

a White Walker horse from Game of Thrones…

The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California

and a photography exhibit that showcases famous athletes in the nude…

Photography exhibit at The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California

prompting you to conclude that not only are you a terrible photographer but you are also terribly out of shape.

Photography exhibit at The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California


There were also some of the typical weird art pieces…

The good old “giant stack-o-dinner plates”:

Exhibits at The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California

This piece, which Kevin referred to as a “Stargate” (which, as I understand it, has something to do with MacGyver):

The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California

This piece which I referred to as “F*%k you.”:

The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California

And these bags of garbage in the middle of the floor. And yes, these bags of garbage were an actual exhibit. I guess. I don’t know.

The Palm Springs Art Museum, Palm Springs, California This is why we go to bars and drink beer. Beer, we get. This? We got nothin….

Palm Springs Street Festival

Speaking of things we actually get, the street festival was lots of fun. It is held every Thursday night throughout the year and is very well attended.

Crowds at the Palm Springs VillageFest street fair, Palm Springs, California

The city blocks off several streets and local vendors set out their wares – painters, jewelry makers, craftsmen, farmers, bread makers, macaron manufacturers, etc.

Art vendor at the Palm Springs VillageFest street fair, Palm Springs, California

Vendors at the Palm Springs VillageFest street fair, Palm Springs, California

Art for sale at the Palm Springs VillageFest street fair, Palm Springs, California

Then there are local restaurants that set up booths cooking everything from paella…

Paella being made at the Palm Springs VillageFest, Palm Springs, California

to tamales…

The Tamale Guy at the Palm Springs VillageFest, Palm Springs, California

The tamale guy was our favorite….

In the meantime, there are musicians who entertain the crowds and, on the first night we went (we went two weeks in a row because: tamales), there was a performance showcase for the Palm Springs Dance Festival. This was an event which included performers ranging from local dance schools to high school dance teams to professionals visiting from Martha Graham Dance Company in New York.

Dance exhibit at the Palm Springs VillageFest street fair, Palm Springs, California
A couple performers from one of the local dance schools
Dance exhibit at the Palm Springs VillageFest, Palm Springs, California
A pro from Martha Graham

We took in a couple of performances and then continued to meander the streets.

Joshua Tree National Park

The biggest item on our to-do list while in the area was Joshua Tree National Park. People rave about this park and we’d been hearing about it for years, so it was at the top of our list. JTNP boasts two different types of desert (Mojave and Colorado) which meet in the middle of the park, so, if you’re paying attention as you drive around the park, you’ll notice that the entire landscape changes dramatically.

In the northwest section of the park, there are fields of the park’s namesake Joshua Trees:

As you keep driving toward the south and east, you begin encountering these massive piles of boulders interspersed with the Joshua Trees…

A Joshua Tree in front of giant boulders at Joshua Tree National Park

Giant boulders at Joshua Tree National Park There are a couple notable sites and viewing points that are also worth visiting – including skull rock…

Scull Rock at Joshua Tree National Park

and Keys View – the highest viewpoint in the park. From here, on a clear day, you can see all the way across the Coachella Valley, including Palm Springs and the Salton Sea.

Keys View at Joshua Tree National Park

But that’s not a given. The haze you see in this photo:

View from Keys View at Joshua Tree National Park

That’s mostly pollution.


Anyway, as you keep driving south through the park, you’ll suddenly realize the landscape is completely different. In the course of just a few miles, the boulders and Joshua Trees are gone, replaced with a more typical desert landscape.

Road through Joshua Tree National Park

There’s also an entire garden of cholla cacti. If you’re not familiar with these lovely plants, they are commonly referred to as “jumping cactus” because they are very loosely attached to the stalks of the plant and it takes almost no contact between you and it for the needles to embed themselves in your skin (ie: it appears as if the cactus “jumps” on you as you walk by.) More problematic, the needles have microscopic reverse barbs (think: fishing hook), so once they stick into your skin, you basically have to rip them out. Bottom line: if you see one, stay far away.

Cholla Cactus at Joshua Tree National Park

Or, accept the Park’s invitation to wander through an entire garden full of them.

Trail through Cholla Cactus garden at Joshua Tree National Park

Sometimes I think NPS just does stuff to mess with tourists… like placing this picnic table directly beneath a giant boulder precariously balanced a hundred feet above:

Really? You guys couldn’t find a single other place to put this picnic table other than right below this boulder? And this whole park is located less than 50 miles from the San Andreas Fault? I mean, if I were you, I’d be pretty tired of tourists too, but this seems a bit extreme, no?

Anyway, our initial plan was to visit the park for a day to get a feel for it, then come back a couple days later to tent camp. One of the problems with having a big motorhome like ours is that it’s very difficult for us to get campsites in the national park system. Most of the campgrounds in the big parks were built many years ago when RVs were much smaller, so they simply cannot accommodate RVs like ours. For this reason, many RVers downsize from bigger RVs to smaller ones over time, and it’s something we considered when we bought Barney, but, in the end, we decided we were willing to be slightly inconvenienced some of the time in order to have more space the rest of the time. Plus, we figured we had a good alternative solution: tent camping! We figured if we wanted to spend more time at a particular park that couldn’t accommodate our home, we would just leave the RV at a commercial campground and grab a tent site for a night or two.

Giant boulders at Joshua Tree National Park

And that’s what we were planning on doing with Joshua Tree, however, when we were talking to a park ranger during our initial visit and mentioned our plans, he strongly discouraged us from trying it. He indicated the park was expected to be very busy all month because of Spring Break and, more importantly, they’d been having a problem with certain visitors gaming the system – staying past the campground’s nightly stay limits by using different names to reserve sites, moving sites, etc. He said because of these jerkwads (my term, not his) overstaying, the number of campsites for everyone else was severely reduced during busy periods, leaving hopeful campers to show up hours before check-in time to circle the campgrounds like vultures trying to snag a first come/first served site. And, he said, all of this had led to a number of physical fights over campsites.

None of which sounded all that appealing to us.

So, we jettisoned the idea of tent camping and only visited JTNP the one time. We could have gone back just for a day-trip, but being an hour away, and having learned our lesson last summer about driving too much, we just nixed the whole idea.

In the meantime, I have no idea why the park rangers aren’t doing more to stop this abuse of the system, but for whatever reason, they’re not. Add in the fact that there’s already enormous competition for RV spots in a lot of locations across the country, and our national park system as a whole appears to be completely overwhelmed with visitors, and it’s not a great situation.

Palm Springs Tram to Mount San Jacinto State Park

Once we nixed the idea of returning to Joshua Tree, I started looking for other options for outdoor activities in the area. Luckily, the area around Palm Springs has plenty to offer.

The Palm Springs Tram is a gondola that takes visitors from Palm Springs up to the top of Mount San Jacinto, one of the highest peaks in southern California.

Palm Springs Tram in Palm Springs, California

It costs $26 per person for the 10 minute trip to the top (the ticket price includes the return trip) and, just like on Mount Lemmon in Tucson, you start in the desert and end in an alpine forest. Unlike Mount Lemmon, which was an easy drive, the gondola ride is a bit more touch and go if you’re not a fan of heights. The car swings a good bit as it goes over the giant support structures and the floor on which guests are standing consistently turns. Good: you get to see an ever changing landscape as the gondola heads up the mountain side. Bad: the friggen floor is moving while you’re pondering the effects of rust on gondola support systems. Also, helpfully, there is no alternative way down the mountain, so if you do get to the top and realize you were not a fan of the trip, your options are to A) go to the bar and get hammered; or B) go to the bar and get hammered. There is no Option C.


The view from inside the Palm Springs Tram


The view from inside the Palm Springs Tram

Up, and away….

The view from inside the Palm Springs Tram

…to the bar.

Once at the top, there are a couple restaurants, lots of viewing areas, and access to 54 miles of trails.

View from the top of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs, California

View from the top of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs, California

There was even snow!

Snow at the top of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs, California

After taking in some of the views, we headed off on one of the shorter scenic walks and were just blown away.  It was spectacular.

View from the top of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs, California

View from the top of Mount San Jacinto in Palm Springs, California

Whitewater Preserve and Coachella Preserve

Since we wanted to get out and hike but we weren’t going back to Joshua Tree, I found some alternative hiking spots in the area, both of which we’d recommend.

Whitewater Preserve hiking trail, Whitewater, California

Whitewater Preserve is free to visit and the launching point for a trail that connects to the Pacific Crest Trail (the west coast version of the Appalachian Trail). We chose to complete the Canyon View Loop which is a moderate 3.5 mile trail that runs through some pretty interesting environments. It was challenging enough to keep things interesting, but nothing too crazy – though I certainly wouldn’t want to hike it in the summer.

View from the top of the Canyon Loop Trail at Whitewater Preserve
The view from the highest point of the trail
View from the ridge on the Canyon Loop Trail at Whitewater Preserve
The view across the ridge, looking back at the high point

Coachella Valley Preserve is really interesting because of the geologic features beneath the park. In the middle of a rather enormous chunk of arid California desert, there is this small preserve full of palm tree groves.

Palm trees at Coachella Valley Preserve in Thousand Palms, California

Why? Because beneath the Preserve is the San Andreas Fault which allows warm spring waters to percolate to the surface. The waters support the palm trees, plants, and wildlife in the park.

Palm trees surrounding a pond at Coachella Valley Preserve in Thousand Palms, California

Walking on the trails was like walking through a jungle…

Palm trees at Coachella Valley Preserve in Thousand Palms, CaliforniaUnfortunately, it was cloudy the day we visited, but you can imagine what it looks like on a normal day with bright blue skies… a true oasis in the middle of the desert.

Hot Springs

Speaking of hot water in the desert, there are a lot of natural hot springs in the area and we happened to stay at a park that was built to take advantage of them. The resort is mostly a retirement community, but they also have RV spaces. While during the daylight hours we were unquestionably bringing down the average age of the place, at night, because we are night owls, we were able to visit the pools when very few people were around.


Swimming pools at Sky Valley Resort in Desert Hot Springs, California


Swimming pools at Sky Valley Resort in Desert Hot Springs, California

While the park had some nice amenities, by the time our reservation ended, we were ready for a change of scenery. Luckily, we got just that at a spacious, green, very nice county park in Bonita, California. There, we enjoyed some down time and rested up for the incredible amount of socializing we were about to partake in in sunny San Diego. More on that soon.


Where we stayed:

Desert Hot Springs, California: Sky Valley Resort

Bonita, California: Sweetwater Summit Regional Park


  1. Cool places in this post! Great pics!!! We are huge fans of Chihuly. We saw an entire exhibit in Boston several years ago. It was stunning. The spider is just wrong and Kevin will be impressed with my geekiness, I totally get the stargate thing. The Joshua Trees are very cool, but tent camping sounds horrid. Just sayin’ ????. There is a similar type of farmers market (but during the day) in San Diego. Check it out when you are there. Lots of great food and neat crafts. Not sure on the beer thing, sorry, but you’ll find a nearby bar ????. With my fear of heights I’d need Xanax for that gondola ride. Glad you found some great places!!!

    • We will definitely be keeping our eye out for more opportunities to see Chihuly’s sculptures. They are so distinctive, you immediately know whose stuff you’re looking at when you see it, which is really cool. I am also 100% sure that you should not add the Palm Springs Tram to any of your future travel plans. You would have a coronary. Thanks for the tip on the farmer’s market. I’ll have to figure out where it is. I know there are a bunch of them in the city, but I haven’t had time to research which ones are where or when they are held. I’ll figure that out soon. This place is overwhelming (in a good way) with all the stuff there is to see and do. It truly is a fantastic city!

  2. When I was stationed at 29 Palms, I spent most of my off time at JTNP. Love, love, love it there! Of course, that was many years ago and the park wasn’t as crowded as it is now. I never took the tram in Palm Springs, but will have to add it to my ever growing list of things to do.

    • It’s odd. We didn’t actually find the park itself to be all that crowded. I think the issue is really with the campgrounds. There just aren’t enough of them to serve all the people who want to stay there (especially with folks overstaying), but we were happy to find that the various view points and trails weren’t particularly crazy – at least the day we were there. It probably gets worse as it gets later in the year. And yes, the Palm Springs Tram was great – as long as you don’t mind the heights. The trails and views at the top were some of our favorites from our stay in the area.

  3. Ha, I knew I didn’t want to ride that gondola when we were in Palm Springs a few years ago. And now I’m absolutely certain that I never will, even though the views from the top were pretty spectacular—you must have taken those photos before you hit the bar, right? Looks like you found all the good stuff to do in the area. Love your photos of the art museum and your commentary. We did a free tour that helped us “appreciate” some of the more bizarre pieces instead of just saying, “That is so weird!” (Those garbage bags, though—those are just weird.) Next time, check out Sunnylands, the Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage. Interesting place, and the gardens are gorgeous.
    We made the mistake of Joshua Tree at spring break one year. Never again. But we’ve been several other times and loved it. It’s fun camping among the big boulders and there are many excellent hiking trails. Don’t give up on it, but avoid weekends!

    • We did indeed wait to hit the bar until after we’d walked the trails and taken the photos. We may not be the brightest bulbs on the tree, but we have definitely figured out that booze and cliffs don’t mix. But I won’t lie, it was sure nice to have a glass of wine before getting back on that tram. That thing was no joke.

      As with so many things, it seems that timing is everything with visiting these popular places.. Last year we were in San Antonio and this year it’s San Diego during spring break. Both were overrun with little kids and I imagine both feel very different when it’s not March.
      Not that we can really complain all that much… (but we still will.) I think next year we may spend March in the desert somewhere…. in a cave… hiding.

      Thanks for the tip on Sunnylands. That is not one that I’ve heard of before. Good to know.

  4. Visiting Joshua Tree is tough because of the size. The best way to see it if your aren’t tent camping, is to park in various spots to see the different areas. We stayed in Indio our first time which worked for the southeast area. We next stayed in Desert Hot Springs, and then just recently stayed in 29 Palms. It always requires a drive but so worth it. It is too bad that so many people are taking advantage of the park camping policy. I know it is nice to stay longer but we do need to consider others. How did you ever manage a photo with Skull Rock empty!! Great job!!

    The tram trip was awesome. So glad you got to do this ride. It was 39 degrees when we got off the tram and we had a great loop hike planned. We were alone on our hike which was snow covered for the first half then dry on the other side of the mountain. so much fun!

    Love, love your take on the art museum. We have very similar thoughts on some of the “art”…trash bags…really!!! I would love to listen the “artist” explain this piece!!

    • I absolutely agree on staying in different areas to see the park. As it was, we only saw a tiny portion of what was there. The parks are just so massive and, for us, we had to drive all the way around a good portion of it before we could even get in. (It’s too bad there isn’t an entrance on the west side of the park.) Oh well. If and when we return, we would try to stay somewhere on the southern end and then on the northeastern side.

      We were happy to find the viewpoints and trails relatively quiet during our visit. It sounds like the real issue is the campgrounds. When we got to skull rock, there were just a handful of people there and they left soon after we arrived. Good timing indeed. That was another thing we loved about the trails at the top of Mount San Jacinto. Like you, once we got away from the visitor’s center, we found very few people on the trails. It seems that most folks just visit the overlooks and go have lunch. There were only a handful of us who ventured out on the trails and we were so happy we did.

  5. Thanks for taking us on the tram ride…..now I won’t feel guilty about NOT ever doing it myself. Just your descriptions gave me the squeezies.

    We’ve spent quite a bit of time in the Palm Springs area and enjoyed the Thursday night stroll but haven’t stopped to visit the museum….we’ll probably spend the Christmas holidays there next year so I think we’ll just drop in then. I loved the “rug”!

    • Yeah, if you’re bothered by heights at all, I would strongly suggest avoiding that thing like the plague. Maybe even more than the plague. Like, if the plague and rabies got together and had a baby, it would be like that…. Yeah. Just skip it. 🙂 But the art museum was really cool, the folks who work there are super nice, and it’s FREE! You really can’t skip it when it’s right there and it’s free!! And its funny you mention that rug – I saw a photo of that on Tripadvisor and that’s why I started looking into the museum and learned about the Thursday night thing. It really is such a neat piece of art!

  6. Looks like a great time. Thanks for sharing some of the “art”!

    We were in Joshua Tree a few days ago, and we got a lot of warnings of the crowd from the ranger we talked to, too. We went to the park really early both days we visited, and the crowds weren’t too bad.

    I wonder if our paths will cross in California! We are in Santa Barbara now, and plan to work our way north, stopping at all the National Parks and San Francisco.

    • Dammit! You’re going the wrong way!! We’re in San Diego for a bit more, but then we’re heading toward southern Utah. We expect to be in the pacific northwest at the end of the summer though. Perhaps we’ll cross paths then??? If you want, I can email you a more detailed schedule of where we’ll be and when. Just let me know.

  7. I do enjoy your sense of humor. Yeah, the picnic table placed near a boulder precariously perched high above in earthquake prone territory, makes total sense. About as much sense as garbage bags featured as art. It’s getting more and more difficult traveling without firm reservations. It wasn’t like this 4-5 years ago and I doubt the crowds will ease up, unfortunately.

    • Yeah, the longer we travel, the more convinced we become that the RV world of ‘yesteryear’ no longer exists. The reality is there are more and more people competing for fewer and fewer spots in prime locations and the days of just showing up and finding an open campsite are over. I assume the market will catch up at some point and some balance will be restored, but in the meantime, I expect we will all be planning more, and paying more, as we go. 🙁

  8. What a treat to read your blog Laura! We haven’t traveled in the Palm Springs area, but hope to someday. I loved your take on the art museum…very entertaining! Beautiful photography!

    • Thank you so much, Gay, I really appreciate it! Palm Springs is definitely an appealing area, especially given their winter weather. It’s not hard to see why it’s always been so popular. Great weather, lots to do, nice scenery….And we just barely scratched the surface of all that is there. I am sure we will return at some point!

  9. Okay there was some cool art there but also some really weird stuff! I would take beer over garbage art any day ☺ And a picnic table under a rock … seriously Laura I kill myself laughing when I read your blogs! You did all the things in Palm Springs that we have always wanted to do but have never had the time, other than the Street Festival … we did attend that and had a great time. Hubby’s cousin lives in Palm Desert so that is usually where we spend all our time but after reading your blog we are going to have to stay longer and do all the things you did … thanks for the info.

    • Yeah, we were surprised by how much there was in the area. The town of Palm Springs by itself has a lot of cool stuff to see and do, then add in all the surrounding towns, natural beauty, and challenging hikes and you could easily spend several weeks there without running out of stuff to do. Definitely worth checking out. And I’m with you on the beer. Art can be way too weird for me!

    • Yeah, we find the older we get, the less excited we are to deal with heights. We still do, but it definitely gives us pause in a way it didn’t before. It’ll be interesting to see how we feel about stuff like this in a couple years.

  10. Well, we had great intentions of buying complete tent camping gears with the idea of leaving Betsy behind and camped somewhere. For us it never happened, we gave all of them away, there was no need afterall 🙂
    We camped closer to the park, and that helped in exploring it for three days, still there is much to see.
    Agree with your observation, what the heck were they thinking placing that picnic table there, knowing it is earthquake country!
    I enjoyed that tram ride, great views at the top.
    That rug is the best art I have seen, really cool. Thanks for showing me the inside, did not know even that it existed.

    • We are curious to see if we will actually tent camp. It seems like it only makes sense and will make life much easier, but so far, we are zero for one. So we’ll have to see if it actually works out or not. Knowing what I know now, we would definitely try to find a campground closer to the park, but I was trying to take advantage of a PA discount with this particular place. In the future, I would at least try to break up the stops. Ah well, live and learn, I guess!

  11. You found so much fun stuff to do here. It’s so much fun to attend a festival or other even when staying in an area for a few days. I would have enjoyed those tamales, too! I enjoyed your tour of Joshua Tree and your hikes. With my fear of heights the Palm Springs Tram would not have been an option! Thanks for a great post.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here