Stopping for Oranges on the Way
We were sorry to leave San Luis Obispo behind, with its chill vibe and tepid temperatures. But we were also very excited to experience the desert for the first time. On our drive from SLO to Palm Springs, we stopped in Ojai- a charming town between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles known for its orange groves. Our mission: to find fresh-off-the-branch oranges grown by the California sun.
We arrived late morning and snagged some coffee at Beacon, a trendy coffee shop in town. Beside it sits an adorable boutique store named Blue, perfect for perusing with a latte in hand.
After fueling up on caffeine, we rolled the windows down and drove up Ojai’s winding roads, passing grove after leafy grove. Citrus permeated the air, making my mouth water for a fresh, juicy bite. Luckily our destination would provide just that.
Friend’s Ranch is a family of farmers growing citrus varieties for over a century. Their stand offers an amazing view of Ojai Valley, a bonus when making a stop. Watching the sun’s rays flood the fruitful groves below was one of the most beautiful sights I’d ever seen.
Sneaky Heat in Palm Springs
With heavy orange bags in hand, we wound our way through the rest of Ojai towards Palm Springs. As if Paso Robles wasn’t hot enough, we searched for hotter and found it in the desert, with a high of 117 degrees.
Some folks try to discount the power of dry heat, its lack of humidity making it more tolerable. But dry heat doesn’t make sense to someone from Ohio. We nervously watched our car’s thermometer climb as we neared Palm Springs, reaching 110 degrees by the time we arrived. Having never experienced this kind of heat, I was surprised to find it felt more like 80 degrees. Perplexed but relieved, I celebrated too soon. Thirty minutes into the elements, I found myself panting and my brow covered in sweat.
I started to feel like prey chasing after its hunter. But as hot as Palm Springs was in a heatwave, it was just as gorgeous and not as busy as bustling L.A. Once we hit the desert, everything slowed down and opened up to views of Little San Bernardino, Santa Rosa, and the San Jacinto mountains.
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway offers a glimpse of it all. But if you prefer views from the ground, cruising down Palm Canyon Drive delivers the quintessential panorama of classic Palm Springs.
As we crossed the city lines, this art exhibition caught our eye. It’s was part of a Dessert X 2021 exhibition on the Coachella Valley. This particular work is called “Never Forget” and the artist is Nicholas Galanin who raises awareness and money to return indigenous people to their land. I found the placement and the familiar Hollywood-like lettering quite moving.
We enjoyed the mountainous, palm-studded landscape as we huddled close to our accommodations, like a child hiding behind a parent. Our stay at Villa Royale provided a comfortable retreat from the aggressive temperatures. The hotel greeted us with a shot of Mezcal – cheers! – and our comfortable, retro-fitted room overlooked the sparkling pool, like a bonafide mirage in the desert.
It took a while to take a tour of the spacious grounds. Hugged by desert peaks and wrapped in tidy hedges, this adult-only boutique hotel reminds you of an Old Hollywood getaway. If you’re looking for privacy and relaxation, which is Palm Springs’ forte, the hotel’s shimmering pools and stunning hideaways help make this happen. And in the desert, one pool is never enough- that’s why they provide two!
Clearly we were in good hands. There was just one hitch to our oasis-centered plans- we desperately wanted to see Joshua Tree; that is to say, in the thick of a major heatwave, we planned to wander further into the desert.
A Quiet Morning in Joshua Tree National Park
Our priority in Palm Springs was to visit Joshua Tree National Park. And though we didn’t say it out loud, Phil and I were nervous, given the record-breaking heat wave and this being our first exposure to the desert. We woke early while the sun slumbered, like scared children trying not to wake the giant. With bags full of water, nuts, and fresh oranges, we sped off into the dark, not knowing what lay ahead.
The sun hid just below the horizon as we pulled up to the park. Stepping out of the car, we met complete silence, save our crunchy steps in the dirt. No one was there but us and the half-moon, a presence that staved off our loneliness. For several minutes we just looked around, awestruck and mute with each other, as if the space commanded it.
If you’re looking for peace and quiet, you’ll find it here. We watched the dusty land turn soft pink as the sun rose, staring at an alien land peppered with finger-like trees and thirsty bushes. The dawn’s arid conditions were warm but not yet hot. Knowing our limited time, we forced ourselves back into the car and made our way through the driving tour of Joshua Tree.
Like our first drive on Highway 1, we pulled over every 50 yards or so, getting out to admire something new and exciting. The sun hitting a rock formation just so. Big Joshua Trees. Bigger Joshua Trees. Fuzzy cacti. A roadrunner. A tumbleweed…
Having our car accessible while touring the park alleviated a lot of stress. Taking the shortest route, it’s possible to navigate the park in an hour. By adding detoured stops and throwing in some hiking or biking throughout the tour, one can make a whole day of it.
Just under three hours later, we left the park feeling enriched, albeit drained and dry. We needed the beach to bring us back to life again. Our final stop: Santa Monica.