Sweet Escape: California Road Trip Part 2

Southern California Roadtrip Salvation Mountain

So last time I checked in here I was telling you all about our amazing California road trip. It was so awesome, in fact, that it needed two whole posts. As promised, here I am with part 2. For those sitting at the edge of your seat on public transit (or in a public washroom) while you read this – we last left you in Malibu. Part 1 was all about the city and stunning ocean drive views – with a wild card stop at the Madonna Inn along the way. From Malibu we said peace out to the beach and headed to the desert.

Two confessions – one is that Joshua Tree wasn’t on the original itinerary but because the hotel we wanted to stay at in Palm Springs was booked the nights we wanted, we decided to kill some time and spend a night in Joshua Tree. Best time killer ever. It ended up being a highlight of the trip for me. Which brings me to my second confession – I’m a certified sunset junkie. Which probably explains why I love the desert so much. They have the best sunsets ever. They also happen to be beautiful during the day as well. There’s something about wide open spaces that make everything that is there so much more interesting. Less competition I guess?

We wanted to avoid the nightmare L.A. traffic that we heard about so we took a bit of a longer, more scenic route from Malibu to Joshua Tree.  I expect that driving on empty desert roads gets boring eventually but 4-5 hours can fly by when you’ve got perfect weather, the tunes going and views like this.

We also thought if we’re going to go to the desert, we’re going to go all out. We stayed at the famous Pioneertown Motel. The desert happens to be the perfect backdrop for old country western movies so way back in the day someone built a whole country western town movie set just outside of Joshua Tree which included a motel. You know when people say “it was like it was right out of a movie”? Well this was, literally. Pioneertown was never an actual town. It was a movie set from day 1 and today it’s still used occasionally for music videos, Slash’s birthday party (true story!) etc. but mostly it’s a tourist attraction. We were there on a Tuesday in April so it was pretty quiet, most things were not open and we saw maybe 5 other people. But it was fun just to walk around. It was the closest thing I’ll ever experience to time travel in my life.

Right beside the “town” there’s the motel. It was used both for movie scenes as well as actual lodging for the cast and crew. The motel has recently been updated and although everything about Pioneertown is a blast from the past, the interiors and common spaces are modern navajo country western perfection. They’re still very simple and rustic but in a modern way.

After exploring Pioneertown we came back to reality and headed to Joshua Tree to catch the sunset. It did not disappoint! Because of our lack of planning and the ticking clock, we didn’t have a specific place in the park to view the sun setting. We drove in and kinda kept driving until we found a spot that looked good to pull over and take it all in. I still can’t believe how lucky we got with the weather on this trip. Not too hot but beautiful and warm with clear skies every day (except for one)….which makes for a stunning sunset.

The actual Joshua Tree that the park is named after is pretty funny looking but doesn’t look out of place in the desert. Don’t quote me or anything but I read that they grow like 1 inch a year or something so those trees have been around! You gotta be tough to live in the desert I guess.

After the sun set we left the park and had some good ol’fashioned smoked ribs at the Joshua Tree Saloon in town. It was busy with both locals and tourists with an open mic night that went well with a few pints of beer. It was fun but we were a little bummed that we missed out on experiencing Pappy & Harriet’s – a famous bar and music venue a stone’s throw away from our motel in Pioneertown. Unfortunately it’s closed Tues & Wed. But I highly recommend you check out if you’re in the area.

So the next day we went back to explore (read: drive through) Joshua Tree National Park before heading to our final destination of Palm Springs. For the record, the one time we decided to get out of the car and climb some nice easy looking rocks, I fell and was left limping and bleeding. So that was the end of that. Back in the car and off to Palm Springs!

Palm Springs has been around forever and until somewhat recently had the reputation of being a hot spot for the geriatric crew. It was the..ahem….final destination for rich, retired folks to spend their days laying by the pool not getting their hair wet while sipping on drinks with umbrellas in them.

I don’t know if this is the actual reason but I’m going to go ahead and say that Palm Springs has Instagram to thank for becoming one of the most Insta-worthy-famous destinations in the US for selfie loving people of all ages. And you bet I’m no exception. I’ve been saving and tagging photos from Palm Springs for years. It’s kinda like a mid-century modern playground for grown ups who like to relax and drink a lot while being close to artificial bodies of water in the middle of the desert. Makes total sense right?

I’ve wanted to stay at the Saguaro Hotel since I first laid my eyes on it’s colour exploding exterior. How can a colour junkie like me resist that crack, yo? So you bet that’s where we stayed. Again – thanks to being somewhat of the off season and the middle of the week, we got our pick of rooms with a view and didn’t have to fight anyone for chairs by the pool. But the week before during Coachella and the week after for Cinco de Mayo was another story. Research before you book friends! (Do as I say, not as I do)

This is another version of California Melissa. You can tell by the beaming smile. That’s what a colourful hotel in the middle of the dessert on a sunny day will do to a person.

So we basically had 2.5 days in Palm Springs. We spent one full day at the Saguaro Hotel pool doing nothing and getting a little day buzz going which was glorious. Then we treated ourselves to brunch at one of Palm Springs other (Insta) famous hotels – The Parker.

Brunch is definitely all we could afford at this place. Unfortunately only guests were allowed to escape beyond the lobby and restaurant to see the pool grounds but I still got plenty of drooling in just hanging out in the lobby and lounge. The space was designed by and filled with Jonathan Adler touches everywhere you look. The mid-century look fits in perfectly with the retro nostalgic vibe of Palm Springs. As the kids say, it was dreamy.

Our last night in California we made the 1.5 hour drive to visit another (Insta) famous landmark. For the record (or easily seen on a map) Salvation Mountain is really in the middle of nowhere land. Make sure you go with a full tank of case and open mind. It’s part of what makes it both special and kinda creepy. I feel like “creepy” is a bit harsh but I can’t think of a better word at the moment and if you go out there and see the type of people who have a fondness for God, choose to live in a trailer off the grid in the middle of nowhere, you’ll get my drift.

For me the draw to Salvation Mountain was a creative one. I could do without the God-part but it’s a positive message that’s not hurting anyone so I’ll go along with it. Give me an over the top colouful and whimsical art installation in the middle of the desert and I wanna go.

What’s fascinating about Salvation Mountain is that it’s not really a mountain, not even a little one. You can read about it’s history here but basically an artist named Leonard Knight built it with clay and then spent a good chunk of his life creating and maintaining his art to spread his message. It’s 50′ high and 150 foot wide is made totally of local adobe clay and donated paint. Sadly Knight died in 2014 at the age of 82 but his mountain and message live on.

And that, my friends, brings this road trip to an end. For now anyway. I kinda fell in love with California. Hard. I have a feeling I’ll be back sooner than I think. Feel free to ask any questions about my novel of a (sorta) California travel guide, either Part 1 or Part 2 above or just share any California loving you may have.