Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA

February 14, 2021

Getting to Palm Springs from Malibu was a very doable three-hour drive east along I-10. Unfortunately, this also meant that we had to take the trailer through the heart of LA, which we weren’t exactly thrilled about. Thankfully, traffic was surprisingly sparse, and although it got a little hairy around downtown, the journey was largely smooth sailing once we made our way out of Los Angeles city limits.

After a little more than a month cruising south along the coast, it was time for us to say goodbye to the ocean and hello to the desert. Although the Pacific had treated us well, we were excited for a change of scenery as we made our way back inland. And boy, did it change! Not only did the topography and flora morph before our eyes, but so did the landmarks. Here are just a few of the hundreds (maybe even thousands) of windmills which welcomed us into the Coachella Valley!

When planning our trip to the area, we had originally considered staying at this quaint little RV park next to downtown Palm Springs with an aesthetic right out of the 60’s. However, after coming across enough reviews complaining about the super tight sites/roads within the park, we got cold feet and decided to go with the tried-and-true KOA on the outskirts of town. Man, did we make the right call! Although the KOA was nothing to write home about, it dwarfed the retro park which was easily the most cramped RV park that we have ever come across in all our time out on the road (we drove through and explored it a bit while we were downtown later in the week). Plus, the KOA offered some friccin amazing views of the sunset as it dipped behind the mountains which marked the edge of the valley!

Anyone familiar with the world of RV parks knows that when I say that the Palm Springs/Joshua Tree KOA was a fairly standard KOA, that I am not knocking it in the slightest. This place was definitely above average when it came to amenities – pool, mini golf, etc. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be an RV park in California without subpar cell connectivity. This marked the third straight RV park where we had to scramble in order to maintain a workable internet connection, but fortunately, the park offered free WIFI which was just strong enough for Sam to work while we were in the area.

Another major reason that we selected the KOA was because my parents were coming out west to visit and the campground boasted a few humble cabins for rent! Again, these cabins were far from the nicest things that my folks had ever stayed in, but they got the job done (plus, being just a few hundred feet apart is hard to beat). We hadn’t seen mom and dad since Thanksgiving, so everyone was quite excited for this little rendezvous. The occasion was doubly joyous for my parents, as they were not only getting to see their favorite son, but the trip also gave them an opportunity to escape the once-in-a-decade cold front which was hitting the Great Plains at the time and blasting Oklahoma with sub-zero temperatures. Not many better places to be in mid-February than sunny Palm Springs!

Although they managed to escape the bulk of the storm, they weren’t able to make it out west completely unscathed before the cold started wreaking havoc on those unsuspecting southwesterners. Rather than driving or flying, my folks opted to mix it up and take the Amtrak out to Palm Springs which normally would’ve been the way to go in the case of a “bad” winter storm by Oklahoma and Texas standards, however, because the temperatures were so abnormally low, several of the track switches out in west Texas froze up, which led to a few multi-hour delays. Despite the inconvenience of arriving a few hours late (12, but who’s counting), they eventually pulled into the train station safe and sound (and warm)!

We had a week full of activities ahead of us, the first of which was a trip to the world-famous Joshua Tree National Park. Little did we know it, but Rachel and James made a last-minute call to drive out to the desert and hang with us for a couple days while my folks were in town. But since we were a few hours ahead of them, we opted to go for a little hike once we made it into the park. This hike was the perfect blend of scenery and accessibility given my dad’s bum knee which limits his mobility a bit. The rock formations and fields of Joshua Trees were downright otherworldly and unlike anything we had seen throughout our long hiking careers. It was almost as if the rocks were piled up intentionally by a gang of bored giants while the Joshua Trees were eerily humanoid – like a mob of green dancers suddenly frozen in time.

With nearly perfect timing, Rachel and James were pulling into the park just as we were wrapping up our hike. As the first trail wasn’t too long, we chose to do one more quick hike before making our way up to Keys View (below) for the money shot. Overall, we quite enjoyed Joshua Tree as it was quite unique and unlike any other park we had visited throughout our travels. That being said, we pretty much hit everything worth seeing during our short trip through the park so if you’re planning on visiting the Joshua Tree area, I wouldn’t recommend staying longer than a day or two.

The fun continued the next day (for everyone except Sam, poor gal had to work ☹) when we made our way to the southern shores of the nearby Salton Sea to do some ATVing! I grew up riding fourwheelers at grandma and grandpa’s place in Tahlequah, but I hadn’t been on one in over a decade, so I got to experience a pleasant little hit of nostalgia on top of the excitement that comes with exploring a new area on a piece of high-powered machinery!

To say that we got a bit dirty from ATVing would be the understatement of the century – I was covered in sand from my head to my toes! But after a thorough scrub down, we were ready to hit the town for Rachel and James’ final night in Palm Springs. Like I mentioned in the last few posts, we basically spent the month of January without any social interaction, so it was so nice to just have a simple night of dinner and drinks with loved ones!

The following day saw us heading back to the Salton Sea, but this time my parents and I would be exploring the north shore of this strange body of water (once more, Sam had to stay behind to slave away in the trailer). The first stop on our tour of America’s own “Dead Sea” was Bombay Beach, an eclectic little community full of some of the strangest art installments that I have ever laid eyes on. This place is truly one of a kind.

We thought that we’d seen it all after touring this strange lakeside community, but that was before cruising over to nearby Slab City, which made Bombay Beach feel downright normal (shudder). This off-the-grid squatter community built on top of a former military artillery range was a sight to behold. Just when we thought that we had seen the most derelict living arrangement in America, we turned a corner and discovered an entirely new level of squalor. This description of Slab City may sound harsh, but please don’t misconstrue it, I have nothing but respect and admiration for the free souls who choose to live out there. If you ever want to see what true freedom looks like, I’d highly recommend taking the trip out to Slab City sometime in your life (preferably in the winter, it gets friccin hot in the summer months). This is what true self-determination looks like – no government will be coming around to bail them out, but at the same time, they don’t have to worry about any “officials” trying to take their shit or tell them what to do (i.e. tax/regulate them).

The undisputed focal point of Slab City is a massive art installment known as Salvation Mountain. This giant piece of Christian folk art has been under near-constant construction for much of the past 40 years and is made up of adobe bricks, windows, tires (in addition to other car parts), and thousands of gallons of paint.

By this point, we had experienced enough weird for one day and were ready for a bit of normalcy, so we made our way back to the KOA, got cleaned up, pulled Sam away from her work computer, and headed back downtown for another wonderful evening of drinks and fine eats in Palm Springs. We started off at a cool, darkly lit Tiki bar just off the main drag which offered a wonderful selection of tropical (but stiff) cocktails before heading to a swanky dinner spot that my mom knew about from her previous trip to the area. In fact, this meal is where I discovered my new favorite recipe which I bust out anytime that I’m trying to impress with my cooking skills – Coca Cola braised short ribs!

It was yet another successful rendezvous with my parents, but sadly, our time had come to an end. However, they weren’t scheduled to leave until the afternoon, so we were able to squeeze in one more activity before they were scheduled to take off (they were flying back to Oklahoma rather than take the train back) – a trip to the Palm Springs Air Museum which features a wide range of WW2 and Cold War era aircraft (Dad was in heaven haha).

After seeing off my folks, we had one more day to kill before we were scheduled to move along so we decided to have a lazy day exploring all the little shops around downtown Palm Springs during the daytime hours.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Palm Springs. It was the perfect combination of cool/chic that California is famous for without all the crowds and overt smugness that has come to define the state in recent decades. We were finishing our whirlwind tour of California on a high note, but we were ready to get back into the land of the free. Tune in next time when we detail our trip back into Arizona and our subsequent stay in lovely Peoria right on the shores of Lake Pleasant!