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Up The Road: Where To Now? The Palm Springs Story

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Don Graham
/
Flickr Creative Commons

Greater Palm Springs is another good place to travel with, and among, people again.

In the beginning was the desert—the Colorado Desert, and its wide, sandy Coachella Valley. With the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains as scenic backdrop, Palm Springs sprang up from the Cahuilla people’s sacred palm-shaded hot springs. Then came the movie stars, when Hollywood discovered “the village,” followed by the heyday of mid-century “desert-modern” architecture.

 

Then came everyone else. Since its early days the very idea of Palm Springs has influenced middle-class America’s more innocent ideals—many of these inspired by the thoughtful yet clearly promotional 1920 book Our Araby: Palm Springs and the Garden of the Sun by J. Smeaton Chase.

 

Who wouldn’t love a balmy valley surrounded by snow-covered peaks in winter, exotic desert, date gardens, and citrus and avocado groves? A place with clean air and sunshine year-round? A place where, on Christmas Day, people frolic in swimming pools?

 

Who, indeed.

 

 

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Credit Mitch Barrie / Flickr Creative Commons
Marilyn Monroe statue on Museum Way, Palm Springs.

Celebrity is the cachet here, even if the most fundamental history of Palm Springs is secret. This is the town, after all, where former President John F. Kennedy’s illicit liaison with Marilyn Monroe purportedly took place, in March of 1962.

One wag has described Palm Springs as “a theme park masquerading as a city, with the themes being money, sunshine, and a wistful proximity to fame.”

But these days you’ll find more celebrities on street signs than anywhere else. Even an incomplete list is impressive, though these stars represent another age: Arthur Ashe Lane; Gene Autrey Trail; Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Shore, and Gerald Ford Drives; and Danny Kaye, Greer Garson, and Burns & Allen Roads. Still, charity balls, benefits, and celebrity sporting events keep society circles spinning—an astonishing amount of “society” for what has always been a small community.

 

And that’s not including events more tuned into the zeitgeist, such as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, and the associated Stagecoach country music fest, both still down for the COVID-19 count.

 

All that said, an intriguing aspect of life in the Coachella Valley is the immense influence wielded by the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians in local political, social, and business affairs.

 

 

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Credit Konrad Hadener / Flickr Creative Commons
The Agua Caliente band's Indian Canyons native palm oasis.

As typical elsewhere, native people were effectively shoved off their land by early settlers, enticed to sell cheap. But when the railroad rolled into town, in exchange for new territorial losses the Aqua Caliente band was granted alternating tracts of land throughout the valley—like a giant checkerboard—then prevented by the federal government from selling it, no matter how many grubby opportunists objected.

 

So now the Aqua Caliente people, collectively, own some 32,000 acres of land in and around Palm Springs—roughly 42 percent of the entire Coachella Valley. Many ritzy resorts are renters, essentially, their luxury hotels, golf courses, and tennis courts built on land owned, and leased out, by the local tribal council.

 

Up the Road Encourages Responsible, Safe Travel

Here are previous Up the Road episodes that explore why we should travel, how to do it responsibly, and how to travel responsibly now, in the shadow of COVID-19. Not everyone should be traveling now, of course. But everyone who does travel needs to do so responsibly, to prevent viral spread. Take a listen:

Photo #1

Photo #2

Photo #3

 
 

Kim Weir is the founder of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project. She researches, writes, and hosts Up the Road, a radio show and mini-podcast about California co-produced by North State Public Radio. Kim got her start as a travel journalist in 1990 with the publication of the first and original Moon Handbooks Northern California, a surprise best-seller. Six other Moon books on California soon followed. She is a member, by invitation, of the venerable Society of American Travel Writers (SATW). Kim earned a BA in environmental studies and analysis, with an emphasis on botany and ecology, and also holds an MFA in creative writing. She lives in Paradise.
Matt Fidler is a producer and sound designer with over 15 years’ experience producing nationally distributed public radio programs. He has worked for shows such as Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, Studio 360, The New Yorker Radio Hour and The Takeaway. In 2017, Matt launched the language podcast Very Bad Words, hitting the #28 spot in the iTunes podcast charts.