Just about two weeks ago I awoke to two unfamiliar sights that dusted off old memories. Bright sunshine, a cloudless sky and startlingly green lawns made possible by man’s influence on the course of water in this Southern California desert.
I hadn’t been in Riverside County for more years that I care to count, and this was the first time in a long while that I was visiting the lower half of the state without any plan or itinerary. There was a more mundane reason for this trip, but much of the time it offered a chance to really look around.
There’s always a risk that memories won’t match up with the reality of a place after the passing of
decades years. Not this time. Sure, there probably where more people, more cars on the road, and more of those funky strip malls that seem endemic to Southern California, but it was the nature of the place — something that I tend to tune into more than man-made landmarks — that matched my memories.
My viewpoint was a bit muddled…I had spent my early high school years looking east to find Mt. San Jacinto; this trip it was west. But much of the terrain was familiar. The steep escarpments of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa mountain ranges. The dramatic demarcation between the watered and arid land of the Coachella Valley. The canyons carved over decades by flash floods. Clusters of course native grasses and sparse bushes watched over by the occasional ironwood tree.
High above were the “sky islands” of the mountains. The Palm Springs Aerial Tram took us from a dry canyon (2,643 ft.) to the near alpine conditions surrounding the mountain station at 8,516 ft., where the snow was in the foreground of a view of the vast and dry valley below. This engineering marvel — only the first tower is accessible by road, the others only on foot and by helicopter — passes through five climate zones during its 2.5 mile climb.
Our drive one day included a stop at one of the big date ranches in Indio, where I was reminded how much I enjoy that fruit. (Those with lower moisture content, thus not sticky, can be good snacks to carry during hunting and fishing…) We also passed the Salton Sea, an ecological oddity that no one seems to know what to do with.
It’s always a risk revisiting a place of the “good ol’ days.” I’d dare say that this trip, and memories it created, were almost as good as those days long gone.