Morgan Levine “left school in Grade 9 and got a library card,” she tells me. Clearly the card was a wise investment since it lead to a successful 20-year art appraisal career before Morgan was eventually captivated by the drama of the California desert.
Today, Morgan is our Desert Adventures Red Jeep San Andreas Fault tour guide. Knowledgeably navigating mysterious drought-stricken desert trails, gullies, and dried-up river beds, she effortlessly delivers an in-depth geological and natural history dialogue. I abandon any hope of taking notes, taping this tale, or asking questions, and hang on for dear life. Mother Nature’s stunning sand-blasted handiwork surrounding us. Equally captivating is Morgan’s non-stop encyclopaedic reportage. They are a formidable team.
Careening around this world-famous earthquake fault in 104 degree end-of summer temperatures, I absorb as much data, scenery, and sand, as possible while sweat wreaks havoc with my mascara.
Caramel-coloured, 300-foot sandstone formations soar above us. Metate Ranch, home to this protected part of the San Andreas Fault, spans 800 private acres in the Indio Hills.
Our sturdy red jeep and driver are clearly at home here snaking through 2 million years of natural history.
Parking the jeep, we hike paths flanked by local plant life and majestic palm trees. I tread gingerly, trusting rattlers will steer clear of my sturdy leather hikers.
Gazing at distant rolling sand dunes under a cloudless blue sky, I briefly indulge in a Lawrence of Arabia fantasy until the command “Stay back!” returns me to reality. On my left an aquifer, or underground stream, has cloned a riverbed, giving rise to an unexpectedly lush greenbelt which is home to a couple of drowsy (thankfully), well-camouflaged rattle snakes.Tentatively peering past branches firmly secured by the indefatigable Morgan, I shoot my Nikon version of an Indiana Jones adventure.
Back at the jeep, towels soaked in ice-water keep the heat at bay while we head for Slot Canyon, the camera-ready slit created by the North American and Pacific fault plates. Dwarfed by canyons carved by centuries of erosion and seismic jostling, I am, not for the first time, humbled by nature’s majesty. I try to picture this peculiarly haunting sandscape at sunrise. Fabulous, or frightening? Maybe both.
Three hours later Morgan deposits us back in civilization, although nature makes me question that. I plunge into my Riviera Hotel tub. Sandpapery desert grit cakes my face. It’s an invigorating natural facial scrub. Probably priceless if packaged.
In contrast the following day, I opt for the Palm Springs Art Museum. “Killer Heels the Art of the High Heeled Shoe” is featured until December 13. Thanks to the Brooklyn Museum, I loved exploring this exotic range of footwear, plus the accompanying text histories. Eighteenth-Century court shoes share exhibit space with 19th Century Chinese slippers for bound feet. I ogle Christian Louboutin, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, and 50 other famous name designs. These are indeed works of art. If you go, check out the boots!
Expansive and airy, this 150,000 sq. ft, 28 gallery museum profiles outstanding modern and contemporary collections.
I plan to grab a quick look at ‘Heels’ and run, a decision I’m regretting. Lunch at the cafe and a longer browse would suit me better. Perhaps next time.
An elderly couple I’d noticed earlier still sit motionless up in the top gallery. What’s fascinating these two? I dash up, to find Duane Hanson, the late Minnesota-born artist and sculptor known for his lifecast realistic works of people, had me fooled. His delightful work, “Old Couple on a Bench”, has me fooled.
The Palm Springs Art Museum on Museum Drive in Old Palm Springs is full of pleasant surprises. I recommend taking advantage of complimentary admission on the second Sunday of each month, or every Thursday from 4-8 p.m.
Previous trips to this area focussed on golf, but not this time. I’m going up in the world – 8,516 feet up in the world’s largest rotating tram car. Inaugurated in 1963, the base station of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway ride begins at 2,643 ft., and for 10 minutes passengers get a close-up cliffside view of impressive Chino Canyon rock, coupled with a bird’s-eye view of the Coachella Valley. Despite being warned it might be chilly at the top, I roamed the trails in comfort, inspected the natural history gallery, and surmised that evening at the Peaks Restaurant must be a unique experience.
My final evening involves wandering around the popular Palm Springs Villagefest. It’s a comfortably warm late October California Thursday evening. Artists, musicians, collectors, food stands and assorted street vendors have commandeered downtown streets from 6-10 p.m.
Like most street markets, it’s casually vibrant. At one stand an elderly man teaches two little lads to play chess. A kilted busker positions himself next to a streetlight for maximum effect. Clearly local artists find it good for demonstrating their talent.
My Westjet carry-on is maxed, so I stick to browsing the 200 booths before heading for dinner at the nea
rby Tropicale Restaurant. Elderly jazz combo guys inside seem well-known to locals and kibitz cheerfully near the bar area. The place is packed, so we sit out on the patio, but the service isn’t suffering.
A pleasant way to end a few desert days in this town with a passion for mid-modern, art and old movie-star history. More to come on that in another column.
For more information see visitpalmsprings.com or call 800-347-7746.
– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a retired British Columbia editor and photographer.