Travel Journal: Indian Canyons

Not sufficiently awed by the Joshua Tree National Park, we went local and stayed in Palm Springs. The 120 mile round trip was not worth being repeated. Instead, we headed to Indian Canyons, but only after having checked the web for trail conditions. I had already discarded the Tahquitz Canyon, where the old Frank Capra’s movie Lost Horizon was shot (have you seen it?). The trail was graded as ”strenuous”. The description lacked the modifier “moderately” and indicated the occurrence of high stepping stones (not good for bad knees) and requiring good balance (are you kidding me?).

Horizon lost forever, Indian Canyons seemed more accommodating. And what a gorgeous place it was! At the step of San Jacinto Mountains, the canyons were hidden from view. We met our old good friends there: the tall twigs with green Afros in fur like straw overcoats. They looked ready to start some sort of initiation ceremony. We tiptoed, trying not to disturb them. Empowered by the Shagri-La-esque perspectives we decided to hike two trails.

The first hiking was along the Andreas Canyon. A small creek carved the landscape and ran within the massive red rocky mountains. On one side of the canyon the mountain was cut with surgical precision. It looked as if someone had decided to sculpt sharp lines on it and make an abstract sculpture. Left over boulders lied on the ground looking like abandoned pieces of a giant jigsaw. The other side of the mountain had not been affected by the power of nature and was less impressive. But it offered a great perspective of the imposing wall just across. A wide variety of palm trees and other plants –some of them with beautiful and delicate flowers—completed the setting, all under the watchful eyes of red cactus sitting on the top of the rock. Were they protecting paradise against unwanted intruders?

The sentinels

The sentinels

The second hiking was in Murray Canyon. It was separated from Andreas Canyon by one mile of arid emptiness. It was a longer hiking. After crossing the no man’s land we arrived at yet another narrow creek, sided by our friends, the Green Afros, which provided us with much needed shade and coolness.

The rest of the hiking was very nice: up and down the lower part of the mountain, following the creek. Squash like flowers, all in white with a hint of purple, sprouted out unexpectedly on our way. I guess this is one of the reasons why I am fascinated by deserts: they are very much alive. They are full of contrast. The rough surroundings hide gems of fertility and beauty. Cheap philosophical remarks apart, we pressed ahead crossing the creek several times until we reached the end of the trail. It was crowned by a delicate waterfall. The water splash was cool and fresh. Ahhhh….

Flower on the trail

Flower on the trail

Time for lunch! Bruno had been on campaign mode to go to Tyler’s, a place the travel guide had portrayed as serving the best hamburger in town. But it had also a warning: “Be prepared to wait!” We had tried to go there the day before. It was closed. We arrived and saw people waiting but not for service at the small counter where we happily parked ourselves. The place was full of older folks, as the rest of town for the matter. Were they retirees? These were people certainly not bound by a school calendar.

As we place our orders, a middle aged man arrives and sits by our side. He is greeted by his name, Jim, a frequent costumer. To my surprise he orders coffee and a simple salad. A salad? In a hamburger joint? That sounded misplaced. Perhaps Jim has high cholesterol or something and is on a diet. Jim’s unfitting order immediately reminded me of my brother. Years ago, we were in Madrid and it was his turn to be in campaigning mode, not for hamburgers but for La Casa del Jamón.  After all his convincing, we went there and the first thing he ordered was a vegetarian sandwich. Go figure…Back to Tyler’s, Jim’s salad arrives and it looks fresh and delicious. But Jim looks at it and starts chewing it unhappily. I almost offered to switch it for my juicy burger but controlled the urge. Bruno was in heaven. We also ordered fries and left the place agreeing that that was probably the best hamburger in town. Diet-wise, that was full blown misbehaving day. To add insult to injury, we headed to Cold Stone Creamery, where we could have shared a small ice cream between the two of us. We did not. The small heaven was bigger than a medium sized one in NYC!

As good as it was, the hamburger paled in comparison to the fish taco I had at the Fisherman's Market and Grill. Lots of perfectly seasoned and cooked Mahi Mahi nesting in a soft corn tortilla topped with raw cabbage (yes, not lettuce) and sided by slightly fish tasting spicy fries. Paradise! One eats quite well in Palm Springs! Another successful experience was dinner at Matchbox, a bistro overlooking the downtown plaza. Bruno happily devoured one of their signature pizzas and I had a deliciously refreshing salad with apples, candied nuts and bits of Gorgonzola cheese. The greens were really crisp and tasty. Alas, Eden is not always perfect. Our meal at the recommended El Mirasol was just standard...

Following the hamburger-cum-ice cream galore, we worked the excess calories off at the Palm Springs Art Museum.  With all the nature over exposure, a bit of culture felt like we have reached Shangri-La after all. The museum had a wide range of captivating art, going from local Indian basket weavers to global artists such as Picasso, Matisse and Chagall. An impressive piece of art was this life-size horse sculpture made out of twigs, branches, roots and other pieces of dead trees. It looked like a phantasmagorical refugee from a Harry Potter movie. As much as we felt attracted to the horse, we kept a respectful distance. It was almost as if the horse was suddenly going to come back to life and escape its wooden fate.  That poor creature seemed to remind us that for every paradise there is a hell. And, on that note, we packed and left for Death Valley.

[First published on May 4, 2014]