The Desert Riviera

“Take some snacks.” Those three words best summarize what this little hotel, the Desert Riviera,” is all about. They were spoken by Larry, the owner, as Helaine and I were about to leave for Joshua Tree. He was offering bags of pretzels, chips and cookies.

This is a definite departure for us. Helaine and I try to stay in well known national chains when we’re on the road. Not so this time. The Desert Riviera is an independent boutique hotel.

We looked at TripAdvisor, where the first Palm Springs listing was for this hotel. Not bad, since order is dependent on member rating.

The comments associated with the hotel fit within two categories: “I love this place” and “There are too many good reviews without any bad – it can’t be true. Beware!”

The reviews are true. This place is a gem. I can’t think of anything bad to say… OK, a few little things, but so tiny as to be inconsequential.

The Desert Riviera is a ten room hotel run by Larry, his wife Patty, and his sister Judy. As he tells it:

Our love affair with the hotel literally began just a few months ago, when Patty and I happened to stroll past and noticed a For Sale sign in front of a very tired but charming small old hotel. As they say… the rest is history. Little did we know, we were about to add another gem to the growing number of mid-century masterpieces brought back from the edge of oblivion.

Our room is modern with accents that scream 1950s. It’s dominated by a king sized bed. On the wall is a large flat panel TV. Off to the side are a bathroom with stall shower and stoveless kitchen. Our room… in fact each of the ten rooms borders the pool.

Every time I walk out of the room, I see what’s in this photo. It’s like I’m in a private residence or club. There’s the pool with stark desert mountains as the backdrop.

There are chaises – certainly more than there are guests. Around the clock, each chaise has a pool towel folded over its reclining head. The pool (currently an amazing 88&#176) is lit and open around the clock.

Adjacent to the pool is the fire pit I’ve written about before (and where I’m sitting now, writing) and a hot tub. There are also a few round tables with umbrellas to block the harsh desert sun.

Limo transportation is provided for free, both to the airport and into town. There are also a few bikes (including a bicycle built for two) in front of the office.

Either Larry or Judy is always here. They run the place as if it’s their reputation on the line. Of course, it is.

Yesterday, Helaine pointed out there are no telephones in the rooms. They’re really not necessary anymore, are they? I can’t think of any adult who doesn’t travel with a phone in his pocket. Anyway, the office is only a few steps away.

As if to make up for it, there’s a cordless phone in the vestibule leading into the office. It’s available to guests for making free calls around-the-world.

There is no way a chain hotel or even larger independent could be as accommodating as Larry and Judy are. With ten rooms, they really do know our names.

So, what’s the downside? The hotel is pretty close to a main road, so you do hear the traffic a little. It was worse when the motorcycles were in town, but I’m guessing that was universal within Palm Springs. I also found the water temperature in the shower fluctuated a lot (though the pressure is great and the towels are large and fluffy).

This was a very positive experience for us. I would definitely come back. It’s also encouragement to find this kind of place when we travel elsewhere… if this kind of place actually exists elsewhere!

Joshua Tree National Park

We had accomplished everything we set out to do in Palm Springs. And yet, we had one more full day. What to do?

I asked Larry in the hotel office. He’s done well suggesting two restaurants over the weekend. He did it again today, recommending Joshua Tree National Park.

We headed east on I-10. Once we passed Indio, the palm trees stopped and the desert became more scrubby and ugly. Joshua Tree was another 25 miles away.

I got off the freeway in Cottonwood, turned north and headed into the park.

Most national parks have a gate you go through… in essence a toll booth where the daily fee is collected ($15 per car). Not here. A friendly sign at the ranger station asked you to turn in and register.

The ranger asked me a few questions and then she proceeded to mark a map with sites appropriate for Helaine and me. Light hiking – OK. Scary heights – nope. Photo ops – please!

First stop was a stand of chollo cactus. These are particularly nasty plants, if you get near them. They pierce the skin easily and hurt like crazy. They’re called teddy bear cactus by some, “But don’t hug them,” the ranger had warned.

The chollo grow in a very compact stand. Where they grow, there are hundreds, but the area they inhabit ends sharply.

The rangers have created a path through the chollo. Lots of photo opportunities for me and an excellent chance to see this species up close for everyone. This was the prettiest part of the park.

Joshua Tree is nowhere near the prettiest park I’ve been in. I still wouldn’t have turned down the opportunity. It features broad valleys and meadows marked with the scrubby vegetation most of America’s deserts feature. The valleys are surrounded by mountains and often rocky outcroppings.

Of course there are also stands of Joshua Trees. From a distance, they resemble tree we might have in the northeast, but up close it’s instantly obvious they’re built for the desert. They grow 30-40 feet tall and can live a few hundred years.

Originally, I was going to drive in the southern park entrance, explore, then turn around and head home. The ranger suggested otherwise. We drove all the way through the park from south to north.

A few miles from the exit, I stopped to photograph some interesting rocks. It wasn’t until I really looked closely that I realized a man and woman were rappelling the rock face!

I moved close enough to hear him shout instructions down to her. Maybe she was his student? This was an interesting place for a classroom and scary enough for Helaine to look away.

If you’re one of the rappellers and somehow find your way here, drop me a line. I’d be thrilled to send you the higher quality original files I have.

We exited the park in the town of Joshua Tree, CA. Without the National Park Service to protect it, the land was speckled with buildings and other artifacts of 21st Century life. It was not pretty at all.

We turned west, headed into Yucca Valley and then down a long steeply descending road into the Morongo Valley. Before long we were back here in Palm Springs.

As a kid, national parks were totally foreign to me. Even if given the chance, I probably would have said no. It takes a certain personal seasoning (in other words, age) to go somewhere and just enjoy those things that make it different and distinct.

That’s what we did today.

Joshua Tree isn’t my favorite national park, but it was well worth our time this beautiful early fall afternoon.