Upper, lower desert to the slopes on whirlwind short trip

| March 31, 2022 | 0 Comments

HORSEBACK RIDING in Murray Canyon in Palm Springs gives a taste of the Old West. Photos by Ludi Mora

On a short trip last month, we traveled from Los Angeles to the lower desert in Palm Springs, to the upper desert of Joshua Tree, and, finally, to reach higher elevations at Big Bear — all in four days.

Our adventure began in the Indian Canyons in Palm Springs, where we saddled up at Smoke Tree Stables for a ride up through rocky and steep terrain, through lush palm groves and over ice-cold streams.

Our group’s guide, Ed, told stories of roping cattle, while another wrangler spoke in an East Texas drawl as we trekked across tribal land in Murray Canyon. The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians has called this area home for, well, a long time.

Ed looked out from the wide rim of his cowboy hat to see if the elusive bighorn sheep were on a dry mountain slope just ahead. None today, he said, as he pointed to green tops of palm trees in the distance in Palm Canyon. “It ­ has the largest fan palm oasis in the country,” he said.

Afterward, we treated ourselves to a margarita and guacamole at lively Las Casuelas Terraza in Downtown Palm Springs. For dinner, a European-themed restaurant near our Airbnb satisfied our yen for refined dining before resuming our adventure through the desert outback. (I had the branzino with potato gnocchi and my husband chose the shrimp fra diavolo.)

The next day, we traveled 45 minutes northeast to Joshua Tree National Park, where the twisted branches of the tree that gives the area its name add a Dr. Seuss-like quality to the landscape.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of a former Southern Belle, Minerva Hoyt, the park was preserved in the early 20th century, though its famed Joshua trees are under threat by development and climate change. The rugged boulders and sand-washed rocks against spiny cactus and baby blue sky give an otherworldly feel.

RECENT SNOWFALL at Big Bear made for perfect ski conditions.

We visited a friend — whose property at the edge of the park draws roadrunners, rabbits, migratory birds and the occasional coyote — before continuing our journey on Old Woman Springs Road. (If time permits, consider lunch at La Copine in Flamingo Heights. Reserve ahead, as this is a popular spot even if it seems like it’s in the middle of nowhere.)

Climbing 7,000 feet in the San Bernardino National Forest, Big Bear’s lake sparkled ahead. Recent snowfall made ski conditions the next day at Bear Mountain perfect.

Safely far away from snow boarders braving flips on freestyle terrain, I stayed the course on the brilliant white (easy) slopes, while my husband traversed more difficult blue and black diamond trails.

We drove back to Los Angeles on Route 38, the Rim of the World Scenic Byway; its jaw-dropping views (if you can bear to look) live up to its name.

Back on sea level, we felt the rush of 21st-century freeway traffic as our short (maybe too short) journey came to an end.

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Category: Entertainment

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