We spent our entire “month of California” in one spot, and we caught some grief from several friends about our choice of locations while we were in the Golden State. People wanted to know why we weren’t going to the wine country, or to see the Redwoods, or someplace by the ocean, or to San Diego. The truth is we could have spent an entire year in California and not seen it all… kind of like how we could do this entire expedition in reverse for four more years and not see anything we have already experienced on the Lower 48 in 48 Tour.
Back in 2013, when we were in our first state of Louisiana, I had to come to grips with the fact that we weren’t going to see everything there was to see. If we tried, we would end up exhausting ourselves and missing the point of our trip. Our motto for the Martin’s American Adventure remained in tact: see what we see and make a list of things or places we missed and might like to visit in the future. This approach allowed us to have experiences that were meaningful along our path, and not feel like we were in a race trying to scratch off as many parks or museums or monuments as we possibly could before our time ran out. We felt like this was the most civilized way to immerse ourselves in an America we wanted to observe and learn more about.
We selected the Coachella Valley as our destination for several reasons: it was a direct and fairly reasonable drive from Las Vegas; winter is “high season” in the desert; we could conveniently head east back to Texas on I-10 or I-8 when it was time to leave; and, neither of us had ever been there before. We only wanted to make one stop in one location during our last month of our tour because, frankly, the novelty of our adventure had worn thin. We had our eyes and hearts set on getting back to Texas and starting a new life that entailed living in a traditionally constructed townhouse.
As it turns out, we got lucky with our decision. The long-standing drought that had plagued California for years was abated while we were visiting the 31st state. Severe rains and flooding were rampant from San Diego to Sacramento, but nothing ever got too dramatic for us in the desert. It seems like the mountains that surrounded us diffused the weather systems before they ever reached us with full force. We were grateful to be outside of the locations that were getting drenched on a daily basis (we had all of that we could take back in Oregon).
There were a couple of routes to choose from as Mike planned the drive from Las Vegas to Indio. We could have traveled directly south on Highway 95 out of Vegas and down to Blythe, CA to 1-10, and turned west into Indio. Our Captain wasn’t interested in driving on any more stretches of narrow, shoulder-less, two-lane highway with no median, where he had to worry about oncoming traffic crossing the center line and hitting us head-on. (He concentrated on avoiding that scenario on the road from Reno to Las Vegas and his brain was tired of going there).
The second option was to travel south on I-15, over the the Cajon Summit, down into San Bernardino, then get on I-10 and head east into Indio. I wasn’t a fan of this route because it involved a long and steep downhill grade. This stretch of interstate around San Bernardino is also famous for its high winds, turbulence and fog. You might understand why I preferred the Highway 95 route, but when we pulled out of Vegas on December 27th, we went to Indio via Interstate 15. (On a side note… part of the Interstate we traveled over at the end of December was completely washed out – down the side of the mountain – a couple of months after our trek).
That day wasn’t the best of travel days (for me). The germs among the throngs of Las Vegas’ holiday crowds had contaminated me and I woke up that morning with a terrible sore throat. Google maps told us to expect a 4.5 hour trip. We ended up making it in about 6, pulling into our spot as dusk started to cast dark shadows on our new campground. Mike felt fine and did a great job of driving the Monaco through the heavy traffic that congested the roads all the way to Los Angeles. It was a long day for him too, though. I think we were in bed immediately after plugging in and walking the dogs.
The Coachella Valley spans about 45 miles from Palm Springs through Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and then to Indio. Each community is situated beside each other along a linear track with little or no distinction between city limits. About 100,000 snowbirds flock to the area each winter. Conventioneers and tourists bring in about 3.5 million more people annually. The socio economics of the area are interesting because even though it is really one big metropolitan area… money is the main thing that divides the communities. Palm Springs is THE place with all its Hollywood history and mid-century architecture (if you want to “be seen” you head to downtown Palm Springs and hang out on a patio somewhere). Palm Desert is pretty ritzy too (the famous El Paseo shopping district is a cousin to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills). La Quinta and Indian Wells are resort havens. Indio is sort of the worker’s neighborhood. It is the least opulent and closest to the abundant agricultural industry that surrounds the Salton Sea.
The next question we got alot was “why Indio” (as in… why are you staying in the slums of the Coachella Valley)? Well, because RV resorts 35 miles up the road in Palm Springs were quoting us prices of $3,000 per month. We got a bargain at Indian Waters RV Resort for $1,300 during the month we visited. The general average of monthly rent costs on our trip so far had been about $500 or $600 – so we were still splurging.
As it turns out, we loved the spot Mike picked for us. The park was fairly large, which meant there was plenty of room for the dogs to get a walk without leaving the premises – if we felt lazy. The landscaping was well manicured. Our power and water all worked fine. The staff organized so many activities, it was sort of like a camp for adults. In the winter. With lots of alcohol. There were two pools (each heated to a different temperature), a hot tub, a ping pong table, a billiards room, pickelball courts, bocci ball lanes, outdoor firepits, horse shoe pits, and other amenities I can’t think of right now. Each day we could take advantage of yoga classes, toning and strengthening classes, water aerobics, volleyball in the pool, movie night, poker night, billiards tournaments, happy hours with line dancing, free waffles and OJ every morning. You get the idea. We were not bored.
Most of the guests at this resort were folks from Canada that came down to the same place and stayed in the same spot each winter. They were all good friends and the parties seemed to rotate from rig to rig each evening. They were all very friendly too. We immediately felt welcomed into the tight knit community and that was nice. I forged a friendship with our neighbor Linda from Ontario, and we did a couple of fun things together. My aunt Sharon’s neighbor, from Lake Oswego in Oregon, had a second home in La Quinta, and I was also able to get together with her for a couple of happy hours. We felt like “locals” by the time we left.
Our month passed by very quickly. I was sick for about the first week, then I made Mike sick for another week or so. There was so much going on at the RV Resort, some days we never left. On the days we did get out, we (I) shopped; Mike hit golf balls at a nearby driving range; we checked out some local restaurants and bars in the area; I went to a couple of art festivals; we spent one day driving through Joshua Tree National Park; we drove down to the the Salton Sea; I went on a few hikes; we spent an afternoon roaming around El Paseo Drive; we spent a day fishing and hanging out Lake Cahuilla State Park; we took advantage of the Senior Discount on a dinner buffet at one of the casinos; we rode the aerial tram up to San Jacinto State park and watched sunset fall over the valley; and Cessna became a regular patient of a vet down the street. It was a busy month!