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A California Distinction
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A California Distinction
  Palm Springs Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

palmsprings_laquinta.jpg Palm Springs is no longer just Palm Springs. Today, Palm Springs is Palm Springs Desert Resorts and includes the cities of Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, La Quinta, Indio, Cathedral City and Palm Desert. Looking at a map of these desert communities, if it wasn't color coded, it would be impossible to tell where one city ends and the other begins.

However, each city is distinct. Elite Indian Wells established itself as an affluent residential district back in the 1970's by earning the title of " Swimming Pool Capital of the World." ( At the time, one out of three homeowners owned a pool! ). Palm Desert has glamorous El Paseo Drive -- a row of exclusive shops that sells designer fashions, haircuts, diamonds and patio furniture. Simpler Cathedral City is home to a couple of luxury R.V. parks and many local folk. La Quinta developed around the historical and still desirable La Quinta Hotel. Indio has retained it's agricultural, working class stature. ( One popular attractions in Indio is the yearly date festival. ) Rancho Mirage -- besides being the place for several world class resorts -- is where the famous Betty Ford Center is located. Palm Springs is funky and friendly with a small town atmosphere.

Golf is the primary reason for the monetary success of Palm Springs Desert Resorts. And it has been that way ever since 1921, when Walter Morgan of the Morgan Oyster Company developed the first golf course. However, you don't have to play golf to enjoy the desert. There are plenty of other things to do, such as hot air ballooning, polo, croquet, parachute jumping, tennis and horseback riding. There are also death defying water shoots to plunge, deserts to explore, botanical museums to visit and aerial trams that can carry you to mountain vistas. Shopping is a favorite as well, with shops ranging from cubbyhole boutiques to giant shopping malls with merchandise from all over the world.

Finally, there are the hotels themselves. Over three hundred of them. They are as distinct as the seven villages of Palm Springs Desert Resorts. They have to be, to compete and satisfy the millions of visitors each year. Some old, some new, they are either quaint with a historical background or modern and magnificent. Even if you are not a hotel guest, go there for breakfast, brunch, a drink or for afternoon tea, then explore the lobbies and the grounds.

The first hotel in the valley was built in Palm Springs by Welwood Murray. It was a small adobe and wood hotel, constructed shortly after Murray's friend Judge McCallum successfully brought water to the area via an irrigation ditch in 1884. However, it wasn't until water was discovered below the desert surface that real stability arrived to this desert valley.

Resort appeal began when Nellie Coffman and her son ( they were traveling by train ) were stranded in a sandstorm. Mrs. Coffman fell in love with the desert and returned in 1909 to build the Desert Inn Hotel. In 1922, as more permanent concrete was being poured at the Desert Inn Hotel, Walter H Morgan, who had purchased 1,400 acres from the Cahuilla Indian Tribe, together with architect George Kaufman, proceeded to build La Quinta Hotel. It was completed in 1927 at a cost of $150,000. Morgan, a wise entrepreneur, directed his promotional campaign toward privacy-starved Hollywood celebrities.

And so it began. Bette Davis, Ginger Rogers, Joan Crawford, Marlene Dietrich, Clark Cable and Errol Flynn were just a few who retreated to the quiet desert, eager to get away from their adoring fans. Some, like Ralph Bellamy and Charlie Farrell, even built their own tennis courts.

Today, La Quinta's original 20 Spanish-style casitas have blossomed into 640 guest rooms and suites and five restaurants, three award-winning. Try one for breakfast, and find out why the stars keep coming and coming and coming . . .

Another hotel that's worthy of a visit is the Marriot's Desert Springs Resort & Spa. The entrance is splendid, with huge palm trees lining the causeway leading to the lobby tower, which appears to be sitting on an island. Pumps capable of moving 8000 gallons a minute circulate water throughout the resort's lakes, over a waterfall and tumble it into a pool in the main lobby. From there, gondolas carry guests throughout the resort's waterways and grounds. A touch of Venice in the desert!

The Ritz-Carlton is special as well. In fact, it could pass as an art gallery. 19th century Persian carpets decorate the floors and paintings by English masters Robert Griffier, Richard Buckner and Edward Killingsworth Johnson hang on the walls. The furniture is rich mahogany sideboards and desks, gildwood mirrors, crystal scones and porcelain vases from the 18th and 19th centuries. Such contrast to the tumbling weeds outside.

Then there's the Westin Mission Hills Resort & Golf Course. This Moroccan-style resort sprawls across 360 grassy acres of flowers and waterfalls and includes not just one but two golf courses and is home to the LPGA Dinah Shore Classic. In addition, there's a 20-acre park for go carts, moto cross, bicyclers and rollerblade enthusiasts.

Other hotels are behind closed gates, such as the La Mancha Private Villas where Elizabeth Taylor was a frequent guest. You'll have to be a guest to visit these resorts. And why not be a guest? La Mancha frequently offers special weekend packages, so you don't have to be a millionaire or a movie star to go skinny dipping on the grounds of your very own luxurious hacienda.

Growth in the valley seems nonstop with new golf courses in the works and who knows how many more hotels.

RVer's are getting into the act, too. The newest R.V. Resort is also the swankiest. It's the luxury adult Emerald Desert Golf and R.V. Resort, spaciously set around a 9-hole golf course with beautiful views of the mountains.

For information on the Coachella Valley call 1-800-96 RESORTS. For reservations call 1-800 - 41 RELAX

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