It’s been five years since I was last in the Colorado Desert. [Confession: I had been referring to it as the California Desert (as it’s in CA) but actually the Coachella Valley sits in the northern end of the Colorado Desert, near the lower reaches of the Colorado River.] Back in the day, the valley was a sea and when the first settlers appeared, they found seashells. As the story goes, Conchilla (Spanish for little shell) became Coachella, perhaps because of someone’s bad handwriting. The state highway 111 runs right through, a retail corridor linking Indio, La Quinta, Indian Wells, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and Cathedral City. We drove it a number of times travelling between friends in Palm Desert and friends in Palm Springs and everything seems to run together. It’s hard to tell when one city stops and the next one begins.
Palm Desert, with its high-end shops on El Paseo, seems a little more upmarket than its sister, Palm Springs. Both though, cater for the more mature resident or tourist. I felt younger than usual. I was amused to see that shoppers on El Paseo can flag down a courtesy golf cart to get from A to B. Downtown Palm Springs offers more in the line of tourist-focused art galleries, general souvenir-type stores, and eateries. It’s far more alive and opens much later.
Has it changed in the five years since I was last here? Well, it still has its fair share of vanity plates that make the slow driving fun. The statue of Marilyn has gone but the one of Sonny Bono is still there. And just about the only cigarettes I saw this time were in this 1930s doggie dish. Annoying that it’s being used as an ashtry.
Shopping for a slice of social history
On the advice of her hairstylist, a man who knows his stuff, the lovely DLW took us to the Sunny Dunes Antique Mall on 507 E Sunny Dunes Rd. It’s heaven on earth for serious shoppers and browsers alike. About 30 vendors have sections in which they sell their wares. Each takes it in turn once a month to run the cash desk. It’s all high tech. You can pick your bits from anywhere and everywhere and bring them to the check out by the front door. There, the codes will tell the prices and discounts. We made out like bandits. But were I living locally or if I had a bigger luggage allowance or if I could have driven home, I’d have done a lot of damage.
It was a trip down memory lane. The Kenwood mixer, the old tin buckets, the leather jackets, the comics, the jewellery. All of it recognisable. All of it once treasured. I spotted a mink stole for $135, perhaps evidence of how out of fashion fur is in the USA. I’ll admit to being tempted, more for the images it evoked that the stole itself. We passed a good hour there, if not more. And I could have stayed longer, but I was upsetting myself thinking about what I couldn’t take home.
These sorts of places are repositories of social history. They’re like windows to a bygone era. They say so much about the movement of peoples (just check where the glass and crockery come from), about pop culture (posters, books, records), about style (clothes, photos, pictures). If you’re in Palm Springs, treat yourself. They’re open 10 am to 5 pm every day except for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Holiday hours may vary.