Adventures: La Quinta, California

March 29, 2013 · 14 comments


We got home last night from six days in La Quinta, California, and I can honestly say I’m really glad to be home. It was beautiful, for sure, and hot, which was a welcome change from Oregon’s drizzly spring. It was also very very strange culture-wise, at least it was for me.

The kids and I went with my parents, brother, sister in law, and one-year-old niece. It was my mom’s idea. Originally, she was thinking we’d stay near Joshua Tree National Park and do a lot of hiking, but after searching online for rental houses, it seemed easier to stay closer to Palm Springs in a place with a pool, so the kids would have more activity options. In the end, it was quite a bit different than the pristine desert experience I was expecting/hoping for, but everyone still had a pretty great time.

The first morning we were there (to make a long story short), my mom and I ended up taking Levi to urgent care because he had this gnarly rash all over his body. Four hours later, they told us that it was probably a reaction to some medication that he had taken and wasn’t too serious, but he shouldn’t be exposed to the sun or swim in a chlorinated pool. Considering the fact that we had flown all the way to Southern California pretty much only for the sun and the pool, this doctor’s recommendation was pretty disappointing.

We managed, though. For three days, Levi ran around outside in the mornings and the evenings when the shadows were long. He played in the shade at Palm Canyon┬áin Palm Springs with Charlotte and my dad while the rest of us hiked around. (Palm Canyon was beautiful but would have been more pleasant if we’d arrived earlier in the morning. That desert sun is pretty brutal on Oregon-winter skin.) We toured The Living Desert (which is pretty much a zoo), and we did some shopping at the mall. The rest of the family did a short hike in Joshua Tree while we were at immediate care, but we never made it to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which is supposed to be pretty cool. After three days, Levi’s rash was gone, so he did get to do some swimming in the end.

I feel like ever since I started reading Lily Stockman’s beautiful blog with it’s regular pinings for her former home in Joshua Tree, I’d been noticing more and more references to the desert landscape of Southern California. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that I’m a desert person, but I’m certainly a desert appreciator. I spent six weeks taking a geology field course in Central Oregon near the John Day National Monument, and I fell in love with the terrain. I don’t know if it’s the geology nerd in me or what, but I’m okay with a near-total lack of greenery.

The “terrain” in La Quinta and surrounding towns, however, is…um…not really desert-y at all. It’s all palm trees, golf courses, green grass, and intensively landscaped parkways. And fountains EVERYWHERE. You might say it was Eden-esque, but I just couldn’t get over how weird it was. How much time and energy and money and water does it take to make the desert “bloom” in such a way? And for what purpose? I mean, it’s not even like they’re growing food in the area.

Maybe I’m just a pessimist or a jerk about the whole thing. I did enjoy the sun. I did buy a pair of pants at the mall. I did savor a grapefruit that my mom picked from the highway median. But I couldn’t overlook the overuse of resources, and to me, the landscape (lush subdivisions up against vast expanses of rocks, sand, and sparse shrubs) seemed like a physical manifestation of the culture of consumption.

I don’t mean to sound all high and mighty about the whole business. I guess I was just pretty culture shocked much of the time because of some of the smaller things. Because we flew in, we had to buy ALL of our food at a regular grocery store. That is a completely foreign concept for me and for my parents as well. Also, driving by miles and miles of big box stores, chain restaurants, and strip malls is super weird. I’ve often felt deprived at home because it’s such a big effort to get somewhere where I can buy new clothes, but I think living in a place where it’s SO easy to spend money and buy stuff would be dangerous for me (or maybe anyone). Maybe if you’re around it all the time, you get immune, but when I was walking around in a Target, I kept getting sidetracked from my main mission, thinking ‘Maybe I need that?’ or ‘This is cute.’ I can see how, armed with a credit card, one could get into a habit of spending an enormous amount of money on frivolous stuff and fast food.

Anyway, before I get too carried away with my rant, I’ll give you a few photos. We stayed in the gated community of Legacy Villas. (Most of the vacation rentals in the area are in gated communities.) There was a pool on practically every block, and the fountains flowed freely. The landscaping was immaculate, and the building designs inspired relaxation. The whole place was backed up against stark, rocky hills without a stitch of vegetation. I’d wake up every morning, throw on a pair of shorts, and wander around, taking in the sights. I felt a little out of place, but it was pleasant, for sure.



There were a couple highlights of the trip for me. First off, I read almost an entire issue of The New Yorker, a publication that I love and appreciate so much. My brother has a subscription and has offered to pass along all his old issues to me, but sadly, I just don’t read very much any more and can’t keep up with the growing piles of magazines. I found the recent article about sinkholes and some of the human activities that are affecting the geology of Florida particularly interesting and particularly appropriate for my stay in Southern California, an area where water issues are big business.

The other big perk about my time away is that I finally got my sleeping schedule on track. For some reason, the switch to Daylight Saving’s Time really threw me for a loop, and even though I was retiring earlier, I’d still have to drag myself out of bed in the mornings. I slept pretty great on our trip and got into a habit of waking up before 7:00 again. This morning, my first back at home, I was up at 6:00, and I felt like I had the whole day ahead of me. I go through phases of waking up early and then after a few weeks or months, I start staying up late again. I’m hoping to keep this early-rising habit going for a while now.

Also, there was the bougainvillea. Boy, do I love bougainvillea. They may be sucking that aquifer dry to irrigate it, but it sure was pretty.


{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim March 30, 2013 at 8:39 am

Well, at least we now know why the Colorado River never makes it to the ocean……………….


Camille March 31, 2013 at 6:30 am

I don’t know if it’s better or worse, but I think most of the water supply in La Quinta/Palm Springs comes from aquifers not surface water.


Tonia March 30, 2013 at 11:44 am

Yep. My impression of Cali is very much in line with yours (I wrote about it in this post: We go there fairly often, for business, and I’m always so happy when we arrive (because SUNSHINE, YAY! And damn good Mexican food) but by the end of the first day I’m overwhelmed and ready to leave. It all wears me down; The poor air quality (in the cities), the traffic (everywhere, all the time), the culture of materialism, the over-use of water everywhere. LAWNS? IN THE DESERT? COME ONNNN.


Camille March 31, 2013 at 6:36 am

I went to Disney Land when I was five, and I drove through LA on two crazy roadtrips to southern Mexico in my late teens/early 20s, but other than that, I haven’t spent any time in Southern California. I knew the area had a reputation for excess, but I guess I didn’t really believe it until I saw it. I’m really not a fan.


Sasha March 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Haha – You should never visit Miami then. It sounds very similar to where you guys were visiting – Super materialistic, decorative foliage being dug up and replaced every other week it seems – Not to mention that the natural hydrology of the peninsula has been irreversibly changed with the installations of canals to drain the swamp so people can build their million-dollar homes. I’m glad I’m here now and learning as much as I can about the area both at school and by visiting as many protected parks as possible. I want to document what life is like here now, because there’s a pretty good chance south Florida will be swallowed up by the sea near the end of my lifetime. Sorry to go on a giant rant on Miami LOL but I know what you mean about feeling like a fish out of water. La Quinta looks beautiful, but man I would love to have a sandy “lawn” that required little to no care! You can’t fight nature, she will always win.


Mae March 30, 2013 at 3:40 pm

I felt the same way about Southern California, New Mexico, Arizona… It amazes me the extremes people go to in order to mold their environment so unnaturally!


Camille March 31, 2013 at 6:41 am

I’ve heard good things about some areas of New Mexico, though I’ve never been. I haven’t spent a ton of time in Arizona, but even though I definitely saw strip malls and over consumption while I was there, it also seemed like people (landscapers) were a little bit more conscientious about the surrounding natural environment in that there were more cactus/rock gardens in peoples yards than vast expanses of green lawn.

Henry’s theory is that by the time people move to Southern California, Arizona, or Florida after living most of their lives somewhere else, they’re ready to not think about much other than making their own lives as easy as possible. In some ways, I sort of understand that, but I hope that in 40 years, I’m still not into shopping, golfing, or driving a fancy car.


tanya March 30, 2013 at 4:20 pm

hey camille, coming from a tiny island, i feel the same way when i go ‘away’… and for so many people that’s just their reality but more and more of us feel and live (and aspire to live) quite differently which i find comforting. you may be relieved to know that bougenvilla (and aloes (also pictured)) actually love, love, love it dry + hot. i live in the caribbean where we are in the middle of a pretty intense dry season, the whole place is parched brown and prone to bush fires but the bougenvillas are in full flower all over the place – with absolutely no watering – as is the aloe vera in the corner of my barren yard :)


Camille March 31, 2013 at 6:45 am

I saw bougainvillea growing in some pretty gnarly dry areas in Mexico, so I figured it didn’t need much in the way of water and care. That’s at least a little bit comforting.

Also, a tiny island in the Caribbean sounds intriguing, but I’m sure the fantasy I’m imagining is pretty different than your reality.


Nicole March 30, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I went for a visit to Scottsdale, Arizona with my mom a few years back, and it was the same way. Lush golf courses and lavish landscaping everywhere in the middle of the dessert. I couldn’t get past the odd and unnatural juxtaposition of it all. As a fellow pacific northwesterner, I can imagine it sure was nice to bask in the southern California warmth though! I’m glad you were able to enjoy yourself. Did your goat manage to keep her kid(s) inside while you were away?


Camille March 31, 2013 at 6:47 am

It wasn’t all bad. The sun was much appreciated, and my kids had a great time running around and splashing in the fountains.

As of this morning, Minnie is still pregnant. I’m just glad to be at home, puttering around and waiting for those kids, who could make their arrival any time now.


abby April 1, 2013 at 6:37 pm

So beautiful. All that striking pink and green! I can really appreciate your feelings about excessive consumption, and the seeming senselessness for such extravagant efforts at the cost of so many resources, so much time and so much energy. The mountains of things that could be accomplished on all of that. I have to really try not to feel cynical / pessimistic / bitter about this sort of thing! And I am definitely not usually inclined toward bitterness. Glad you guys had a great break, and welcome home (glad you all made it in time for this past weekend). I hope your Minnie has an easy labor.


christie April 16, 2013 at 5:23 am

De-lurking – I’m a geologist who has worked a bit in those rocky hills above La Quinta. I have the same feeling as you about the built environment. It only takes a short walk up the hills to leave it behind. There is actually a lot of life up there in the bare rocks, and amazing evidence of past and recent tectonic activity. Sorry you got stuck in the gated community!


Camille April 18, 2013 at 8:44 pm

I would have loved to spend more time looking at rocks, but alas… Maybe some other time under some other circumstances.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: