by Frances Edstrom, columnist
It occurred to me recently that I’m approaching the age when every birthday is a milestone birthday. So, when my daughter Cassidy invited me to fly out to Palm Springs on the first weekend of December, I threw caution to the wind and bought a ticket.
My daughter-in-law, Angie Ause, who is a pro golfer, was to play in a tournament at a course out there. By the way, a few days after we returned from California, Angie was named by the Minnesota PGA as not only Player of the Year, but Teacher of the Year, too! She is an excellent teacher, and has begun a program teaching blind and visually impaired kids how to golf!
We rented a condo on the course, which was in Palm Desert, and while Angie and her partner were out playing a practice round, Cassidy and I availed ourselves of the spa, where Cass bought me a massage for my birthday. After that, we met Angie for lunch, overlooking the course, and a small wedding in progress. We were close enough to the wedding to make a fuss when the officiant asked if anyone objected to the union. We held back, even though we thought the couple looked impossibly young to be getting hitched.
Cassidy and I had decided that rather than wander around aimlessly in shops, of which there are an amazing number, we would do some focused sightseeing.
Palm Springs is at the foot of four mountain ranges, featuring 8,500-foot Mt. San Jacinto, with a state park at its peak. It can be reached by a tram ride, and for some reason that appealed to us, even though we both have a little bit of acrophobia, fear of heights, and we decided to give it a whirl.
On a nice 68-degree day, we drove through Palm Springs to the foot of the mountain, and took the road to the tram. Signs along the way advised us to turn off our air conditioning, as the climb is steep and cars could overheat.
After quite a climb, we approached the ticket booth, bought our passes, and were directed to Parking Lot F (for Fran, we decided). From there, an open-sided bus took us to the base lodge, where we were assigned a time to get on the tram. The attendant asked if we were prepared for the 27-degree weather at the top, and we assured him we were from Minnesota. However, we were surprised at the number of people in flip-flops and shorts!
The tramcars are roundish, with windows around the entire car. As we entered the anteroom, our photo was taken, to be sold to us later (we didn’t buy it). Then we entered the tram. The operator, who also narrates the trip, sits in the center of the car, and riders stand wherever they can, 80 of us. I sat on a small bench in the center near the operator with another women. As the car began to rise in the air, the floor of the tram began to rotate, giving visitors a 360-degree view of the ride. My seat didn’t rotate, so Cassidy was whisked away from me for most of the ride.
Even not rotating, my ride was awe-inspiring.
The tram is the second highest in the world, and was designed by a Swiss company. It rises 6,000 feet in about 10 minutes, and the cables are strung up the mountain over three tall towers. Each time the tram approached a tower, we were warned that the car would swing. Everyone laughed nervously and went “OOOOOH” as we bumped over the towers.
At the top, there are two restaurants, gift shops (of course), two movie theaters where short history documentaries are shown about the man behind the whole idea and the building of the tram, and a small natural-history “museum.” We opted for a nice lunch, which was surprisingly good, considering that absolutely everything must be brought up by tram. Every seat in the restaurant is placed for maximum viewing of the valley below. The huge wind farms below look like toothpicks stuck in rows into the ground. The vista is amazing.
There are miles of hiking trails and campgrounds in the park, as well as opportunities to do some climbing. We saw several families with kids in snowsuits carrying sleds, and lots of backpackers.
On the trip down, we decided to be brave and stand next to the outside windows of the tram. Whoa! What a difference a foot or two makes. It was breathtaking, literally. I felt as though I could tip right out and be lost forever in the granite cliffs and scrub pines. I was feeling a little woozy, when I realized that over the sound system, Anna Kendrick’s “You’re Going to Miss Me When I’m Gone” was playing. So apt, I thought. Later, I mentioned it to Cassidy, and she agreed, saying, “The only song that would have been worse is Tom Petty singing, “Free Fallin.’” I had a little residual wooziness just thinking about it!