The snowbird heads south

Sometime in the middle of last month, as we were being slowly frozen into a torpid stupor (or was it a stupid torpor?), Channel 8’s Tad Dunbar, upon hearing that the morrow was going to be yet another cold, gray chill-out, remarked that “the fascination with pogonip is rapidly fading.” Bingo. Another Cronkitian bull’s eye for Reno’s senior anchor.

Within 24 hours of hearing that forecast, I was headed south in a mad dash for instant snowbird status. “Why put up with more of this low-down, no good, dirty, rotten freezing fog,” I thought, “when the meteorological glories of the California desert are only hundreds of minutes away?”

Dateline—Palm Springs. Stop number one: a late January golf trip to the Coachella Valley. I’ll tell you this: Bob Hope and Dinah Shore weren’t no dummies. This place is Heaven West here in late January, whether you’re playing golf or just sitting in the park examining the lint o’ yer navel. And the next time you’re here, don’t be so anti-touristy cool that you spurn the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the remarkable $20 bucket ride that goes 6,000 feet up into the San Jacinto Mountains. The ride is literally breathtaking. In fact, if you’re an acrophobe, forget it, ’cuz you’ll seize up and throw at least two rods.

Dateline—Death Valley. The overriding factor of DV is its bigness. Everything here is just flat-out big—big valley, big sky, big heat, big stars, big mountains, big canyons, big storms (many roads still closed from the mega-t-storm of last August), big park (two Delawares worth) … and big floral displays.

The park folk are saying, with cautious optimism, that this year could indeed be one of the biggest flower years in decades. They just got positively whomped with rain while we got whomped with snow in late December and early January, and many species appear to have received the green light to go berserk over the next few weeks. Already, in early February, one section of the park was torched with a major display of the sunflower known as Desert Gold, and it appears certain that more areas will blow up very nicely indeed through at least the end of March, barring an insane heat wave.

Here are some travel tips, should you decide to make the pilgrimage. First, make hotel/motel reservations in advance. The word is out there, especially online, that Ma Nature is throwing a major bash in the Valley this year, and floraphiles are gonna be showing up in large numbers. Your best DV lodging bargains are in Beatty, with rooms in the 35- to 50-buck range. (Good luck getting weekend rooms at either the Furnace Creek Inn or Ranch, which are filling up fast).

And here’s the most important tip, one I’m stealing from desert enjoyment consultant Ed Abbey—get your mottled hiney out of the damned car! More on this next time.