Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
If you ever find yourself drifting through the desert around Palm Springs, wondering why you're there, make your way to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. As with many things round there, it may at first come across as a little kitsch. And it is… a little. But it's also insanely cool.
Why? Mainly because you start in Palm Springs, which is just about the driest, most parched terrain I've ever been in. It's endlessly dusty, dotted with palm trees and the city's famous wind turbines, and it's hot, really hot, for most of the year.
So, if you were told you could escape from that and, within 10 minutes or so, be surrounded in greenery, among fir trees and pine cones, under blue skies, watching your breath in front of you as you exhale – would you believe it?
That's what the Aerial Tramway does. You pay about $20 to walk into a bubble car that rides sharply-ascending cables up Chino Canyon, rotating all the way. It takes 10 minutes from bottom to top, and only bumps as it passes the four masts that support its cables (one of which, rather terrifyingly, also holds a helicopter landing pad).
As you rise, you follow a line of greenery between two ridges. This greenery starts to expand as you reach the rocky mountaintop. By the time you're there, the trees have taken over, and dusty terrain is a thing of the past. You're at 8,516ft, in Mount San Jacinto State Park. You get out and the temperature has dropped sharply. The air is crisp and clear. In winter, you'll probably get snow.
The first time I rode the Tramway, I was blown away. If you've ever been to Palm Springs in August, you'll know how inhospitable its climate can be. Arriving at the crest of the mountain, however, is quite the opposite. It's almost surreal. So much so that might have entered another world entirely. Some kind of desert Narnia.
I've been three times now, and on each visit I've been reluctant to head back down again. But that's getting easier – knowing that it's been there since 1963, and will still be there next time I drift through Palm Springs. RM