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Design geeks and California desert rats, this 12-stop program is for you

Design geeks and California desert rats, this 12-stop program is for you
California desert highlights in and around the Coachella Valley include, clockwise from top left, the Cabazon dinosaurs, the Palm Springs Visitor Center, Salvation Mountain and Joshua Tree National Park. (Photos by Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times, Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times, Ben Whitefield and Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times.)

Before there was Desert Modernism, there was the primal California desert — millions of acres of it, containing a mesmerizing combination of (to quote lyricist Dewey Bunnell) plants and birds and rocks and things. It's good to remember this as thousands of Midcentury design fans gather Feb. 15-25 in and near Palm Springs for Modernism Week.

They'll be oohing and awing at swooping roofs and clerestory windows, and you can't blame them. It's fascinating to see the loving restoration of the sleek structures that flourished here after World War II and before Bunnell and his band America released the single "A Horse With No Name" (1971).

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But as these locations from our California Bucket List demonstrate, this desert is much more than a blank canvas. It's home to strange species (including concrete dinosaurs), a lab for science projects (including the Integratron), a haven for visionaries (perhaps you) and a repository for some of the least overpriced real estate in Southern California.

So whether you're a Modernist pilgrim or you just want a good look around before the summer heat arrives, here's a 12-stop desertification program. It starts with bold buildings, then veers into the outback. Don't forget the shade hat, water bottles and sunscreen.

1. Calculate the age of Cabazon’s dinosaurs
The Cabazon dinosaurs.
The Cabazon dinosaurs. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
2. Lounge like a mogul at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage.
 
  (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
3. Plot your Palm Springs high jinks under the coolest roof in California.
The iconic Palm Springs Visitors Center was once the Tramway gas station.
The iconic Palm Springs Visitors Center was once the Tramway gas station. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
4. Prowl the Living Desert near Palm Springs like a hungry coyote.
Besides its animals and model trains, the Living Desert in Palm Desert has a large collection of cactuses and succulents.
Besides its animals and model trains, the Living Desert in Palm Desert has a large collection of cactuses and succulents. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
5. Taste the dates, see the palms and learn about sex at Shields Date Garden in Indio.
Shields Date Garden in Indio dates to 1924.
Shields Date Garden in Indio dates to 1924. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
6. Savor the rich colors and strange history of Salvation Mountain.
Salvation Mountain was built near Niland, Calif., by outsider artist Leonard Knight, who died in 2014.
Salvation Mountain was built near Niland, Calif., by outsider artist Leonard Knight, who died in 2014. (Ben Whitefield)
7. Paddle the Salton Sea, an accidental lake surrounded by desert.
Kayaker, Salton Sea.
Kayaker, Salton Sea. (Ben Whitefield)
8. Bathe in strange vibrations at the Integratron near Joshua Tree.
The Integratron, about 20 minutes north of Joshua Tree, is a white wooden dome, 38 feet high.
The Integratron, about 20 minutes north of Joshua Tree, is a white wooden dome, 38 feet high. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
9. Climb a boulder in Joshua Tree.
Boulderer, Joshua Tree National Park.
Boulderer, Joshua Tree National Park. (Christopher Reynolds/Los Angeles Times)
10. Wet your whistle at an unrivaled desert roadhouse in Pioneertown.
Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace is about 45 minutes north of Joshua Tree.
Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace is about 45 minutes north of Joshua Tree. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
11. Hike up a canyon of true California palms.
Palm Canyon's floor is shaded by some of the few native palm trees in all of Southern California.
Palm Canyon's floor is shaded by some of the few native palm trees in all of Southern California. (Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)
12. Take a 10-minute tram from desert heat to a potentially snowy mountaintop.
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Since 1963, this 2 1/2-mile ride has connected the desert and frequently snowy upper slopes of Mt. San Jacinto.
Since 1963, this 2 1/2-mile ride has connected the desert and frequently snowy upper slopes of Mt. San Jacinto. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Follow Reynolds on Twitter: @MrCSReynolds

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