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).
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
2. Lounge like a mogul at Sunnylands in Rancho Mirage.
3. Plot your Palm Springs high jinks under the coolest roof in California.
4. Prowl the Living Desert near Palm Springs like a hungry coyote.
5. Taste the dates, see the palms and learn about sex at Shields Date Garden in Indio.
6. Savor the rich colors and strange history of Salvation Mountain.
7. Paddle the Salton Sea, an accidental lake surrounded by desert.
8. Bathe in strange vibrations at the Integratron near Joshua Tree.
9. Climb a boulder in Joshua Tree.
10. Wet your whistle at an unrivaled desert roadhouse in Pioneertown.
11. Hike up a canyon of true California palms.
12. Take a 10-minute tram from desert heat to a potentially snowy mountaintop.
Follow Reynolds on Twitter: @MrCSReynolds