A hundred miles east of Los Angeles lies the desert city of Palm Springs. It has drawn visitors for over a century for its dry heat, laid-back vibe and mountain views. It's a popular retirement destination, a seasonal home for "snowbirds" escaping winter in other parts of North America and an escape from urban life for the residents of Los Angeles.
During the winter months, the city's population triples. This makes February and March a pleasant time to visit although, as in many parts of the world, early 2019 saw more extreme weather than usual! A cold streak and flooding let to highway closures and damage to housing. On the drive from LA to Palm Springs, snow can still be seen on the surrounding mountains.
The landscape during the drive is quite varied, taking you from mountains to desert. Thousands of wind turbines dot the landscape on either side of Highway Ten, just outside Palm Springs. Some are hundreds of feet tall, with wing-spans as long as a football field. They provide a gre...
Eighty years ago, downtown Los Angeles was a thriving centre of business and entertainment. It was in this environment that Clifford Clinton opened an epic forest-themed cafeteria called 'Clifton's' (a combination of his first and last name).
In the 1940s Clifton's served as many as 10,000 customers a day, including free meals for those who couldn't afford to pay. The decor helped inspire one visitor named Walt Disney in his plans for a new theme park, to be called Disneyland (wonder how that went...?)
Following World War II the downtown area began a long and slow decline, and by the 1980s crime and homelessness were rampant. Clifton's remained open, the world's largest public cafeteria. In 2010 a local entrepeneur purchased it from the Clinton family and closed it for renovations. Five years and many millions of dollars later Cliftonís Cafeteria reopened to the public, in a downtown that is booming once again.
It is four floors of total kitsch - murals, strange artifacts and curios, stuf...
The US, like Australia, is a country best explored by car. We were keen to experience some desert landscapes to match those forever etched in Nick's imagination after watching old westerns as a teenager so we planned a route that would include Monument Valley on the Arizona / Utah border.
Like Australia, the distances are big but that's where the similarities end. We have driven across the middle of Australia from Steep Point in WA to Byron Bay, a trip that apart from a few major landmarks is made extraordinary by enormous flat expanses of desert. Its understated beauty lies in this wide open emptiness.
Taking a car trip in Arizona and Utah, on the Colorado Plateau, is the complete opposite. The scenery is grand with dramatic elevations in various shapes and every day we saw something new and different. There are more 'sights' than you can shake a stick at and we were often just as blown away by the striking scenery along the way, as by the places we visited.
If you have a stopover in Dallas do yourself a favour a spend a couple of days in the Stockyards, Fort Worth. This historic part of the city dates back to 1890 and is the last remaining stockyard in the US. We fell for the charm of this old cowboy town during our 2 night stay...
The first evening we went to Billy Bob's, billed as the world's biggest Honky Tonk with space for 5000+ people. They host concerts with some of the biggest country & western bands and also have an indoor bull riding arena with competitions every weekend. We were there mid-week and enjoyed a couple of $6 margaritas while watching a group of local line-dance enthusiasts going through their routines. Later on I got a chance to join a group of beginners for an easy routine although it was harder than it looked!
The original stockyards still stand and house a herd of longhorn cattle. These are impressive creatures with horns that easily measure 2 metres from tip to tip.