valley view One of many views of the valley, with Palm Springs just below

Visit to the tram

View from on high

Our summer passes for the Palm Springs Aerial Tram expired with August, so on Thursday evening, Réal and I took a last hike and picnic on Mt San Jacinto.

It was a perfect time to go to the mountain, because down in the valley it was hot (109°F) — and it was not a dry heat! The air was humid and the southeast breeze brought in the fetid odor of the Salton Sea. I stopped by the market to pick up a few things for dinner from the deli, and we were off.

At the top, we decided to take the desert view trail: "A 1.5 mile (2 km) trail leads to a number of scenic overlooks and forest views. Short climbs, moderately strenuous." True enough, but the most strenuous part of all the hikes atop the tram is the last bit back to the tram station, up a steeply sloping ramp of switchbacks that has you chanting "I think I can, I think I can, I think I can — make it to the next turn."

Real setting up for a shot Réal setting up for a shot

We each brought our camera to capture some of the spectacular views of the valley, although our skills fall far short of being able to capture the craggy mountain majesty. Everything seems to get foreshortened, and the pictures don't convey the distances and scale of the scenes.

Paul perched on a ledge Paul perched on a ledge

Although we wandered about for quite a long while, we met only two other people out on the trails. It truly is an opportunity to commune with Mother Nature.

After the second scenic outlook, we made a critical mistake. We considered having our picnic but decided to keep on going, reasoning that we could always eat at the tram station or closer to it at the end of the hike. By the time we arrived at the tram station, the sun had set and the winds had picked up. The thermometer at the station read 63°F. We tried to be stoic and enjoy our meal, but it was simply impossible. We sat there shivering violently, eating as quickly as possible so we could get inside where it was warmer. We had brought cold adult beverages, but instead we sipped cups of steaming hot coffee from the snack bar, vainly trying to take the chill off.

By the time we rode the tram down, it was fully dark and the lights of the desert cities made a carpet of sparkling lights on the valley floor. It was stunningly beautiful, but I didn't even try to take a picture — my hands were shaking too much from the cold!

For a few pictures, see the slideshow (sidebar).