Sunday, February 2, 2014

Joshua Tree and Beyond

The final installment of my travelogue brings us to New Year's Day and a trip to Joshua Tree National Park.  What a way to start off 2014.

Along the way, we stopped at a Pet Cemetery in Desert Palm Springs and met one Randy Frills, who I will call the owner/proprietor--though when asked if he created the cemetery he informed us, "Well, I brought them stones up myself."  So, um, yeah.  Mr. Frills (who could never be called "Mr. Grills" for his lack of proper teeth) told us that the cemetery wasn't all cats and dogs.  There's a horse buried in the back, as well as a pot-bellied pig "from the movies."  The movies!  So I guess it's really a celebrity pet cemetery.  Frills went on to describe his current legal woes (the water to the cemetery has been cut off), but we hit the road before he could ask for a handout.  A handshake was all he got.

Here are some shots:

We hit up the Del Taco in 29 Palms for some "sustenance" before hitting the park.  I can't even get into it fully, but there were some real freaky-deaky regulars hanging out at the picnic tables at the 'Taco.  Not to mention, we were worried our city-slicker systems would reject the greasy "meat" in a violent way.

But this was the worst that happened.  Some DT bits landed on my Rachel Comeys.  Gross, but things could have been much worse.

We finally made it to Joshua Tree, where we drove through and wow'ed at all of the rocks and cacti.  We even got out of the car a couple times to take photos!  I definitely would like to hike in the park someday, but I felt pretty good that we even made it there (after surviving the Del Taco) on New Year's Day.  Last New Year's Day, we were couched and well into an Upstairs/Downstairs marathon.  This year we experienced nature!  Even if it was mostly in a car!

We drove through Pioneertown on our way back to Desert Palms and promised ourselves that next year we'd do a night at Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace.  A hipster hootenanny was the only thing missing from our vacation.

The Lautner Compound

Where do I start?  We stayed in a museum, in a piece of architectural history.  John Lautner studied under Lloyd Wright and was directly involved in the building of some of the Taliesin West buildings.  (Also, you know his chemosphere house, right?) So we toured Taliesin, immersed ourselves in Lloyd Wright's architecture, and then stayed in a place directly influenced by it.


So this place is now called Hotel Lautner and here's a bit of its history, pulled from the wikipeeds:

Originally designed in 1947 as a planned community of over 100 buildings, storefronts and pools on 600 acres at Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley, near Palm Springs, California. Lautner's client was the famous movie director Lucien Hubbard, the winner of the very first "Best Picture" Oscar for the silent movie "Wings". After building the first four-unit prototype and pool the project came to a halt and it was subsequently used for Hubbard's stars and starlets as a getaway from Los Angeles; it gradually fell into disuse and sat vacant for almost 20 yrs. After Hubbard's death in 1972 the 600 acres were subdivided and sold off; the pool property burnt down and was bought by the neighboring golf course to be rebuilt in a different design as their club house. The prototype units were purchased by a buyer from San Diego but they sat empty for another nine years until an interior designer renovated them and put in kitchens and baths, although at some point the kitchens and baths were destroyed and removed. This owner kept the property for almost twenty years until the year 2000, renting out the rooms as apartments. It was then sold to Steve Lowe, who briefly ran it as the Lautner Motel. After Lowe died in 2005 the property went through the courts as was finally put back on the market in late 2006, when designers Ryan Trowbridge and Tracy Beckmann purchased it in 2007 for less than $400,000. The couple spent the next three-and-a-half years renovating and restoring the property. Their efforts won the approval of the Lautner Foundation, who sanctioned its renaming as the Hotel Lautner, in honor of its designer. The hotel re-opened for business in September 2011.

Here's a shot looking toward the fire pit at night:


You can see lots more photos of the place on the Hotel Lautner website, but some of my favorites are below.

Caveats:  It is NOT in Palm Springs proper, but in Desert Palm Springs--a nothing "town" about 30 minutes outside of PS.  It is a not a hotel in the usual sense of the word, but more like four apartments sharing a small hot-tub-sized pool (which is NOT a hot tub, nosirree), BBQ grill, and fire pit.  Each apartment has its own kitchenette, cactus garden (with cool night-lighting), and private terrace.  The place is old, so not everything works reliably.  Our cactus-lighting was on the fritz and the fire pit could not be counted on.  (Which sucks when you're all circled around it, comfy with cocktails.)  These were pretty big bummers, and the owners were in contact and came over to replace gas tanks and run extension cords and stuff like that, but it became a hassle to keep contacting them and waiting for their arrival.  Still, waking up in a place like this was pretty special.  In a what-am-I-doing-wrong-that-I-don't-actually-LIVE-in-a-place-like-this? kind of way, but also in an appreciative, nice-to-stay-here-even-if-only-for-a-few-nights way.  And I didn't spill any red wine on any vintage anything, so this proves that I might be just about mature enough to have a nice joint like this IRL.

The mini soaking pool.

Our apartment, the "Bachelor Pad."

Cards Against Humanity was in full effect.

LOVE the light fixture above the bed.

All rooms are equipped with record players, so we had fun spinning while sipping.  Our television was hidden behind the painting at left, something I'd love to do in my real place.  But I guess we'd need an actual TV first.

Here a goofy-faced B shows off the Bachelor Pad, with a view of our private terrace.

I forgot to add that we had the run of the place, with all four rooms rented, and that was pretty sweet.  I can't imagine sharing the fire pit or pool with randoms, though I'm sure it's fine.  Still, if you stay here, line up some friends and take the whole place.  It's really the best way to go.

Taliesin West

Our vacation had a distinct architectural bent, highlighted by our visit to Taliesin West and confirmed by our staying at the Hotel Lautner in Desert Palm Springs.  You're probably aware that Taliesin West was Frank Lloyd Wright's winter home, and you can read more about it here.  Touring it and learning about its construction and the school that still exists there were well worth it.  I still have fond memories of touring the Lloyd Wright house in St. Louis, so seeing one of his big'uns in person was pretty damn cool.

After, we drove directly to Desert Palms, googling Lloyd Wright scandals along the way.  They glossed over all of this/stuff on the tour, and even now a quick internet search shows that there are plenty of Lloyd Wright loyalists who refuse to admit that he was kind of a shithead.  Good architecture does not have to come from a good person, people.  Ain't no denying his architectural contributions.

Here's B hopping through the grounds.

This is what a shooting cactus looks like.  I know because some lady got shooed away from it.  And then later, we all wished she had taken a barb to the face as she let her toddler disrespect low-lying architectural gems.  I was so annoyed by the mini-distraction ("mini" references the size of the child, the distraction itself was HUGE) during the tour that I meant to drop a line to the folks at T-West to tell them that toddlers shouldn't be allowed.  Hmm.  Still gotta do that.  I ain't trying to be a baby-hater, all I'm saying is mind yo' baby.

I love this grumpy hippo.  The look on his face tells wayward toddlers to bug off!


I hadn't heard of it before our trip, but it seems that little ol' Jerome, AZ is popping up everywhere these days.  This former mining town is now known for being a super-haunted spot and is an easy drive from Scottsdale.  If you don't mind bright-red fonts and groovy background music, you can read more about Jerome here

The town is nestled like this, and you can see what is now the Grand Hotel (the big yellow-ish building at center-left) in this shot.  This used to be the hospital, where they couldn't contain all the bodies as people were dying from the Spanish flu.  We had lunch there and the creepy vibe could not be denied.  I was scared being in the bathroom alone.  *shudder*

Then we went to a rock shop nearby and the woman told us all about the ghostly experiences she'd had in Jerome.  Stuff like seeing demons in human form (or half-ass demonic attempts to pass as human), crossing spirits through to the other side, and a banana-curled lady spirit (picture Nellie Oleson) with an ire for men.  She kept going on and M and I were rapt (B was polite enough to stand there without pshaw-ing)... until she described WWII as "the war with the Jews" and later asked us to watch a YouTube movie that sounded like some New World Order shit.  Hmmm.  This should have discredited her accounts of spirits strangling her in the night, but it was too late.  She'd already scared the bejesus outta me and M.  It was a lights-on night back at the Valley Ho.

But anyway, here's a shot looking down on part of the city from the Grand Hotel.

We walked around Jerome a bit, trying to dispel our heebie-jeebies.  On our way out, we drove through the city center to the abandoned mine and the ghost town (not in a supernatural way, this time) next to it.  If you like busted out shit and rotting evidence of previous human settlement, then this is your spot.  Here are some photos:

And here I tried to capture the magical glow of the rocks in the distance.  But much like the big, bright stars that come out over the desert, it can really only be experienced in person.