Song of the desert

I’ve been at Lake Cahuilla almost a week.  It’s been a great place to stay.  I get a peaceful, easy feeling here.  😉  You are serenaded at night by coyotes and owls, and in the morning doves and mockingbirds.  Herons and White Pelicans share the lake. lake cahuilla1lake cahuilla2lake cahuilla3lake cahuilla4

Spots runs $35 a night for power and water. There is a dump.  Dogs are an extra $2 per dog, per day.  This is one of the places your Passport America can be used and save 1/2 of the daily cost on a few days a week.   They have firewood and ice at the entry kiosk.

The sites are clean, wide and offer beautiful views of the mountains and the lake.  There is a bathroom with showers (.50) There is a dog walking area right by the campsites, though there are numerous trails just outside the park that you can take your dogs on a hike.   If you want something a little more remote there are equestrian sites down a washboard dirt road into a private cove.  The only downside is there is a police gun range at one end of the lake.  Though, I have to say I only heard them one day.


If you are here, it’s nice to bbq and sit by a fire at night…though there is a myriad of great eating places.  Mexican food being one of my favorites, I ate at a couple of different ones and enjoyed each of their offerings.   The three places we tried were El Mexicali Café, Macario’s Grill and Mariachi Mexican Cuisine.  They were all delicious and had a variety of things to offer.  Macario’s has a buffet that is worth checking out for a plate full of different, delicious dishes.  Macario’s used to be a date garden and shop back when I was a kid. 🙂


We also visited an old haunt of mine, Ciro’s Pizza.  I was a bit disappointed in the pizza itself, though I would consider going back for a lunch or dinner special for a pasta dish.


There are many dog friendly restaurants, due to lots of outdoor dining, as well as dog friendly hikes, all around the desert valley.  There are trails and areas that dogs are not allowed, as well, typically due to wildlife in the area.  Do NOT ignore those signs.  I tend to not like to go where it’s crowded,  with people or dogs, so choose more remote trails in washes (less stickers, cacti in the washes) I can find.   I drove out to Whitewater Canyon, which has a few dog friendly hikes.  The road ends in the canyon at a parking lot, and though there were two signs on the way saying “lot full” I found there was room when I got there.  I found the trails more crowded than I like, so chose to leave after checking out the displays in the ranger’s station.  There are bathrooms near the parking lot.


I did a lot of driving around, visiting places I lived, worked, learned and played.  Many of the places were still there, but a few were gone.  The one that I was the most sad about was White Sun Guest Ranch, that is replaced with a housing development.

white sun

I did most of my riding as a child there, and became a horse wrangler for a couple of years.  I can still remember the smell of the dusty, covered boardwalk in front of the saddle room.  The chairs lined up in front where we would wait to take guests out on rides in the desert.  The horses all saddled, with heads down and rear legs cocked, all along the pipe corrals. It was a low paying job but probably one of most favorite.

White Sun began it’s life as the Eleven Mile Ranch (because it was 11 miles between Indio and Palm Springs) in 1925.  In 1934 it became a school for asthmatic children.  Will Rogers funded the expansion to include the school.  Unfortunately, with the crash that claimed Will Rogers life it almost destroyed the school.  Were it not for the dedication of a group of Rogers’ friends, including Roz Russell, Mike Romanoff, Basil Rathbone, Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer and Tom Mix, the school would have closed due to lack of funds.  The school was run successfully until WWII depleted the teaching staff.  It was bought in 1946 by Jack Dengler who turned it into a dude ranch.  The White Sun Guest Ranch became internationally known, and blossomed from hosting a dozen guests to nearly 200 in its heyday.  I have a couple of books written by the wife of Jack Dengler on the history of White Sun.  They are one of my most cherished possessions.

white sun historicalwhite sun historical 1

I drove by the home I spend most of my childhood, at Silver Spur Ranch, on Feather Trail.  I drove slow reminiscing over events that occurred there.  Flying around “the circle” on my bicycle, hitting some gravel and crashing.  Being carried home by an older boy who I was infatuated with after being struck in the ankle with a rock by a bully.   Hiking daily into the desert cove with my blue merle Sheltie, Patches.  Raising a baby hummingbird and releasing it back into the wild.  A rattlesnake next to our front doors.  Coyotes howling nightly….ahhhh I could have stayed there for days just thinking about things.  The olive tree my mother had planted was still there, though the ocotillo my grandfather had planted were gone.

silver spur1silverspur2silver spurfeathertrail3feathertrail2feather trail1feather trail


Across from Silver Spur Ranch is the Living Desert Reserve.  Back when we first lived there it was only some cactus that had been planted there.  My mother and I volunteered to water the cactus through the summer (we were one of only a handful of families that stayed during the hot summers).  When they started to finally develop the reserve, I worked there for a year.  There was only one building with dioramas housing things like kangaroo mice and lizards.  There was a Chuckwalla (large lizards) pit in the entryway.  About the time I left the desert they had a mountain fenced with Bighorn Sheep.   Now it’s the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens and is a full fledged zoo.

When we sold that house, my mother had another house built on Setting Sun Trail further down Portola.  While it was being built we lived in Idyllwild in the mountains. We would travel Hwy 74 daily to the desert floor,  so my mother could go to work and I could attend school.

This is the house that was built.  I only lived in it a couple of years. My Mom stayed there until she remarried and moved to Oahu.

setting sun house


Most of the stores and buildings are gone or remodeled and replaced.  A few still exist, like Keedy’s.  It was a soda fountain and we also ate breakfast there now and then.  I stopped in and it was a time warp..the interior still looks like it did when I was a kid.  I almost expected old man Keedy to walk out drying a glass.


I have to say, Palm Desert was a great place to grow up in the 60s and 70s.




2 thoughts on “Song of the desert

  1. I stumbled upon your article and very much enjoyed reading of your growing up in the desert.i was fortunate like yourself to have experienced the white sun guest ranch in all its desert family were regulars white suners,coming each spring break from 72 till its closing in 1980.what memories i have,i too have the book penned by helen dengler.
    the white sun holds a very special place for me ,from cowboy tony,to sat night steaks in the kiva.the smell of orange blossoms and so much more

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Brad, for sharing your thoughts and memories. It truly was a special place. We might have even seen each other as I was a horse wrangler off and on there in the late 70s. Ed and Tony were my friends and mentors.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s