Ya gotta love Palm Springs, CA, where the summer never dies, the architecture is retro-cool, and the town spirit is as invigorating as an iced martini. Where else can you golf in the morning, go snowshoeing in the afternoon, and enjoy a cocktail by the pool in the evening? As to riding, Palm Springs’ fabulous winter weather spells nirvana.
I felt almost guilty slipping on my BMW AirShell jacket and pants with the temperature at a balmy 73 degrees, while half of the lower 48 states were blanketed in snow and 3.5 million Texans were shivering without power.
And did I mention Palm Springs’ physical setting? The place is out of this world! Majestic mountains soar on three sides, glistening with snow in the winter sunshine. In fact, the surrounding scenery is far more diverse than you might imagine, ranging from below sea level to more than 11,500 feet atop Mount San Gorgonio. Although you could be forgiven for thinking that in summer it’s just too darn hot to ride in the desert, after 15 years of living here, I’ve learned that’s the best time to head into the mountains.
The terrain is so diverse that a lucky Shamrock Tour® delivers a kaleidoscopic experience to all four points of the compass. To the east sit the surreal rock formations and eponymous yucca species of Joshua Tree National Park and the High Desert. To the south lie the Salton Sea and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Northward, you’ll find the circuit of Big Bear Lake that takes you to 8,443 feet in elevation. And westward await the wineries of Temecula and the stupendous switchbacks over pine-clad Mount San Jacinto.
After months spent cooped up in my man cave, I was beaming like the Cheshire Cat as I fired up my BMW R 1200 GSA on day one.
Desert Desiderata in Joshua Tree National Park
Palm Springs’ windmill farm is as iconic as its Instagram-worthy #thatpinkdoor. Rotor blades half the length of a football field spun overhead as I powered north out of town up North Indian Canyon Dr, then roared through Morongo Valley on SR 62, with its delicious sweepers. Within 30 minutes, I’d gone from sea level up to 4,000 feet.
At Yucca Valley, I turned left for the snaking road up to Pioneertown. Set amid the fantastical boulder formations of the Mojave Desert, this former Western movie set is a lived-in museum renowned for Pappy & Harriet’s—a real-life functioning Western saloon—and as a trendy place to reboot for Los Angeles castaways and outlaw artists. Visit on Saturdays to view mock gunfights on Mane St.
Pleasingly grotesque Joshua trees added to the surreal Wild West landscape as I looped back down to Yucca Valley through Pipes Canyon and SR 247, then turned east on the Twentynine Palms Hwy for Joshua Tree National Park. The park’s majestic grandeur—its lunar-like boulders, gnarled eponymous trees, and wide-open feeling—once drew Jim Morrison, Donovan, and Keith Richards for their own desert trips. I was happy for the slow speed limits—all the better to admire one of the most spectacular desert landscapes in North America.