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You would be wrong to think there’s nothing to do in Palm Springs after you’ve done the tour of movie star homes, taken the tram to the top of the world, and watched the passing scene from an outdoor café on Palm Canyon Drive, the town’s main street.

Venture to one or more of these day trip destinations, each within 90 minutes of downtown, and be back in “The Springs” in time for dinner.

RELATED: 9 reasons Palm Springs is the coolest desert getaway

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Salton Sea is one of the world’s largest inland bodies of water (and California’s largest lake), and while it looks like some prehistoric relic, it’s just over 100 years old, the result of an engineering mistake that rushed the dry Salton Basin with water from the Colorado River. Swimming isn’t recommended because of the Dead Sea-like salinity and razor-sharp rocks, onshore and off, but it’s a popular spot for windsurfing, kayaking, fishing, or just watching seabirds against a backdrop of hazy mountains shimmering in the distance. Part of the California state park system, there’s also a small ecological museum. Littered with eerie, nearly abandoned towns, the nearest restaurant or café is in Salton City, what’s left of what once was a thriving resort region.

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Amboy Crater is an ancient volcanic cinder cone, or what’s left of it, namely the bottom half. From the parking area just off Historic Route 66, it’s a short walk to the base, along a footpath of ground up lava bordered by some interpretive signs. If you opt for the 2-3 hour hike into the crater, you’ll be rewarded by a moonscape that includes two dried up lava lakes. Just do it early in the day, before the black rocks and lack of vegetation for shade add to the desert heat. Amboy Crater was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1973.


Flickr photo by Jerry Huddleston

Roy’s Motel and Café is at the turn-off from Route 66 to the crater. In the heyday of the legendary road, this was a thriving little complex—in part because of its crucial gas station—then a rarity along this desolate stretch. After being abandoned for years, it’s being slowly restored, including using the derelict motel rooms for art installations and the parking areas for assorted vintage vehicles. Take a break here to stretch your legs and appreciate the architecture that was cutting-edge modern in the 1950s.

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Joshua Tree National Park is named for some of the oldest trees on the planet, the twisted and bristled Joshua trees, which dot a landscape also dotted with boulders and cacti. And stars. This is one of the top Dark Skies sites in the USA, celebrated each November with a Night Ski Festival. Most visitors take the 18-mile Geology Motor Tour, paved with informational stops describing the difference between the two desert ecosystems the park straddles, the Mojave and the Colorado. One of the shortest and most picturesque hikes is the Hidden Valley trail, a one-mile loop around massive boulders.

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Flickr photo by Alison Jean Cole

Be sure to stop at the Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum to wander through whimsical sculptures by Noah Purifoy. See what an artist’s eyes, hands and sense of humor can create with such things as hubcaps, bathroom fixtures and a bunch of other junk. Afterward, don’t miss an amazing brunch at La Copine, an absurdly good little restaurant, practically in the middle of nowhere.

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Indian Canyons is the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente band of Cahuilla Indians. It’s also known for offering several easy hikes along shaded paths through the four canyons that make up the park, including one to a 60-foot waterfall. Andreas Canyon is a desert oasis brimming with plants and trees, and popular with birdwatchers. Or, take a horseback ride into Murray Canyon or Palm Canyon and look for endangered Big Horn Sheep. There’s a small, free, tribal museum at the main overlook, where trail maps are available. The tribe also operates a spa, hotel, restaurant and casino in downtown Palm Springs.

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Flickr photo by Randy Heinitz

Go bananas at the International Banana Museum, with what may be the world’s largest collection of banana-themed jewelry and clothing, toys and games, tableware and towels, and banana-scented and flavored candles, soaps and cosmetics. An old-fashioned soda fountain serves up banana ice cream and floats, even banana-flavored soda pop, and the gift shop—of course—sells all kinds of banana items.

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Tagged: California, Palm Springs

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