On the Scene: Days in the California Desert

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Although Bay Area winters are generally mild, there are March brisk winds, fog, and freezing cold nights still hanging around, so we joined a dozen Silicon Valley seniors in search of warm sunlit days and clear skies in the desert area once coveted by Hollywood stars.  Rancho Mirage, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, and Indio run alongside each other coming down Highway 111, and is the pathway for any type of activity one might seek in this valley area surrounded by majestic mountain peaks, desert sands and palm trees.

Mary Perry shows Gerrye Wong around Sunnylands Center

Mary Perry shows Gerrye Wong around Sunnylands Center

Old friend Mary Perry who is now Deputy Director of Communications at Sunnylands Center & Gardens in Rancho Mirage, welcomed us to The Annenberg Retreat at Sunnylands which just opened over a year ago. This has been such a popular destination for locals and visitors alike that the tours are sold out within an hour of its reservation days of the first and fifteenth of every month.  Owned and operated by The Annenberg Trust at Sunnylands, the property was the 200-acre estate of Ambassador Walter and Lenore Annenberg, and their beautiful 25,000 square foot Mid-century Modern house is located in the middle of landscaped grounds, which included a private golf course. We took the ninety minute guided tour of the grounds and historic desert home which gives an intimate look of the life styles of the Annenbergs and the many famous guests they entertained within its 22 bedrooms and two guest wings. Visiting presidents included Dwight Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Bush father and son, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton with photographs throughout the house of them and other celebrities who enjoyed the Annenberg estate from 1966 until when it was completed.

Enjoying the Grotto under a canopy of Two Bunch Palms were Peter Brauer, Rianna Riego and Gerrye Wong.

Enjoying the Grotto under a canopy of Two Bunch Palms were Peter Brauer, Rianna Riego and Gerrye Wong.

Hillary Angel of the Palm Springs  Tourist Bureau welcomes Gerrye , Maelene and Aaron Wong

Hillary Angel of the Palm Springs
Tourist Bureau welcomes Gerrye , Maelene and Aaron Wong

The many guests coming to Sunnylands can stroll, free of charge, through the mile long walkway to enjoy varieties of desert plants, watch the 20 minute film on the lives of the Annenbergs and view changing exhibitions and sculptures featured at the Center. There are interactive media stations where one can sit down and learn about the Annenberg art collection, or explore how life in the Palm Springs desert is different from other places and how Sunnylands is making strong efforts to keep it sustainable. This year, a special exhibition of Chinese cloisonné, titled Imperial Splendor-Chinese Cloisonne will be on display, featuring 35 objects the Annenbergs collected between 1969-1974 when Walter served as the Ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s.  The Sunnylands Center is in itself a beautiful piece of architecture to visit, and it can give you a peek at what life in the desert was like for the rich and famous in the mid 20th century. For more visitor information,www.sunnylands.org.

Foon Hay Golf Club of Santa Clara Valley  invade Palm Springs golf courses

Foon Hay Golf Club of Santa Clara Valley invade Palm Springs golf courses.

Follies Publicist Greg Purdy welcomes  Silicon Valley WOW group.

Follies Publicist Greg Purdy welcomes
Silicon Valley WOW group.

Continuing our sojourn in the Coachella Valley, we maintained that in this golden age of senior-dom, life is an adventure – so why not make it a true Desert Adventure with the company of the same name and take one of its eco-tours with their trained naturalist guides.  Our guide Morgan Levine has guided visitors through her favorite haunts for over 20 years, and her passion and love for the area was evident as she took us on the 6 hour tour Wonders of the Valley. Maneuvering her comfortable climate-controlled van and talking non-stop, Morgan walked Wilson and Pauline Fong, Calvin and me under the canopy of the native palm oasis that is directly over the San Andres fault at the Coachella Valley Preserve. She took us to the world famous Cabot’s Pueblo Museum to hear abut this phenomenal structure and the innovative man who built it and passed us through the towering wind turbines and fields of solar panels to learn about the history and future of these renewable energy resources. Though her eyes and knowledge, we experienced the dramatic change from desert to mountain landscape and came back with a head full of knowledge and appreciation for the area most visitors never realize.

Roger Eng and Howard Lum  meet Palm Springs Follies dancer

Roger Eng and Howard Lum meet Palm Springs Follies dancer


Palm Springs Convention Visitors Bureau Executive Joyce Kiehl visits with Calvin and Gerrye Wong

Palm Springs Convention Visitors Bureau Executive Joyce Kiehl visits with Calvin and Gerrye Wong

For the more hearty, and what fun for a family with adventuresome kids, Desert Adventure  offers jeep rides to Indian canyons to learn about the Cahuilla Indians and how they survived in the desert.  For youngsters to oldsters, these tours give you a true feel of what desert life is like, with guides who make it both an entertaining and educational adventure.  Check red-jeep.com or call (760) 324-5337 for tour information.


Back to civilization, downtown Palm Springs was alive with tourists and spring break youth enjoying the mild summer-like days of the desert.  For us seniors, we enjoyed an evening of reminiscing at the Palm Springs Follies with its new show, “Dance to the Music”. Seen by nearly three million patrons through its 22 years, the show spotlights  music and dance of Mid-Century America with the fantastic cast ranging in age from 54 to 83 years doing the high step and kicks just like they did in their former chorus line days.  Grumpy Impressario Riff Markowitz was at his wittiest dead-pan best and when he welcomed our group, which I had named “The WOWs – Wise old Women of the World”, he asked where we were from. When I replied, we’re a group of Chinese Americans from Silicon Valley, without a pause, he quipped, “Oh good, want to buy my theatre?” obviously referring to the recurring Fox news that Asians are buying up America .  The Follies, as Publicist Greg Purdy told us, plays from November to May and our group of Miriam Ngai, Carol Fong, the Howard Lums, James Gates, and John Kaos loved going to the charming neon-encrusted old movie house that was once the historic Plaza Theatre.  The Roger Engs and Aaron Wongs hummed along with Guest Performer Leslie Gore, remembering her hits from the 60s.    Still have a chance to see the glitter and glamour of old time vaudeville before they close end of May so call (650) 327-0225 for tickets…and be sure to buy the good ole popcorn  too.


Just across the street in downtown Palm Springs is the 26-foot tall “Forever Marilyn” sculpture by American artist Seward Johnson representing the famous pose of hers taken from the film “The Seven Year Itch”.  Hillary Angel of the Palm Springs
Tourist bureau said this has made a great photo op for everyone passing by but unfortunately, it will only be on display through June.  The Palm Springs area is heaven for inveterate golfers, and we found Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort conveniently located to downtown Palm Springs and the airport, but yet pristine in its well-maintained layout and playability. Although a very busy golf course, the friendliness of the staff was helpful in ensuring we had a wonderful golf experience there. Information:  http://tahquitzgolfresort.com/Tahquitz Creek Golf Resort is one of the premier public golf resorts in Palm Springs, CA. Play golf within minutes from Palm Spr

Have you ever gone to a place where a sign asks you not to speak above a whisper? As soon as I saw this, I knew I was in for a spiritual retreat, free from the hustle bustle of the outside noisy world.  I was entering Two Bunch Palms Resort and Spa, a private sanctuary of what Native Americans once referred to as “sacred grounds.”  What was once a hideaway for famed mobster Al Capone is now an engaging adult-only resort where one can witness a perfect convergence of the healing power of nature’s mineral springs and inspired treatments in a peacefully secluded environment. As General Manager Peter Brauer and Spa Consultant Rianna Riego explained while showing me around the beautiful secluded property, the “two bunches of palms” on the property marked a special area created by the natural elements of the earthquake faults, geothermal underground water, mountain peak alignments, wind and sun energies.  With those thoughts in mind, I donned my signature Two Bunch Robe eager to partake of the spa’s healing powers.  As instructed, the ritual of “taking the waters” before and after every treatment is part of the experience to receive the preventative, therapeutic and restorative benefits of water, so I entered quietly the mineral waters found in The Grotto, a lovely spot nestled under a canopy of palm trees, where the mineral waters are first cooled and then cascade into two pool areas – one at 104 degrees, another at 99 degrees.  Ah- nirvana! This is one of the few mineral springs with no sulfurous odors, but more of a woodsy scent and I can see why the unique composition of this mineral water is world-famous for its therapeutic and mood-enhancing properties.

Following relaxing with nature in the mineral springs, one is led by experienced therapists to outdoor cabanas or huts to experience any type of massage therapy you desire.  As seen in the movie, “The Player” the mud baths here allow you to float weightless in a tub filled with a mixture of peat moss and the mineral-rich clay and waters. Another unique treatment is the Watsu/Water Shiatsu where, in the privacy of a WATSU pool one is cradled by a therapist in the water as you receive gentle shiatsu-based treatment, including stretches, subtle energy point work that will increase flexibility and restore balance. As Rianna further described the treatment, fluid yoga-like movements maximize the water’s resistance to gently open the neck, spine and joints of the body to free it of life’s tensions.  Following my massage treatment titled “Two-Bunch Bliss Massage” , I enjoyed another session enveloped in The Grotto’s hot mineral waters as recommended to complete my quintessential journey to rejuvenation.

I can see why Two Bunch Palms has become the popular escape for Hollywood celebrities, Los Angeles socialites, and tourists from around the world in search of a quiet respite with nature and peaceful privacy within its many secluded cabins. What a perfect place for companies to send their harried, overworked and stressed employees for a getaway retreat.  It was great for this travel-weary writer too who felt restored and ready to face the busy outside world again with a 8 hour drive back to our Silicon Valley home. Looking for a new spa experience, whether for one or many days, www.twobunchpalms.com, (800) 472-4334.

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