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Bastille Day: Worldwide Dining

Desert Days: Desert Hot Springs

I won a two-night stay at the Miracle Springs Resort & Spa in Desert Hot Springs, California, at a Img_0362_1_2 silent charity auction and exercised my option this week, as it was good only for the low season (aka the hot summer months). The thermometer had reached 109 degrees of burning dry heat when I arrived midday.

At a closer look, I would not normally call Miracle Springs a "resort." But clearly that's a relative term (after all, there are RV "resorts"). I would qualify it as a budget family motel (110 rooms) with 7 natural hot mineral water pools -- and a high-quality spa.

If you know the Palm Springs area, then you also know that Desert Hot Springs is considered to be the low-brow sister to Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta, and the rest of the tony area, and happily so, as far as the locals are concerned. Situated to the north above Interstate 10, Desert Hot Springs is a thriving small town, more attached to the desert landscape than the other mirage-cities in the area. Residential neighborhoods are proliferating, most of the roads are paved, and the soil is dry brown earth, not the fake lush green sod that create an oasis effect in Palm Springs and environs.

What's important to know as a traveler is this -- what's your preference? I call it a lesson in serendipity.

Serendipity...Be open to the unanticipated. Unless you've been there before, your experience will not be what you expected. And, if you've been there before, the experience will not be the same the next time... Miracle Springs turned out not to be what I expected based on the travel brochure hype, but it had its redeeming qualities -- nice price, clean and spacious rooms, a friendly and attentive staff, well-tended grounds, the quality spa with pages of excellent treatments, and a location as a convenient jumping-off point to the entire area. There was even free Wi-Fi (wireless Internet), although I had to leave my room and go out in the open to access the satellite.

Img_0392_1As a writer, I was impressed in my research to learn that the top assistant to the owner of Miracle Springs is a television writer who escaped from Hollywood, has another life as an online satirist with his co-editors in LA, and even took his turn as local Chamber of Commerce president in Desert Hot Springs. A certain cowboy appeal, which fits out here in the few anti-hip desert communities. The town and its attitude remind me of Key West in the late '70s-early '80s before the bulldozers wrecked the motor court motels, where at night we'd sit in the parking lot on our lawn chairs and drink beer, etc., enjoying clean air, tree frogs and singing crickets, and carefree music and happy voices that lifted off porches all around. Back in Desert Hot Springs, down the Palm Drive at South of the Border (11719 Palm Drive, 760.251.4000), I enjoyed one of the best Mexican meals I've had outside Mexico or certainly San Diego. Colorful rope lights were strung at the entrance to the dining room, where Diego Rivera prints hung slightly askew on the walls, locals in T's and tanks sat in Mexican colonial hand-painted benches, and I stuffed myself with perfectly non-greasy carnitas served with fresh guacamole, pico de gallo, and pinto beans. In and out for $17, including one beer and tip.

On my first night, the crescent moon rose in the midnight blue summer sky over the silhouetted mountain rims, which were thankfully holding smoggy LA off in the distance. The temperature had dropped into the 90s, with low humidity making it far superior to 80 degrees of oppressive 95 percent humidity in Chicago, DC, or Miami. Serendipity in the desert -- who would have thunk? Bienvenidos, Desert Hot Springs!

Stay tuned for Part Two of Desert Days...