I’m not from Michigan… I think I’m from California. I remember my first impressions the day I stepped off the plane in Kalamazoo, Michigan, after a flight from Orange County airport in California: these people are very pale. I had a full head of sun-bleached hair, and every visible inch of me was covered in freckles. I’ll be back in California before too long, or so I thought. I certainly didn’t think I’d be in Michigan 20 years later…
That first year I experienced real snow (snow days!) and winter. I’d lived briefly in Virginia as a toddler and remember the snow, but it was still novel. The novelty finally wore off in the early 2000s, and I had to find a way to cope.
You see, I like having seasons: in each season, we do different things, and so you appreciate each of them as they pass in contrast with each other. The long winter makes you appreciate spring that much more, and as the days grow longer and warmer, summer keeps us active outside until the late hours. At the peak of summer, the sun is out until 10:30 at night.
And then the warmth begins to seem a bit fatiguing when fall settles in, bringing perfect sleeping weather, fires, the start of a new scholastic year, and a return of the nose to the grindstone. And then there’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, the winter holidays, and finally the new year!
And then after a month or so, it’s bleak. Whatever St. Valentine’s Day, YOU ARE COLD.
Some northerners depart the tundra for warmer climes for a week or two if they can. The closer you can place it to the end of the bleakness, the better, because when you return it seems like things are getting better, and you might just make it to another spring.
This year, we returned to the land of my pre-teens, the high desert in southern California: Palm Springs, Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms. We decided to make the Rock Reach House in Yucca Valley our home for the duration of our stay.
The April 2010 issue of Dwell magazine featured an article on pre-fab housing, and I was immediately envious of the fantastic home set in the desert. After searching around, I discovered it was available to rent on VRBO! The owners were genius: build an awesome home, and then rent it out while not in use! Three years later, I finally had the opportunity to stay in it.
Specifically, it’s a basin-and-range desert, which is defined by abrupt changes in elevation, alternating between mountain chains that have flat, narrow valleys running through them. Historically, it’s been a sparsely populated area of the country, but the last twenty years have seen a large influx of people, a combination of retirees looking for warm weather and people looking for more affordable housing options. While there’s plenty of infrastructure, it’s not uncommon to find yourself turning off a paved road and driving through sand for a few miles to get somewhere.
- A separate car port down the walk that has solar panels on it used to power the house
- A soak tub for use on hot days
- An outdoor patio with a big fireplace
- A hottub up the hill from the house, with amazing views of the surrounding area and the stars at night
- A grill
The setting, while looking somewhat alien and hostile, is very restful. With rare exception, it’s very quiet and still. There are several grocery stores (and one small local health food store), so lay in some supplies and head up the hill.
The owners have thought of everything! There are flashlights where you might need them, switches to turn lights on at the start of a path, and more switches to turn them off at the end in case you want to view the stars. The landscaping is thoughtfully lit up at night, if you choose, and there are many places to hike and sit around the property. On top of it all, the house is very environmentally conscious and “green”, without ever really feeling like you’ve given anything up.
The inside of the house is very sleek, with concrete floors, modern furnishings, all the modern amenities, including Internet access. The floor plan was open: a living room, dining room and kitchen on one wall occupied half of the house, and the rest was divided into two large, equally sized bedrooms with a single bathroom in between.
I loved the ventilation hood in the kitchen: to turn on the fan and light, you simply pulled it forward. Elegant, streamlined and easy-to-use!
While there was plenty of beautiful wood, so many of the surfaces were made of nice wood that you need a coaster to set anything down, which made it feel a little less like home, and more like a museum—those were the moments where the fantasy sort of breaks down and you realize you’re in someone else’s home.
In the morning, we’d wake to sun coming in the windows, a warm concrete floor and blue sky as far as the eye could see, and forget all about the coasters.
It’s about three hours from the greater LA area, and an hour from Palm Springs. If you can fly into Palm Springs, it’s probably the best way. The PS airport is small, but nice, featuring outdoor walkways between gates, encased by glass. I remember it was just open to the world as a kid.
Rent a small SUV if you can. You’ll be driving through the San Gorgonio pass, which is really windy, and then up through a twisty mountain pass near Morongo Valley, and then up a big hill into Yucca Valley. You go from about sea level to 3000 feet in 30 minutes or so. Once in Yucca Valley, you take Old Woman Springs Road up another thousand feet in elevation, turn left, and start offroading. After a few miles, lots of hills, twists and turns, you’re there!
If you decide to rent, the owners will send you a great writeup explaining everything about the place, and how to get there. And they note that GPS systems may have trouble finding the address, so it’s best you pay attention to the directions and map they provide. I recommend getting there by the light of day if you can, although it’s not impossible to do it at night: we did.
You may see a few characters along the way…