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From Natural Wonder to Curiosity, In and Around Palm Springs: 10 Must-Sees from Ace Hotel & Swim Club

Posted: 07/03/2012 12:48 pm

We love Palm Springs. It's an anomaly -- seemingly independent of, though vaguely familiar with, its host nation. The landscape alternates between a technicolor fifties modern version of suburbia and a retirement community with a dose of psychedelia, skirted by desolation, natural wonders and an unlikely array of cultural outliers.

Here's an incomplete list of some of our favorite places in and around Palm Springs, from the family at Ace Hotel & Swim Club.

Joshua Tree National Park

The world famous eco-marvel is a must-see not only for the eponymous yucca that defines the Mojave Desert section of the Park. Formations like Skull Rock, Giant Marbles and Hall of Horrors are rock candy for geo-buffs and climbers. The Cholla Cactus Garden, Twentynine Palms Oasis and sunsets at Hidden Valley offer rough-hewn vistas unlike any you've likely seen.

Salvation Mountain

The late Leonard Knight's labor of love in the Imperial County Desert is a monument of outsider art and tribute to one man's vision, persistence and refreshingly beneficent view of the dude upstairs. The Bible-inspired installation was built up over more than 20 years from concrete, adobe and over 100,000 gallons of acrylic paint donated by pilgrims and passers by.

The Salton Sea

The areas that surround the endangered saltwater lake resonate with a strange, post-apocalyptic noir, like the salt-crusted mausoleum of a Gold-Rush-style American Dream gone rogue. The Salton Sea History Museum on the site of the Albert Frey-designed North Shore Beach & Yacht Club can get you up to speed on the area's history. Check out the bubbling mud pots in Calipatria, on the southeast side of the Sea, to add another layer of extraterrestrial ambience.

The Noah Purifoy Foundation

The Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum preserves the prolific found object, site-based work of Noah Purifoy. The seminal African-American sculptor moved to the Mojave after achieving international acclaim for his work while based in Los Angeles. He spent the last 15 years of his life creating an unparalleled 10-acre sculpture park constructed completely from junked materials on the desert floor.

High Desert Test Sites

At High Desert Test Sites, a collective of resident and guest artists use the desert landscape as a springboard for organically-conceived, contextual art installations that challenge notions of property and patronage. Projects melt back into the landscape and new ones emerge, creating remote cultural centers unmoored to the larger centers and a stimulative antidote to bland suburban sprawl.

Indian Canyons

Located on the land of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, Indian Canyons offers easy to strenuous hiking through some amazing flora and fauna, gorges overlooking the desert, streams lined with California Fan Palms, the 60-foot Tahquitz Falls, ancient rock shelters and paintings and Cahuilla art and artifacts.

Desert Modern Architecture

Since the 1920s, some of the world's most visionary architects emigrated to the desert to put the idea of an architecture that grows organically from its environment into action. You can take a self- or pro-guided tour of the desert modern homes and buildings designed by the likes of Richard Neutra, Albert Frey, John Lautner, William F. Cody and Donald Wexler.

The Integraton Dome

This is truly one of the weirdest and best things not only in the low desert but in the world... Set your mind spinning with a 60-minute sound bath in an all-wood, acoustically-perfect dome built by Nikola Tesla-disciple George Van Tassel -- the currents harness electromagnetic oscillations to rejuvenate cells, enhance well-being and increase the peace.

Vintage Goods

Vintage shops, antique malls and flea markets in Palm Springs and vicinity abound with desert-inflected treasures. We found the amiable pearl-clad stuffed coyote that serves as the unofficial mascot for Ace Hotel & Swim Club while vintage hunting the local shops, so we know there's still plenty of finds out here for the dedicated seeker.

Palm Springs Art Museum

We love this place for its commitment to and love for local culture, and its nuanced interpretation of what that means. They have an exhibition up now with some incredible modern and postmodern sculpture, and an excellent show of abstract and figurative paintings, not to mention room after room of other great work including a selection of contemporary glass sculpture and an installation by Michael Petry.