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Tramway

Started: 2020-02-27 20:45:13

Submitted: 2020-02-27 22:45:46

Visibility: World-readable

17th February 2020: In which the intrepid narrator ascends an engineering marvel into Mount San Jacinto State Park

After spending a day at the resort pool, we headed towards Palm Springs on President's Day and rode the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up Mount San Jacinto.

There was only one problem with my plan to visit the tramway on President's Day: it was a holiday Monday, so the tramway was crowded with people from Los Angeles on the other side of the mountains. When we turned off onto the access road, leading up from Palm Springs climbing the alluvial slope below Chino Canyon, a message on a sign at the visitor's center alerted us that the wait for the tramway was two hours. By the time we parked, at outlying parking below the tramway's base station, took the shuttle to the base station, and got our tickets, it was 11:30; and our timed tickets were scheduled for 13:30.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway car departs the lower station
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway car departs the lower station

This gave us plenty of time to sit around the base station, looking up the canyon in the bright mid-day sun, shining straight down the canyon. From the base I got a good look at the tramway: it operated two cars, each capable of holding 80 people, up the mountain. Each car operated back and forth between the top and bottom, taking about ten minutes to traverse the mountain, unload its passengers, and load more passengers. The cars counter-balanced each other on the cables.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway car approaches the first tower
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway car approaches the first tower

The cars were supported by two static cables, and one moving cable pulled the cars up and down the mountain, over five towers to the mountain station at 8,516 feet.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in Chino Canyon
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in Chino Canyon

Inside the base station was a tiny room, the size of a large closet, labeled as a museum, with artifacts and pictures from the tramway on display. A segment from a tv show featuring the tramway played on a tv in the room, showing the maintenance crews at work replacing one of the rolling sheaves on the tower that support the cable.

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway car approaches the lower station
Palm Springs Aerial Tramway car approaches the lower station

We ate lunch at the very-uninspiring cafe at the bottom of the mountain while waiting for our ride. At length it was our turn: we made our way through the entrance, watched the car descend towards us, boarded the car, and began our ride up the mountain.

Coachella Valley above the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Coachella Valley above the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

The floor inside the car spun as we rode, making two complete circles in the time it took to ride up the mountain. This gave us the opportunity to see more of the mountain as we climbed, and watch the desert recede below us, but I found it more difficult to get pictures from inside the car because I couldn't get a good position next to the window and wait for a good shot. The handle that Calvin is holding in the picture below is part of the window, and we were moving inside; so every few seconds Calvin had to adjust his grip. Julian held onto the bar bolted into the floor, which was moving with us; but this made it harder for him to see out the window.

Calvin in the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Calvin in the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

It turned out that holding on to the available handholds was important, because as the car approached and crossed over the towers the car swung precipitously and the passengers gasped. (It was hardly more swing than I've felt on various ski lifts, though I'm always sitting on a ski lift so it's easier to keep my balance.)

Calvin, Julian, Sharon, and Kiesa in the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Calvin, Julian, Sharon, and Kiesa in the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

At the top of the tramway we walked through the mountain station and stepped onto the back patio into a very different climate than we'd left on the valley floor. We were eight thousand feet above sea level, and the air was crisp and comfortably chilly. Snow lingered on the ground under massive pine trees. The only constant from the valley floor was the sun, shining brightly overhead.

Julian runs down the trail from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Julian runs down the trail from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

We walked into Mount San Jacinto State Park and followed the Desert View Trail, following the short loop along the plateau to the edge of the mountain, offering a series of short glimpses of the desert more than a mile below; my view of the sand and salt below -- and the wind turbines and exurban development and I-10 cutting through the middle of the valley -- framed by pine trees and snow.

Desert view from Mount San Jacinto State Park
Desert view from Mount San Jacinto State Park

Julian was perfectly capable of walking on the short trail, but we had trouble getting him to actually walk in a straight line in the right direction. He was more interested in meandering around (and, half-way through the walk, playing "the ground is lava", and then tripping and falling on the rocks next to the trail).

Sharon, Kiesa, Calvin, and Julian in Mount San Jacinto State Park
Sharon, Kiesa, Calvin, and Julian in Mount San Jacinto State Park

In some places the trail was covered in snow; it was only occasionally icy, requiring care to avoid slipping.

Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin hike on snow in Mount San Jacinto State Park
Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin hike on snow in Mount San Jacinto State Park

After five viewpoints of the valley the trail turned around to loop back to the top of the tramway.

Looking down from Mount San Jacinto State Park
Looking down from Mount San Jacinto State Park

We caught the tramway back to the bottom of the mountain. On the way down the swings as we crossed the towers felt bigger, because we were going down; but we (more or less) knew what to expect. The shadows on the valley were longer in the late-afternoon sun, and the shadow of the mountain was beginning to fall across the valley floor, portending nightfall.

Calvin looks down the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Calvin looks down the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Back at the bottom of the tramway, we walked back to our car, stopping by the original tramway car on display for a family photo, before returning to our resort villa for the night.

Julian, Kiesa, Jaeger, and Calvin at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway
Julian, Kiesa, Jaeger, and Calvin at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

For more photos from the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway and Mount San Jacinto State Park, see Photos on 2020-02-17.

yet another half-implemented feature... 2000.04.13; i'm going to bed
- Jaeger Comment in x13's Boxes.pm