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9.02.2008 - 32 comments 

While in Southern California, the one thing I told Mrs. LZ that I really wanted to do was to take the relatively newly renovated Palm Springs Aerial Tramway up to its top station. The biggest difference in the renovation is that the cars now rotate around twice in the path from both the bottom to the top and from the top to the bottom.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway constructed in rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs is about two hours by car from Los Angeles and San Diego did not just happen. It required foresight, planning, financing and, most of all a vision. For years, it was the dream of a young electrical engineer named Francis F. Crocker to "go up there where it's nice and cool".

Construction of the Tramway was an engineering challenge and was soon labeled the "eighth wonder of the world." The superlative was earned because of the ingenious use of helicopters in erecting four of the five supporting towers. Some 20 years later, the Tramway was designated an historical civil engineering landmark.

When we got there I noticed that there seemed to be a lot more places to park than I remember seeing here on my previous some 30 + years earlier. But I would still say that the area looked about the same as I remembered it. Except (if you look at the second shot on the bottom) that is what the cars looked like that I rode in back then.

The ride up the side of the mountain was just as simulating as I had remembered it, but this time you had the change of viewing direction as it did its two 360 On a hot summer's day, one of the best things to do in Palm Springs is to take a ride from the dry desert floor with the Aerial Tramway, 5,873 feet up into the cool, moist climate of the San Jacinto Mountains. Come and ascend into a pristine wilderness aboard the world's largest rotating tramcars! Truly one of the greatest experiences in Southern California!

These are the world's largest rotating tramcars that carry visitors from an elevation of 2,643 feet (where we parked to start the trip) to a Mountain Station located at the 8,516-foot level of Mt San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness. It also has the steepest vertical cable rise in the U.S. and the second steepest in the world. They say that the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway is truly one of the greatest experiences in Southern California.

What is remarkable about the ride, aside from the breathtaking views of the valley, is the change in temperature. At the bottom of the tram route, the temperature on the desert floor can reach 120 degrees. Rising up through mountain canyons and chimneys, you arrive in an arctic-alpine forest with giant Ponderosa pines.

The thrilling vertical ascent gives you views of the Chino Canyon and the San Jacinto Mountains from the front of the car, while the Sonoran Desert is splayed out below from the rear of the car. Look to the top of Chino Canyon, snap a few photos, and then look behind and below as you move from one ecological zone to another. Even though the day we did this, it seemed pretty smoggy to me, but it didn’t damage our excitement, but it did kind of spoil my photos of the desert floor from the top though

We noticed at the Mountain Station, you can walk from the car into the large, 3-story facility which has a cocktail lounge, dining facilities, a gift shop and observation decks. We walked all around here and after going outside and hiking around a little (while taking some photos up there too.)

One of my favorite parts up here was the station theater. It featured "Building on a Dream" which was an 18-minute film on the history of the history and construction of the Tramway. I really sort of enjoyed hearing all of this information and seeing the pictures of the construction of the tramway. Up at the top you can also explore the 14,000-acre Mt. San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness Area, which has 54 miles of hiking trails, rustic campgrounds, and granite outcroppings providing clear views of the cities below.

One of the things that I sort of forgot about is that once you go up there, you can stay for as long as you want, but if you are there after the last cable car goes down, you’ll be stuck up there for the rest of the night. It almost made me want to wait and go down after dark, but I think that the last one actually goes down before it actually gets dark, plus there would not be much to see down below except the lights of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, La Quinta and Indio.

Another interesting point to me was that the two cable cars are actually tied together at opposite ends of the cable. This means that you pass the other car both halfway up and halfway down the mountain. And even though you are both traveling at the exact same speed, it seems as though the other car is going faster than you are. It was really an enjoyable ride and it gets the LZ seal of approval. If you get out around Palm Springs, California it is worth a small side trip to the Tramway.

“Talk not of wasted affection! affection never was wasted;
If it enrich not the heart of another, its waters returning
Back to their springs, like the rain, shall fill them full of refreshment”
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow