The Palms Resort at Indian Head: A Classic, Classy Desert Hotel

March 29, 2012

Borrego Springs, CA 


I have visited Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park  ( in San Diego County several times, but have never stayed overnight.   But the busy two days I planned to spend hiking and taking photographs in the desert last weekend meant I would have to find a hotel.   I did what I've done with great success all over the country:  I asked a local.   Actually, I asked six, all of whom recommended The Palms at Indian Head (  

The Palms Resort at Indian Head: A Classic Desert Resort

 I was not disappointed by this mid-century architectural treasure, which lies just a short drive (or walk) from the Anzo-Borrego Visitor's Center.  While I only stayed for two nights, I will look forward to coming back to the The Palmsevery bit as much as the bird-watching trip I've planned at the nearby Salton Sea State Recreation Area ( this fall. 


After a very early morning drive, several hours of bird-watching and a three-hour hike, I checked into the The Palms early Saturday afternoon to find the staff eagerly awaiting my arrival, with a very welcome carafe of ice cold water with fresh lemon rind waiting for me on the sitting table in my room.  The Palms interior felt a bit like a collision between sets from The Jetsons andMad Men come to life.  From its sleek central stairway, floor-to-ceiling glass and wide stone floors to the pixie-like aluminum light fixtures and a small wet bar with silver cocktail shaker and ice bucket, the decades peeled away to a era of timelessness and style.  


Despite the temptation, I didn't splurge on one of The Palms' luxuriouspoolside casitas, which are the resort's largest by a considerable margin and feature wood-burning fireplaces and their own wet bars ($249 per night, double occupancy).  Most appealing to me here were the casita's double entrances, one of which opens onto the parking lot and the other which fronts the pool, giving patrons complete privacy from other guests and staff when coming or going.  

The Palms Poolside Casitas

 Instead, I chose one of The Palms' King Standard Rooms on the second floor ($179 per night, double occupancy).   For seasonal room rates, reservations and information about quad occupancy or adjoining rooms, visit the reservation page at ( 


The floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass door opened onto a lengthy veranda offering an expansive view stretching from of the resort's palm-ringed swimming pool to the desert and the San Ysidro Mountains in the distance.  

Desert Sunset from The Palms Veranda



The room's high ceiling expanded the space, which was dominated by a wooden four-poster bed set opposite a spacious sitting area with a refrigerator, microwave oven and oversize armchair and sofa (that could easily sleep two small children or a teenager).  

Four-Poster Bed, King Standard Room

 Parents will appreciate the thoughtful "goodies basket," stuffed with books, playing cards and board games, making it possible to leave at least one vacation bag at home.  If you don't find what you (or your children) want in your room's basket, simply call the front desk and ask to switch with another guest.  I appreciated the sturdy fiberglass walking sticks I found in the closet, only then realizing I'd left mine at home.  


While sipping a sweetly brewed iced tea in the intimate bar, Palms manager Laura told me a bit about the resort's history and name.  The original lodge, named The Hoberg, was built in 1947 and, true to Hollywood's Golden Age, featured its own landing strip and Olympic sized pool.  Fifty six bungalows catered privacy and luxury to guests including Bing Crosby, Mariliyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Will Rogers.   After fire claimed the Hoberg in 1958, the current lodge was built in the international modern style now known  as "mid-century" design.  Over the years, the bungalows fell into disrepair and, after being condemned as fire hazards, were torn down.  Traces remain in the playfully named "The Ruins," which lie behind the property, where the remnants of a doorway, row of cracked bathroom tiles and an occasional shock of flaming pink paint make terrific photo ops to document daydreams of a bygone era.


The resort's name, The Palms at Indian Head, refers first to the California fan, Mexican fan and date palms that cover the property and ring the swimming pool.  The second half of the name references the craggy mountain directly behind the resort, the shape of which recalls an Indian Chief in headdress looking skyward.   Originally named Rain in the Face by theCahuilla Indians, the valley's original inhabitants, the mountain is now called Indian Head.


Palms owner David Leibert continues to make, gradual, well-informed improvements and is clearly omitted to saving this resort gem when he could easily slash the rooms to half their size.  I found it so refreshing that I had an actual key chain with a key, which sometimes stuck in the lock.   I admit feeling annoyed until I realized how turning a key actually makes the moment before you enter a rented room one of magical anticipation in which one's thoughts move from, "What lies behind the door?" to "I can do anything I want…or nothing at all!"  How did we travelers come to settle for the mechanical shove of a card into a slot which lights up like a traffic signal, one of the many things we're presumably trying to escape by getting away?  How did mass-market sterility come to be seen as a necessary component of luxury? 


After a quick nap and a pleasant wake-up call from the front desk, I returned toAnzo-Borrego for a set of evening talks and hikes, working up a more than considerable appetite in the process.  

Nearby Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park

 That evening at The Krazy Coyote Bar and Grill, I gorged myself prime rib and freshly baked apple cobbler, which had a light delicate crust and apples so tart the ice cream barely softened the tang.  Barely able to rise from my table and climb one flight of stairs for my bed, I knew I'd sleep like a baby. 


My muscles and mind begging for sleep, I cracked the window for a slight breeze and climbed under the downy comforter and crisp, freshly laundered sheets, which immediately drained the tension from my overextended body.  Crickets serenaded me and, although they were in the distance, a string of coyote howls briefly jolted me upright before I the glittering moonbeam falling across the dark walls put me into a deep sleep.   I cannot report anything that happened during the course of the night, because I didn't wake up until my alarm jolted me conscious at 7a.m., so I could get prepare for a hike through Palm Canyon.  What a pleasure it was not to be awakened by drunken hotel guests, noisy children or traffic.  Something about the Palms calms everyone who enters, as though to violate the nighttime quiet would not only be inexcusable but also in bad taste.  


With a rosy sun rising over the San Ysidro Mountains, I meditated in the isolated Zen Garden, watching birds and gecko lizards chase their insect breakfasts over catctii and bushes alike.  (  I ate a robust breakfast at FIND The Red Ocotillo of fresh-squeezed orange juice, roasted potatoes and Red Benedict, a version of eggs benedict in which salmon replaces the canadian bacon.  That's a recipe I would like for my own kitchen.  


After a four hour hike through nearby Palm Canyon, the most taxing but rewarding time of the weekend, I returned to The Palms and striped off my dirty, sand-clotted clothes.  I took several brisk--and I mean brisk--dips in the pool and baked dry by napping in a sturdy iron deck chair with thick cushions.    I could only eat half my heaping plate of spaghetti and meatballs at Red Ocotillo, but the server cheerfully packed the leftovers in my cooler (enough to make me two more meals when I was back home) and wistfully climbed into my car for the drive home.   Red Ocotillo, which takes its name from one of Anzo-Borrego's signature plants, is a popular destination for Sunday brunches, and I noted that a party of four would have gotten a terrific bargain with the foursome dinner, which included a bottle of champagne with entre and drinks for just under one hundred dollars.   


I was gone for barely two days but it might as well have been a week, I felt so relaxed and satisfied.  Next time I visit The Palms will be during bird migration season at the Salton Sea this October.  Stay tuned or, better yet, come along!  


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