The West's best road trips

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Ultimate desert road trip

How one couple did Vegas, Death Valley, and Palm Springs in a week ― and made it swing, baby

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We leave Death Valley behind the next morning. But a landscape so huge that it swallows mountains keeps us occupied until we reach Baker, 120 miles south of the valley, a crossroads town offering food, gas, and the spectacle of the "world's tallest thermometer" at Bun Boy restaurant.

We've got a long way to go to make Palm Springs, so I let the car run. A desert dream flows past: Joshua trees stand sentry, jackrabbits bolt, rocky peaks rise like islands in a creosote sea.

As has happened with more than one Hollywood celeb, Palm Springs had its time, lost its shine, and is making a comeback thanks to a vibrant gay community in love with the retro charm.

We spend a morning at the fabled Two Bunch Palms Resort in neighboring Desert Hot Springs, enjoying a side-by-side couples massage and Roman tub soak. Our massage therapists are first-rate, but we're underwhelmed by the spa's facilities and decor―best described as Wild West bordello.

The afternoon is spent exploring Palm Canyon Drive's array of vintage furnishing and consignment shops, dreaming of a life in a pad that swings.

Dinner is at Riccio's. Oversize menus, vinyl banquettes, teamsters backslapping each other. We're talking old-school Italian. We cuddle in a corner booth until our dinners arrive. Red slides away from my arm to receive her Linguine alle Vongole. "No, no," protests our waiter, who's worked at Riccio's for 23 years. "Here," he says, and with the grace of a mago, shifts her tableware and places her plate right next to my Petto di Pollo Ripieno alla Toscana. "Ah, amore," he sighs, and leaves us to dine. Old school, friend.

On our last morning in Palm Springs, we pick up a map of celebrity homes from the visitor center. In quick succession, we check off the former hideaways of Elvis, Liberace, Peter Lawford, Dean Martin, and, on our way to the Palm Springs airport, Frank Sinatra.

And then, 700 miles behind us, we're at the airport, our trip's over, and the plane's rising up and away from Palm Springs. I look over at Red reading, and I realize it wouldn't have been nearly as great with anyone else.

"What?" she asks with a smile, noticing my attention.

"Oh, nothing," I say (because I'm a guy). But I'm thinking about a little piece of wisdom I heard recently: When the dealer puts money in front of you, pick it up.

I turn to the window to hide my grin, and watch the desert fade away. But one more tune of Frank's comes drifting up, and it makes my insides twang:

I've got the world on a string
Sittin' on a rainbow
Got the string around my finger
What a world, what a life,
I'm in love ...**

Snap.

*from "Fly Me to the Moon," by Bart Howard
**from "I've Got the World on a String," by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler

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