Ballard and Walker: PCT Thru-Hikers

The Pink Motel

May 22, 2000—Day 15—West Palm Springs, California—Duffy's Diary: Yesterday was my 28th birthday, and we celebrated with a night at the Pink Motel in West Palm Springs. The Pink Motel is not really a motel, at least not in the bed, bath, clean towel, and fresh linen sense. It is really more of a Motel 6 Lite, if such a thing were to exist—an abandoned two room house sitting about a mile up the PCT from I-10 in the baked hills of San Gorgonio Pass. It's surrounded by a junkyard—a graveyard of blown and bald tires, stripped down cars born before the days of the Ford Administration, and an assortment of other relics—a VW Bus, a Winnebago, and a two-person speedboat looking sad to be so very far from home.

The Pink Motel may not look like your run-of-the-mill hospitality establishment, but its name is not completely misleading—it is pink, in a dirt-washed stucco sort of way.

This abandoned pink structure with its garden of scrap metal is owned by Don and Helen Middleton, who since 1988 have opened up their "second home" to PCT hikers desperately seeking shelter from a particularly nasty section of trail. And its carpeted floor, bottles of cold water, basket of fresh fruit, and garden hose out back were certainly welcome sights after the day we had yesterday.

In a half-dozen hours we descended from over 8000 feet in the San Jacinto Mountains, where patches of snow and granite rested under pine cover, to about 1000 feet in Snow Canyon, where patches of desert chaparral and granite broiled under 110 degree heat. Along the way we had an unsettling encounter with a large western diamondback rattler and an even more unsettling encounter with empty water bottles. Twelve miles into a 16 mile waterless section of trail, we finished off the last tepid drops of reserve. After that our descent became a pulsatingly parched stumble.

After a torturous series of long switchbacks, the water fountain at the PCT's intersection with Snow Canyon Road eventually provided relief from fears of collapse due to heat stroke and/or severe dehydration. We rested for several hours in a sandy cave between two giant boulders before trudging on another 5 miles to the Pink Motel.

It was 9:30 and quite dark by the time we got there. A strong wind whipping through the pass seemed to rattle every piece of rusted metal in the junkyard, causing us to nervously advance on what we hoped would be the Pink Motel. Entering the front lobby, a creaky screen door, I came to an abrupt halt. A whitened, bony man, naked but for a pair of skivvies, rose off a couch directly in front of me. I took a step back before recognizing the familiar faces crashed out on adjoining couches—Tavis, Natasha and Chris—all hikers we had recently met on the trail. Tavis gave us a brief verbal tour of the place before sinking back into his couch. I was later to learn that the older gentleman was also a PCT hiker—Mike, a British fellow in his 60s, a PCT and AT veteran. The couch suites were apparently all booked, so we spent my birthday on a soft, if not completely clean, carpet. [MORE. . .]

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