Palm Springs, California: Palms to Pines Scenic Byway

Odometer (Legend):  531,659


Odometer (ILX):  101,384


Trip Distance:  660 Miles


Life begins at 100,000 miles, right?  Having a now-6-figure mileage readout on the ILX doesn’t change the fact that I still need to get out of town once in awhile.

Half the fun of owning a unique automobile is interacting with other folks who drive the same make and model.  For 10 years now, I’ve attended the annual National Acura Legend Meet which has been held in various cities across America each summer and in the process, I’ve made valuable friendships that endure longer than our Legends ever will.  Now that I’m an Acura NSX owner, I’m also starting to get involved with a similar program called NSXPO.  Last week, it was announced that NSXPO 2015 will be hosted in Palm Springs, California.




I was approached by the Director for the 2015 NSXPO about serving as drive coordinator – in other words, about being the guy in charge of the cruise route.  Naturally, if it has anything to do with planning road trips, it’s a good fit for me, so I happily obliged.  In order to scout out the route I’m proposing for NSXPO, I set aside this weekend to do a mock drive.  A friend who’s local to the Palm Springs area, Scott, gave me the idea of California State Route 74 – also known as the “Palms to Pines” Scenic Byway.  The route dates all the way back to 1934 and connects Palm Springs with Banning via a series of thrilling mountain passes and refreshing cooler temperatures.


My friend Justin and I departed from the Phoenix area on Friday afternoon, just in time to sit in seemingly endless bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 10 westbound out of town.  Once we’d finally freed ourselves from that mess, it was smooth sailing all the way out to our first fuel stop in Palm Desert.

Our gracious hosts Scott & Sandy allowed us the use of a condominium near their home where we checked in prior to exploring the night life of the desert resort city.  The main event came the following day.  After grabbing drinks & breakfast grub at “Koffi” on Palm Canyon Drive, we picked up Scott in the ILX and headed for the hills of the San Bernardino National Forest on Highway 74.


I knew the second that I saw a sign with “Avoid Overheating:  Turn Off A/C Next 11 Miles,” this road was going to get technical and steep very quickly.  To no surprise, the grade required frequent downshifts to 3rd gear as I pointed the ILX through the curves at 45-55 miles per hour and the road wound itself into a knot ahead of us.  I took the opportunity to take a break at a pullout so that we could do a driver swap and briefly admire the view.

I nominated Scott to take some time behind the wheel so that I could better focus on the surroundings and take a few pictures.  The view was incredible.  Soon, we had ascended from an elevation of 440 feet all the way up to about 5,000 feet.  Temperatures had fallen at least 15 degrees, and the landscape had transitioned from desert flora to oak and pine trees.


True to expectation, I did get a little motion sick as a passenger on the twisty road and I made every effort to overcome that by focusing intently on the vehicle ahead of us as well as pointing an A/C vent directly at my face so I could get some fresh air.  It helped a lot.   We rolled past a water storage reservoir called Hemet Lake to our left, and then soon took a right on Highway 243 which would lead us back to Interstate 10 and complete our loop.

Just 5 miles up the road, we entered the town of Idyllwild which is home to about 4,000 people and is nestled in the San Jacinto Mountains.  This was a perfect chance to get out of the car and wander around in the perfect 72-degree temperatures. We found some open-air dining at a restaurant called Jo’An’s.  The mozzarella sticks, avocado burger, and a Sprite helped settle my stomach greatly.


It was time for me to again take the wheel, so we saddled back up and made our way to the northwest via curvy Highway 243.  A number of scenic lookouts gave us the opportunity to enjoy the views of the valley below.  There were dozens of switchbacks as the road stepped down the mountainside and back toward sea level.  I left the ILX in 3rd & 4th gear most of the time to keep from riding the brakes too much.  By the time we arrived back in civilization in the city of Banning, Justin and I (and our stomachs) were both grateful for straight roads.  We did make just one more important stop on the way back to Palm Springs:  Cabazon, right off Interstate 10.


The two gigantic dinosaurs at Cabazon are named Mr. Rex and Ms. Dinny.  Created in the 1960’s by portrait artist Claude Bell, these 100- and 150-ton creations have greeted visitors for decades.  “Dinny” the Apatosaurus was created first and stands 45 feet tall.  The T-Rex was built later.  It used to have a slide built into its tail, but that was later filled with concrete.  Claude at one time had wanted to make the dinosaurs’ eyes glow at night and have fire coming from their mouths, but never got around to adding that enhancement before he passed away in 1988.  Today, there’s a small gift shop and museum inside Dinny.

We had a great time exploring Palms to Pines and are extremely grateful to Scott and Sandy for showing us around!  Here are the rest of our pics.

Driving into the sunset on I-10.  Justin, by the way, took the wheel for this stretch.  I taught him how to drive a stick shift just this week!  The ILX is a super easy car to learn on thanks to its light clutch and its hill-holding feature.


Golf course view from Scott’s backyard in Palm Springs.


Getting ready to hit the road, Jack.  And don’tcha come back.


Highway 111 heading toward its junction with Highway 74.


After ascending a few of the twisties, a scenic lookout gave us an overview of the valley.


Twisty road below.


Heading on upward.


Roadside cafe in Paradise Valley along Highway 74 is a popular destination for motorcyclists.


Junction with Highway 243, just 5 miles from Idyllwild.


The curves never stop around here.


This town was voted “LA’s Best Mountain Getaway.”


Street parking is sparse but we found a spot to stash the ILX while we walked around.


Check it out:  Polished Metal Metallic Acura ILX on the far right; my car on the far left.


Western wear store.


Dining “al fresco” in the perfect temperatures at Jo’An’s BBQ.


Lots of people enjoying the outdoors.


Back on the road again for the descent into Banning.


Scenic viewpoint parking.


Short hike to the overlook.


Smoky the Bear had a few words to say.


Departing San Bernardino National Forest on Highway 243.


Slippery when wet.


Back into the desert we go.


“Dinny” the 45-foot-tall dinosaur at Cabazon off Interstate 10.


Thanks for coming along as always!

11 Responses to “Palm Springs, California: Palms to Pines Scenic Byway”

  1. Yet another weekend adventure for a Midwestern guy like me to be jealous of. Great pics!

  2. Can’t wait for NSXPO 15! Thanks for paving the way… One question: Is that dinosaur the one from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure? When Pee Wee and his friend Simone went up to the top to chat, “Everyone has a big but…”

    • Honda600King Says:

      Pedro – I know for a fact it is! Now all we need to do is find the biker bar where PW did the big shoe dance and crank up the music!

      • Now I’m going to have to re-watch that PW movie! It came out when I was 4! Haha. Thanks again Scott for showing us around. Can’t wait for NSXPO 2015 when we will put the plan into action.

  3. Drive coordinator! Way cool. Makes me wish I had an NSX. So how was the BBQ? I’m always good for trying new Q!

    • Fly on down for NSXPO whether you have an NSX or not. Palm Springs is a beautiful place to be in October. I actually just had a burger instead of BBQ but I need to get back to Idyllwild and try a few more menu items soon.

  4. Great photos of road trip in South California! I wish I want to drive on road trip in South California!

  5. Looks like a great road, Tyson! Hope to get out there some time soon. I haven’t heard of this road before your mentioning it. Maybe I need to look around for an NSX as the TL replacement. 🙂

    • You certainly do! Let me know when you’re ready to bite the bullet and I’ll help you find one. Palms to Pines is definitely worth checking out – maybe as a side-trip on your next LA adventure.

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