Palm Springs Aerial Tram

A lot of days I travel I consider learning days, especially when I travel with Road Scholar. Today was a day just for fun. We started with the normal hotel hot buffet breakfast in a meeting room reserved for us and then loaded on the bus at 9:00 am, a late start for us and headed to the Aerial Tram near Palm Springs.

The tram began as an idea of electrical engineer, Francis Crocker, in 1935 to “go up there where it is nice and cool”. Considering the valley floor gets into the 100’s of degrees F in the summer and it is normally 30 degrees cooler on the top of the mountain, he had a good idea. He got help from O. Earl Coffman, an area businessman. But it was not until 1945 they saw the first step toward their dream. The California legislature passed the first necessary tram bill creating Mount Jacinto Winter Park Authority, naming Coffman the first Authority chairman and Crocker its first secretary.

By 1950 technicians were moving ahead on designs for the tramway and solving the riddles of the tower and line construction. They raised money by the sale of $8.15 million in 35-year private revenue bonds, which were paid off in 1996. No public funds were used for construction of the tramway. Construction work finally began in July 1961. Only the first tower of the five can be reached by road. A helicopter flew 23,000 missions in 26 months to bring in material for the towers and the 35,000 SF Mountain Station. The project was finished in 1963 with the inaugural ride on September 12, 1963.

The tramway runs 2.5 miles up the cliffs of Chino Canyon. It begins at the Valley Station (elev. 2643 feet) and ends at the Mountain Station (elev. 8516). The ride takes about 10 minutes. At the top of the ride is Mount San Jacinto State Park. There are two restaurants, a bar, a souvenir shop, rest rooms, several informative short films and small museum in Mountain Station. Mount San Jacinto State Park offers 50 miles of trails. Snowshoeing and cross county skiing is possible, weather permitting. The tram does not go to the peak of San Jacinto. The peak is another 2,000 feet higher at elevation 10, 834 feet.

A modernization plan was begun in 1998. In September 2000 new cars were added that rotated 360 degrees during the ride. Each car can carry 80 passengers. These are the largest rotating tram cars in the world. Overall the ride was very smooth but over each tower there was a jarring bump that caused me to catch me breath for a split second.

This blue tram car (Tram #2) was one of the two inaugural cars when the tram began in 1963 and was retired in 2000 when the rotating cars were added. It made 17,000 trips up the mountain. In addition to carrying passengers the cars also carried all the equipment and supplies needed at the Mountain Station including 800 gallons of water each day. A red tram car (Tram #1) was called Crocker in honor of the “father” of the tram and this blue one was called Coffman in honor of the businessman that provided his support throughout the project.

At noon we ate a buffet lunch at the cafeteria restaurant at Mountain Station. We were scheduled to leave at 2:15 but most of us had seen all we wanted to see and asked if we could go back to the hotel early. We left about 1:30 and got to the hotel so we could rest. Tonight no meals were scheduled so we were on our own to see Palm Springs. This evening Palm Springs was having a street fair with food tents and craft booths. We were excited to join in that fun!