This is a long, winding steady up hill grade just to get at the base station of the tram. I’m talking about the impossible looking Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Who would have thought of this? Who would have taken the person who thought this up seriously? Seriously, I would have loved to be in that pitch session. And I say this in all sincerity since the side of the mountain it’s stationed on is so steep that most of the mechanical pieces, equipment and men had to be airlifted by helicopter. I shudder when I think of how advanced helicopter technology was back in 1961 when construction began.
The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway was constructed in the rugged Chino Canyon on the north edge of Palm Springs – about two hours by car from Los Angeles and San Diego. This project required vision, and forethought. The dream started with a young electrical engineer Francis F. Crocker when he thought “wouldn’t it be nice to go up there where it’s nice and cool”.
In 1935 Crocker’s dream began, while on a trip to Banning, California, with newspaper publisher Carl Barkow. When he saw the San Jacinto snow capped mountains, which are 10,834 feet high, he thought about building a tramway. A newspaper reporter dubbed this crazy notion “Crockers Folly”. There were many setbacks in Crocker’s dream, but in 1950 his plans were back in action.
Spending more than $250,000 solving riddles of road and tower construction, and 8.5 million in private revenue bonds which were used for initial construction. The Korean conflict delayed the project, but the construction began in 1961.
Called “the Eight Wonder of the World” the trams engineering was definitely a challenge. This name was earned because of the ingenious use of helicopters in erecting 4 of the 5 support towers. The first tower is the only one that can be reached by road, helicopters built the others. They flew some 23,000 missions during the 26 months of construction, hauling men and materials needed to erect the four other towers and the 35,000 sq. ft. Mountain Station.
The trams completion in 1963 was capped off on September 14th with an inaugural ride of dignitaries, locals, and celebrities. In 1998 that tramway embarked on a modernization program, they implemented a new world’s largest rotating Tram cars, constructed by the Tram’s original car manufacturer, Von Roll Tramways (now owned by Dopplmayr Tramways). 12 million people have successfully ridden to the top of the mountain since opening day 1963.
The vistas are incredible; they’re everything you’d expect at 10,834 feet. The tram operator said he regularly sees mountain lions, deer and other wild life on the cliffs below. Which by the way, look so close that you could reach out and touch them. The carriage or car has a rotating floor so you get a 360 view of the valley below as you descend on an incline so steep it’s almost vertical in some stretches.
When you finally get to the restaurant at the top it has a feeling of an alpine ski resort. Just put yourself in a European frame of mind and you’ll get it. The foyer is vast with a stuffed mountain lion and deer to greet you. They sat us in the corner with glass all around and a view that is breathtaking.
We were greeted by the manager who filled us in on the nuances of the building and answered any questions that we had. Then Chef John Fritch came out and spoke about the menu, ingredients and where he was before taking this job a mere four weeks prior.
Here’s what I had:
Lobster Salad – Fresh Maine lobster, heirloom tomato, avocado, micro greens and citrus ginger dressing. This salad was marvelous; the lobster is the best cut of the tail, and just the right amount of meat. The dressing is sweet, but savory, what a fantastic salad.
The wine served with this was Ferrari Carano, 2011, Fume Blanc, Sonoma County. The best pairing possible, nice, fruity but not too much. Went great with the ginger dressing
Beef Carpaccio – Thinly pounded beef tenderloin, reggiano cheese, pickled shallots. Chopped caper berries and Ancho mustard. I love beef Carpaccio, and here at Peaks they outdid themselves. The meat is rare and tasty, the topping is with the mustard, onions and large caper berries, added a special tang to this glorious dish.
Cup Cake 2011, Pinot Noir, Ripon, of course this wine would be simply great with the raw beef.
Brick Chicken, Marinated airline skin on chicken breast cooked under a brick. Served with roasted red bliss potatoes, grilled vegetable and roasted red pepper sauce. The seasonings on the chicken are the best ever, and the chicken is cooked a tender crispy way, under a brick. What a great chicken dish.
Wente 2011 “Morning Fog: Chardonnay, Russian River. Because this wine it is not an inland wine, it has a nice fruity aroma. It balanced out the tangy onion and caper berries in the chicken. Another perfect pair.
Apple Tarte Tatine – with vanilla bean ice cream. Nicely sweet but also the caramel sauce adds a great flavor to this amazing desert.
Kenwood 2011 “Yulupa” Moscato, Sonoma Valley. This wine is way too sweet for me, I know I should have an open mind, but I just can’t drink a moscato, shame on me.
The restaurant is really a lot of fun and a perfect cap for the ride up. It has a boardwalk around it so when your done eating you can walk outside and take in the view. Strangely enough, we heard not so nice things about the food there but that was the old chef. The food was great and Chef John Fritch did a beautiful job of pairing the wines. So if you want to have a thrill in combination with a fantastic meal take yourself and your appetite to Peaks at the top of the Palm Springs Areal Tramway, you’ll be glad you did!
Note – Chef John Fritch paired all of the wines for me.
1 Tramway Rd
Peaks (760) 325-4537