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Here's the Rub: Two Bunch Palms Desert Spa

Since the Native American Cahuilla learned how great it felt to soak in the Coachella Valley's natural hot springs, this desert has drawn stressed-out masses seeking relaxation. My number-one choice is heavenly Two Bunch Palms. Posh yet intimate, this spiritual sanctuary in Desert Hot Springs (about 20 min. north of Palm Springs) has been drawing weary city dwellers since Chicago mobster Al Capone hid out here in the 1930s. Two Bunch Palms later became a playground for the movie community, but today it's a friendly and informal haven, with 56 acres of renowned spa services, well-appointed bungalows on lush grounds, and lagoons of steaming mineral water. Float in serenity at the Grotto, which consists of small mineral pools surrounded by tall, tranquil greenery. Service is famously discreet, and legions of return guests will attest that the outstanding spa treatments (including 12 varieties of massage, mud baths, body wraps, facials, salt rubs, water therapy) and therapeutic waters are what make the luxury of Two Bunch Palms irresistible. To maintain the relaxed atmosphere, guests are requested to speak softly, just above a whisper. Loud, argumentative guests will be asked to leave and denied access in the future. Room rates run from $225 to $425 (including breakfast) in high season, with substantial discounts midweek and off-season. Spa treatments cost between $80 and $185 per hour, and multiday money-saving room/spa packages run from $1,049 to $1,379 for two, with double occupancy. There is a $10 resort fee. Other packages may be available. The quiet dining room serves delicious lunches and dinners, with a full bar and wine available. No one 17 and under is allowed. The resort is off Palm Drive (Gene Autry Trail) at 67-425 Two Bunch Palms Trail in Desert Hot Springs (tel. 877/839-3609 or 760/329-8791; www.twobunchpalms.com).

Sweet Desert Treat: The Coachella Valley Date Gardens

In a splendid display of wishful thinking and clever engineering, the Coachella Valley has grown into a rich agricultural region, known internationally for grapefruit, figs, and grapes -- and dates. Entrepreneurs, fascinated with Arabian lore and fueled by the Sahara-like conditions of the desert around Indio, planted these date palm groves in the 1920s. Launched with a few parent trees imported from the Middle East, the groves now produce 95% of the world's date crop.

Farmers hand-pollinate the trees, and the resulting fruit is bundled in wind-protective paper while still on the tree, which makes an odd sight indeed. You'll see them along Hwy. 111 through Indio, locally known as the "Date Highway."

The most picturesque place in the valley to sample dates is Oasis Date Gardens, 59111 Hwy. 111 (tel. 800/827-8017 or 760/399-5665; www.oasisdate.com), started in 1912 with nine Moroccan trees and now one of the nation's largest commercial date groves. It's a 40-minute drive from downtown Palm Springs -- but there's a lot to do here. Picnic tables dot an inviting lawn, videos illustrate the history and art of date cultivation, and there's a cool palm arboretum and cactus exhibit. Many varieties of dates are laid out for free tasting. Oasis also sells date shakes, ice cream, date pie by the slice, homemade chili and sandwiches, and gourmet food gifts from all over the Southwest. Open Monday to Saturday (except Christmas) from 8am to 5pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.