Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

From Academic Kids

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Valley Station, the lower of the tramway's two stations.

The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in California opened in September 1963 as a way of getting from the floor of the Coachella Valley to near the top of Mount San Jacinto. Prior to its construction, the only way to the top of the mountain was to hike for several hours from Idyllwild.

It was first proposed by electrical engineer Francis F. Crocker during a 1935 trip to Banning, California with newspaper publisher Carl Barkow. During the heat of the day, Crocker's gaze fell upon the snow-capped, 10,804-foot/3293-meter-high peak of Mount San Jacinto to the east. Crocker immediately decided to build a tram up the face of Chino Canyon, a proposal that one newspaper dubbed "Crocker's Folly."

Toward the end of the decade, Crocker named the co-manager of the famed Palm Springs Desert Inn, O. Earl Coffman, to chair the construction committee.

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Traveling upward on the tramway. The second car can be seen descending.

Both World War II and the Korean War shelved the project. In 1960, Crocker approached California governor Earl Warren to get permission to resume it. Warren agreed, and construction began soon afterward.

The unprecedented use of helicopters in the construction of four of the tram's five towers helped the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway earn a reputation as one of the greatest engineering feats ever accomplished.

Today, the tram is one of the biggest attractions in Southern California. The fifteen minute ride up North America's sheerest mountain face passes through several different temperate zones on its way to the mountain station at 8516 feet/2600 m above mean sea level. The trip has been likened in terms of geologic and climactic change to a motor trip from Mexico to Canada.

Passengers disembark at the mountain station in the alpine wilderness of Long Valley. The air can be as much as 40° Fahrenheit (25° Celsius) cooler at the top than in the desert. Visitors can walk along nature trails, take a burro ride or even play in the snow during the winter months. Back-country hiking can be done with a permit from the U.S. Forest Service. There are two restaurants at the summit, one of which specializes in fine dining.

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A view of the Coachella Valley from a tramway car. Palm Springs, California and Interstate 10 are visible.

In 2001, the original cars were replaced by cars that rotate slowly, offering riders a 360° panoramic view of Chino Canyon and the valley floor. As it was in 1963, the only way up the mountain to deliver supplies and water is via the tram cars themselves. Supplies are loaded into the passenger area before the attraction's opening while fresh water is pumped into storage tanks in the car's underbelly.

The view at the top can stretch northward for more than two hundred miles/300 km on a clear day, all the way to Mount Charleston north of Las Vegas, Nevada. Views to the east and west can stretch as far as 75 miles/120 km.

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