airfare (Orlando to Palm Springs) from $551 (quote via expedia.com)
While we swelter in Florida's humidity, I'm always dreaming of the dry sands and big skies of California's Hi-Desert, the region including Twentynine Palms, Joshua Tree and Pioneertown. But December and January are high season there, and over the holidays Joshua Tree National Park gets crowded with tourists and my favorite place to stay, the 29 Palms Inn, is booked up by fashion people doing magazine shoots a year in advance. So while I plan my March or October vacation, this Christmas I'll just make my own desert oasis here at home.
Florida Cactus, Inc.
2542 Peterson Road, Apopka, 407-886-1833
A cluster of maybe a dozen huge greenhouses, stuffed with all the succulents your thorny heart could desire. Florida Cactus is set up as a wholesale operation, so don't expect much in the way of fawning customer service – just grab a tray and fill it up.
Ceramic planters by Hello Happy Plants
What to put your new succulents in? These hand-thrown and hand-painted ceramic planters by Orlando maker Kelsey Ryder are witty and irreverent. They take the sun-bleached trash you'd find in a desert gully – cigarette packs, chip bags – brighten them back up, and elevate them to keeper status.
High on Fire
6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 15, at the Social, 54 N. Orange Ave., 407-246-1419, thesocial.org, $20
Technically, they're from Oakland, not the desert, but High on Fire packs enough mescaline-and-Sabbath sludge into their stoner rock to hold their own in the scene begat by Kyuss.
Calling Me Home: Gram Parsons and the Roots of Country Rock, by Bob Kealing
Parson was a guiding light of the desert scene in the early 1970s (even, sadly, choosing to end his life at the Joshua Tree Inn on Twentynine Palms Highway; those of a morbid slant can still rent his room, No. 8) but he was a Florida boy born and bred. Local author Kealing not only published this biography of the Grievous Angel, he was also instrumental in the Derry Down Project, which recently revived the Winter Haven youth center where Parsons first played in his teens.
Do It Yourself: 50 Projects by Designers and Artists edited by Thomas Bärnthaler (Phaidon, 224 pages)
One of my favorite things about this particular desert region is the high concentration of artists. Every other year, Andrea Zittel and a group of other local artists organize the High Desert Test Sites, an art festival of a sort that requires some serious driving and hiking – it's installed throughout the desert, in far-flung and often way-off-road locales. This new Phaidon book contains 50 DIY projects outlined by artists ranging from John Baldessari to Maurizio Cattelan, for a holiday break I can fill with small artistic undertakings.
Pins and patches from the VNM
Vanner enamel pin, $6, and Zero Fucks Given embroidered patch, $5, thevnm.com
Local badasses the VNM specialize in well-made accessories for discerning dirtbags; their pins and patches will finish that tattered jean jacket to perfection. – Jessica Bryce Young
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