Away from the Grind

The Indian Canyons of Palm Springs, CA

by Roger Ludwig

Professional education took me to Palm Springs, California in January, 2009.  My friend Dan spent time in the area while in the Air Force.  “It’s ugly” is all he said.  Dan loves granite peaks and pines.  But Dan, I don’t think you made it to any of the Indian Canyons.

The broad Coachella valley is dry.  The Indio hills to the north, the Santa Rosa mountains to the south are hot, sere, ragged ranges ripping into this Sonoran desert sky.  They are the earth’s angry cry, unwilling rock moved by unrelenting earthquakes.

The San Andreas fault transects the valley.  Here the great Pacific Plate forces itself upon the resisting North American Plate.  Unforgiven, each injury to earth remains raw, open and exposed.  Harsh to the eye and to the touch.

Yet deep below the earth where the faults open, waters escape, rising to the surface.   Springing, pooling, overflowing to rivulets, gathering to streams, creating an explosion of life.  Verdant green midst stark brown.  Birdsong in an expanse of windblown silence.

Each oasis is noted by its grove of desert fan palms.  These wild fellows, most robed in decades of brown fans, are monumental, often weighing 6,000 pounds each. Up to 60 feet tall, some up to 250 years old, they stand calmly as old friends, or perhaps families, like the Indian clans that once lived among them.

Sunrise winds rustle and rattle their cloaks, joining with the splash of water and the cascade song of the canyon wren, music of a peaceful heart.

The largest of these palm oases is just minutes from downtown Palm Springs, south on Palm Canyon Drive on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation.

An entrance fee of $8 for adults, $6 for seniors and $4 for children opens a world of hiking and equestrian trails.   Some are easy and short, others tough and long.  Picnic areas in the dancing shade of the palms are available for those who don’t want to walk at all.   Your fee includes a good map and the trails are well marked.

Gates are open 8 to 5, seven days a week.  No camping allowed.  There are three canyons to explore:  Andreas, Murray and the longest, Palm.  Since water flows vary seasonally it is best to ask the friendly rangers which canyon might be best for the day, your interests, time and abilities.

The fringe-toed lizard has given people another natural respite.  To protect this threatened little dune dweller a 23,000 acre reserve was pulled together, setting aside the last 5% of the valley’s active dunes, along with several palm oases.   The Coachella Valley Preserve is west of the city of Thousand Palms on Thousand Palms Road.  Entrance is free and hikers can come in at first light or sunset to capture photos of those magic golden moments.  Maps are given from the Palmhouse visitor center.  The McCallum and Pushawalla groves are especially fine.

Well Dan, next time business or family take you near Palm Springs pull off the great grey interstate.  I hope it‘s winter.  January‘s 70 degree days and 45 degrees nights take the chill out of a Wyoming boy‘s bones.  Check out one of these oases and tell me that Palm Springs is ugly.

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