If you’ve watched any movies like “Lawrence of Arabia”, “The Ten Commandments”, or “Aladdin”, you are no doubt acquainted with the “oasis in the desert” scene. The lead actor, dragging himself across a hot, sandy landscape, eyes burning, throat parched, on the point of collapse, crests a hill and, lo and behold, an OASIS! There before him lies a grove of palm trees, their fronds gently blowing in the breeze, a pool of crystal clear water, ready to quench the thirst of man and beast alike, rest, sanctuary, and the realization that all hope is not lost.
You can find an oasis such as the one described above about 10 miles east of Palm Springs, California. Our visit to Thousand Palms Canyon was one of those last-minute, change of plans, spur of the moment outings. We were camped in Desert Hot Springs and had planned to drive over to Joshua Tree National Park for the day. However, the weather was not cooperating. Wind gusts were 50 mph and we have spent enough time in the desert to know that getting pelted with sand at that velocity is extremely painful. So, what to do with our day? Hurrah for the internet! I google mapped our location and began checking out nearby points of interest. “Thousand Palms Canyon,….hmmm,….looks interesting.” So, off we went exploring!
Thousand Palms Canyon lies within the Coachella Valley Preserve and is named for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, a reptile found nowhere else in the world. This 18,000 desert wilderness is managed by The Center for Natural Lands Management and includes several palm oases, hiking trails, abundant wildlife, and views of the Indio Hills, the Little San Bernardino Mountains, and the southern edge of Joshua Tree National Park.
Thousand Palms Canyon is a beautiful, hidden gem in the Coachella Valley. Water seeping from the San Andreas Fault runs through the park, filling the creeks and ponds. California Fan Palm trees tower over the canyon forming a canopy of shade and protection from the elements. Smoke tree, cottonwood, cattails, and willows flourish in the oasis.
When visiting the preserve, please note that the parking lot is small and not suitable for buses or RV’s. There is no entrance fee, but donations are greatly appreciated. The rustic visitor center, the Palm House, built in the 1930’s, is open September through May and contains many displays educating guests about the natural and historic features of the preserve. Guided hikes are conducted during visitor’s season which is October through March. If you plan to stop in during the summer months, do remember that temperatures often exceed 100 degrees, so take precautions. Restrooms and a picnic area are also available for visitors.
Wander through the maze of palms on one of several hiking trails and you can almost imagine yourself as that exhausted and thirsty cinematic hero as you find restoration and nourishment in this lovely oasis. Several boardwalks span the creeks and pools, surrounding you with the sound of rippling water and providing glimpses of aquatic life. Though the wind was gusting to over 50 mph the day we visited, we felt only a gentle breeze in the shelter of the towering California Fan Palms.
Sometimes “Plan B” turns out to be spectacular. Our spur of the moment visit to Thousand Palms Canyon proved to be just that!