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1. Linda's Top Seven Secret Day Journeys in the Desert

2. Trail of Tahquitz Canyon 
 The Tahquitz Canyon hike to a spectacular 60-foot waterfall starts at the new visitor center at 500 West Mesquite, off South Palm Canyon Drive.  Hikers need to be in reasonably good shape.   The guided tour with a ranger takes about 2 hours and is well worth the fee.  Tours leave from visitor center at 8 AM, 10 AM, Noon and 2 PM everyday.  Admission is $12 for adults and $6 for children 12 and under.
Reservations recommended.  Information: 760-416-7044.   

3. Trail of the Desert Fan Palm: Three Desert Oases

4. Trail of the Ocotillo 

5. Trail of the Creosote Bush

Linda Pyle’s Top 7  Secret Day Journeys in the Desert

Palm Desert Museum-PAGE 27 Enjoy a relaxing stroll of the museum then take your special one up the moderately difficult 2 mile round trip hike up the Museum trail for bird’s eye view of Palm Springs– Museum Drive off Tahquitz Canyon Way– Trail head corner of the north parking lot. Picnic tables at intersection with North Lykken Trail.

Murray Canyon Trail– PAGE 38 This hike in the Indian Canyons takes you and your sweetheart along a running stream and through rippling cottonwood trees and fan palms to a series of secret waterfalls called the seven sisters. 4 mile round trip– 300 foot elevation gain Directions: Indian Canyons are 3 miles south on S. Palm Canyon Drive from the intersection with E. Palm Canyon Dr. Enter Aqua Caliente Reservation through toll gate and follow sign to right for Andreas/Murray Canyon Picnic tables and shaded palapa in parking area.

Andreas Canyon-PAGE 42 A leisurely hike along a quiet stream passes ledges of rock where centuries ago Cahuilla women could be found grinding mesquite beans. Easy 1 mile round trip-mild elevation gain. Same as above.

South Lykken Trail to Simonetta Kennett Vista Point–PAGE 67 A moderate hike, about 1 hour roundtrip for romantic views of San Jacinto, Palm Springs and adjoining valleys. S. Palm Canyon Dr. just past intersection of Murray Canyon Dr. and Palm Canyon Dr. Trailhead on the right. Picnic tables at vista point.

Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park–PAGE 96 Tram ride or walk through one of the country’s premier parks featuring big horn sheep, desert plants and a new African Village. In Palm Desert turn on Portola Ave from Highway 111. Located at 47-900 Portola Ave.

Thousand Palms/Coachella Valley Preserve-PAGE 169 Special hideaway palm oases for you and Valentine to stroll From Palm springs take Ramon Road east to Thousand Palms Road. Go north and watch for signs to the Preserve on left. Picnic tables near visitor center under stately palms.

Big Morongo Canyon-PAGE 173 Easy Walks and bird watching together along rippling streams. Plan a romantic picnic under towering cottonwood trees. Interstate 10 to Highway 62 north to Morongo Valley. Proceed about 11.5 miles through the business district of Morongo Valley. Turn right on East Drive and go a short distance to the Preserve entrance on left. Picnic tables near parking area under shady trees.

Anza Valley Guacamole
4  medium Haas avocados, seeded and diced

2 medium vine ripened tomatoes, diced

½ cup cilantro, chopped

1 medium red onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1/2- 1 teaspoon kosher salt (to taste)

Gently stir together avocados and rest of ingredients. Serve with tortilla chips or in a pita bread.

For many more day journeys and recipes see Linda's book Peaks, Palm and Picnics 

Trail of the Desert Fan Palm: Three Desert Oases

Life is cool and easy at the Oasis straddling the infamous San Andreas fault line and the Indio Hills. The Fan Palms, tall monarchs of the desert, toss their green crowns. Benevolent shaggy skirts of thatch hide creatures from the sun. Pupfish swim in quiet pools. Carrizo grass drifts in the wind playing haunting flute sounds, an ancient song. Lounging fringe-toed lizards burrow into favorite sand dunes.

Thousand Palms Oasis/Coachella Valley Preserve

Descending into grotto-like coolness, we began the popular trail to the McCallum Grove at the Thousand Palms Oasis. The sudden air conditioned feeling we experienced was not just from the shade of the Fan Palms. Like an evaporative cooler, their huge leaves and dozens of other plant’s leaves transpired water during the day. In the heart of the Oasis, we felt 10-20 degrees cooler than in the desert outside.

As we wound through the Oasis, I wondered what it would cost to own this property and how could you buy it? Eighty acres of Thousand Palms Canyon was worth just two mules and a wagon to Louis Wilhelm in 1906. His son, Paul Wilhelm, inherited it. Priceless now as the rare habitat of the palm oasis woodland, it is also home to the endangered Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, Uma inornata to his friends. The Preserve is jointly owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management, Wildlife Service, California Department of Fish and Game and California Department of Parks and Recreation.

Out of the sheltering heart of the Thousand Palms Oasis, our self-guided tour brought us along a hot sandy stretch of trail and instructed us to stop and look down to observe the grinding of rocks into a fine powder. Under our feet the forces of the San Andreas fault and its branches were at work; this flour-like soil is associated with palm oases. A "linear zone of crushed rock and clay" acts like an underground dam inhibiting water flow and pushing water to the surface. Looking for water? Find it where Fan Palms pop up indicating water seeps, springs and streams. The lives of desert travelers in the past depended upon reaching oases such as these.

Where does a traveler today find the Desert Fan Palm, the only palm native to the western United States? Fossil evidence shows that 10 million years ago, the species extended from the Mojave Desert to the Pacific Coast in California. But due to geologic and climatic changes, they are now found only in southeastern California (Death Valley National Park south into Baja California). One could find some specimens in extreme southern Nevada and western Arizona.

After about a mile of walking, we reached another one of these Southern California groves, the McCallum Grove, another cool Eden. Looking up at the tall trees, we wanted to know their age. Fan Palms don’t have growth rings so it is difficult for botanists to tell; but some are thought to be perhaps 200-250 years old. The scientific name, Washingtonia filifera, was given in honor of George Washington and he could have been President when some of the palms living today were just seedlings.

Intrigued by the long skirts of thatch, I peeked under the petticoat of an unmanicured Fan Palm knowing that although I saw nothing, it was alive with oasis dwellers. Black widow spiders, lizards, snakes, rodents and bats -- all the creepy crawly things of human terror—lurked.

Back at the Thousand Palms Oasis, we picnicked in the shade. Before leaving one of California’s largest groves of Fan Palms, we scouted trails to the other oases in the Preserve. Trails to Indian, Pushawalla, Horseshoe, Hidden and Willis Palms oases called us to return another day.

Palm Canyon Oasis, Palm Springs

In Palm Springs, we passed through a toll gate and entered into the pristine canyons of the Aqua Caliente Indian Reservation. From the bustling Trading Post on Hermits Bench, we dropped down the steep path to the world’s largest stand of Fan Palm trees. Here, over 3,000 native Palms proliferate with a constant supply of water from year-round streams.

Listening to our footsteps as we walked along the Palm Canyon trail, I was reminded that the Cahuilla Indians have a word describing the pleasant sound. "Gash mo, the sound of the crunching of sand as one walks," was a place name referring to a sandy wash nearby. Dictated by the natural world around them, such place names helped the Cahuilla travel skillfully without maps or written language.

The Fan Palm was woven into the daily life of the Cahuilla. Palm thatch made a home (kish) wind and water proof; leaf fibers were woven into ropes; rare baskets were stitched with palm fibers. Until the early part of the century, older Native Americans still wore sandals fashioned from palm leaf fibers.

The Cahuilla ate boiled "maul pasun" (heart of the palm) in times of food shortage; more favored was the small dark blue fruit tasting like a cultivated date. The fruit clusters were plucked from the tall trees with a hooked willow pole.

The dates could be dried, then ground in a bedrock mortar into meal as an addition to gruel. Fan Palm tea was made by soaking the fruit. Modern Cahuilla eat the palm dates fresh and collect the seed pits to be used inside rattles.

Mother Nature was not a tidy housekeeper of the trail we walked; the oasis littered with debris was a welcome shelter for birds, animals and plant nurslings. Pendant nests of the Scott’s oriole built from the loose fibers of palm leaves hung from above; unseen tree frogs croaked under thatch; seedlings pushed up through plant debris.

The world famous trail followed a rippling stream under lazy palms that swayed and rustled softly. We proceeded through their realm where trees ranged from tall monarchs to lower minions. Some were dressed well-- clothed in full thatch--others almost denuded and bare.

The 15 mile Palm Canyon trail in the past was heavily used by travelers moving back and forth from the desert and other parts of Southern California. Now, this most spectacular route and oasis is the domain of the hiker and the equestrian.

Twentynine Palms Oasis, (Oasis of Mara) Joshua Tree National Park

Day was dawning on Joshua Tree National Park in the Mohave Desert when we began the half mile self-guided Oasis Nature trail starting at the Oasis Visitor Center.

The oasis trilled with a sweet harmony of Gambel’s quail, robins, warblers and mourning doves. This twittering, peeping choir was hidden by a tangled mass of green trees and a few Fan Palms with their thatch still intact. Each year new leaves stand apart in an open crown at the top of the trunk while older dried fronds bend down to form a dense skirt around the base protecting the tree from high heat.

As we walked, our view was of low ranch style homes of the encroaching city of Twentynine Palms but the sibilant shush-shush of palm fronds whispered old Serrano Indian lore of how the name Twentynine Palms came to be.

Indian women wanting to produce male children came here to this "Oasis of Fertility" on the advice of their medicine man. They set up camp at this "little springs much grass" and as instructed planted a Fan Palm for each male born. Twenty-nine trees were planted the first year. Quite a record.

The old Twentynine Palms Oasis, now called the Oasis of Mara, with water rising to the surface along a section of the Pinto Mountain fault, formed a desirable environment for three native tribes, Serrano, Chemehuevi and Cahuilla. These peoples were known to have lived there hundreds of years before Anglos followed their foot trails into the desert. Miners, homesteaders, cowboys and the stage line came later to the Oasis for the life-sustaining water.

The thousands of small roots in the shallow root system of the Fan Palm seldom extend much deeper than a foot below the surface; consequently, a dropping water table can seriously threaten the palms. Water no longer flows here naturally but must be piped in by the Park.

It was hard to leave the cool and easy life of the Oasis with its Fan Palms standing firmly fixed against the sky as if the ancient ones had landscaped the desert with a tapestry woven from golden thatch and green fronds. Outside, burning desert and modern life awaited. But briefly, lost in time, we felt nurtured and protected by the silent observant Fan Palms along these historic trails.

Where to find the Fan Palm Oases

Coachella Valley Preserve/Thousand Palms Oasis

To reach the Coachella Valley Preserve /Thousand Palms Oasis from Palm Springs take Ramon Road east to Thousand Palms Road. From Indio, take Washington Street north to Thousand Palms Road. Go north and watch for signs to the Preserve on left. Open 7 days a week. 760-343-12234.

Palm Canyon Oasis in Palm Springs

The Indian Canyons are reached by proceeding 3 miles south from the intersection of Palm Canyon Drive South and Palm Canyon Drive East. Enter the Aqua Caliente Reservation through the toll gate. Proceed to the end of the road to the Trading Post. Indian Canyons information is 760-325-3400. Open daily in fall/ winter from 8 AM to 5 PM and during daylight saving hours until 6 PM. Fees are $6.00 adults, Senior 62+ $3.50, Children 6-12 $1.00, Equestrians $7.00 and Students and Military $3.50. Season passes and group rates available. Smoke Tree Stables information 760- 327-1372.

Twentynine Palms Oasis (Oasis of Mara) in Joshua Tree National Park

From Interstate 10 take Highway 62 east past the town of Joshua Tree continuing on to the town of Twentynine Palms. Turn south on Utah Trail to the Oasis Visitor Center. Call 760-367-5500 for more information. Open daily from 8-5 PM.

© Copyright Linda Pyle 1999

References and Suggested Reading

Bowers, Janice Emily, Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts, Southwest Parks and Monuments Association, 1993

Cornett, James W., Indian Uses of Desert Plants, Palm Springs Desert Museum, 1995

Bean, Lowell John and Saubel, Katherine Siva, Temalpakh, Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants, Malki Museum Press, 1971


Trail of the Ocotillo

Clouds darken the horizon. The scent of rain energizes the air. Suddenly, a downpour of warm rain drenches gray thorny canes. As if by magic, drought dormant sticks sprout emerald green leaves. Thorns lurk below this beguiling cover. Tight clusters of vivid red flowers tip the canes. Springtime once more has come for the Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens).

Also called candlewood, slimwood and coachwhip, despite the spines it is not a cactus. The name Ocotillo, pronounced "o-ko-tee’-yo," derives from an Aztec term ocotle (a kind of pine); the Mexican word ocote and the Spanish diminutive "illa" (for little) combined make the word Ocotillo.

Few plants of the desert illicit such admiration as this plant. George Wharton James, turn of the century photographer and writer, wrote: "Sometimes, when looking toward the sun, the flower appears like a flaming plumaged paroquet or other brilliantly feathered bird resting on the end of the limb."

Edmund Jaeger, botanist and world-renowned desert authority, wrote in 1940 that he thought the Ocotillo was a plant of extraordinary vigor. Seldom had he seen a dead cane although he noted windstorms could flatten the plant.

Following the trail of this intriguing plant leads one from sea level up the dry rocky bajadas to elevations of 2,500-4,500 feet in the Sonoran, Chihuahuan and far eastern Mojave Deserts. Its range is western Texas, northern Mexico and southeastern California.

Boo Hoff Trail in La Quinta

The Ocotillo in the Sonoran Desert of California has inspired us to hike its many trails. Walking the Boo Hoff Trail in La Quinta, we followed the historic Indian path traveling through Guadalupe Canyon, along the upper edge of Devil Canyon. An ascent out of an airless wash bridged the gap between the desert floor and the domain of the tall, prominent Ocotillo.

New green leaves bursting along stems showed evidence of the last rainstorm. Blooming on a sea of brown rock, graceful waving stems like undersea coral whipped in a waterless ocean. Other plants thrived in this landscaped garden of the gods; barrel cactus and the many jointed Teddy bear cholla grew like bouquets of flowers set in our path. But the ocotillo, vestige of a more tropical time when the deserts where forming in North America, rules here.

The Cahuilla Indians walking this trail before us must have found excellent ocotillo firewood and canes for torches. Gathering the spiked octopus arms for wood could have been a painful task. Ocotillos are still used in Mexico for living fences around cultivated crops; single branches when placed in the ground and watered will grow into a formidable barrier to hungry rabbits. The Apache Indians treated swelling with the powdered root and relieved fatigue in an Ocotillo bath.

How soothing the thought of that bath was to us as we climbed deeper and higher into the desert on tired feet. Finally, we reached a viewpoint where the Salton Sea was a small sapphire pool and the snowcapped San Jacinto and San Gorgonio Mountains were beacons shining across the valley.

The heavy silence of the rocky slopes allowed the language of the black carpenter bees visiting the Ocotillos to be heard. A little gray verdin with a yellow head sang its song of 3 notes and soft chips while visiting the red flowers along with warblers, finches and orioles. The plant is a main food source for hummingbirds migrating north from Mexico to the mountains of the West.

As the returning shadows penetrated the crevices of the rugged Santa Rosa Mountains, we completed the 15 mile loop. We were spent but inspired by the siren plant that called us along this ancient trail.

Art Smith Trail in Palm Desert

Walking the Art Smith Trail in Palm Desert, we witnessed another spring for the Ocotillo. The trail skirted a wash for a distance but soon a plod through sand and over rock was necessary. Transparent green and gold smoke trees lit the way. Deep brown canyon walls thrust at steep angles.

After 20 minutes in the wash, the trail began to climb away from the main canyon. Soon the sunset-orange blossoms of the Ocotillo blazed high on the tips of canes over our heads, fluttering in the breeze in the Santa Rosa Mountains.

From March until the middle of summer, each Ocotillo plant will sprout over 40 red (sometimes white) blossoms. Cahuilla Indians in the old days would eat the flowers fresh or make a pungent, pleasant drink. Seeds produced in abundance in May and June were parched, ground into nutritious flour, hardened into cakes or made into mush.

If we were to return to this same trail after a rainless month or so, the green leaves would have turned yellow and dropped; the once brilliant flowers strewn on the ground would be dusty and brown. The now dormant Ocotillo would have to wait again for that infrequent, sustaining rain.

Many Ocotillo seeds will not survive but those seedlings that do can possibly live to be 200 years old. Ocotillos are protected in California and Arizona and can not be removed without a permit; however, I have an 8 inch spiny stick grown from seed by plant propagators at the Living Desert in Palm Desert.

Will it ever have its first spring-- become a startling still life composition of green stems and red flowers set against a blue sky? The vigor and majesty of the Ocotillos we have seen along the trails gives promise and expectation of such a spring for my dormant gray stick.

Postscript: A crop of new green leaves appeared for a brief time, no scarlet flowers yet.

Ocotillo Trails

Boo Hoff Trail in La Quinta

The trailhead can be reached from Lake Cahuilla Park south of the City of La Quinta via the Morrow Trail or from La Quinta Cove. Hikers that are unfamiliar with the area should not attempt the approximately 15 mile hike unless traveling with an experienced hiker and a topographical map. (The trailhead can be difficult to locate.)

Art Smith Trail in Palm Desert

From Highway 111 in Palm Desert take Highway 74 (Palms to Pines Highway) 3.7 miles to the Santa Rosa Scenic Visitor Center at 51-500 Highway 74. The Visitor Center is open 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday through Monday except Federal Holidays. Admission is free. For more information call 760-862-9084. The Art Smith trail begins across Highway 74 from the Center. It is 8 miles one way and links with the Palm Canyon area trails.

© Copyright Linda Pyle 1999

References and Suggested Reading

Clarke, Charlotte Bringle, Edible and Useful Plants of California, University of California Press, 1977

Jaeger, Edmund C., Desert Wild Flowers, Stanford University Press, 1940

Huntington, Glenn, Horticulturist, Desert Garden Series, The Living Desert,

James, George Wharton, The Wonders of the Colorado Desert, Boston Little, Brown, and Company, 1911


Trail of the Creosote Bush

Long before we learned to recognize the creosote bush,  Larrea tridentata, we knew what it was to us--the essence of the desert. Distinctive, sweet and fragrant to our noses, we found other historic travelers of the desert had differing opinions on the aroma of the plant.

George Wharton James wrote in Wonders of the Colorado Desert, published in 1911, that he was in accord with Fremont who said "Its leaves are small, covered with a resinous substance; and, particularly when bruised and crushed, exhale a singular but very agreeable and refreshing odor." But not everyone regards the commonest of the Colorado Desert plants and one of the oldest with such poetic ardor. Carl Eytel, the illustrator known as the "artist of the palm," found the odor very offensive. J. Smeaton Chase describes it as "having a strong tarry odor." The Spanish word for the plant, hediondilla, means "little stinker." However one regards the odor of the graceful creosote bush, its other characteristics, one of which is longevity, are remarkable.

It is possible the creosote bushes seen at the turn of the century are still alive today. When older stems in the middle of the plant die off, new growth comes up around the edge. This process allows a plant, which is essentially a clone, to be a century or more old. Able to dictate water rights, it is believed that the creosote produces a toxic substance to prevent plants from growing too close. Only when the soil below a creosote has been cleansed by rain will other plants grow for a brief time beneath them.

The creosote with its gray stems ringed with black is abundant from southern California to western Texas. Also called greasewood, it can be found on the plains, in sandy desert washes and on rocky dry slopes up to 5000 feet. It can grow to 15 feet. Still thankfully ubiquitous, the plant can be found in many places but I would like to share a few of our favorite trails along which it grows abundantly.

Walking along the South Lykken Trail in Palm Springs after a recent rain, we were rewarded with a full dress show of new deep green waxy leaves and yellow flowers. The bees buzzing and humming were some of the 100 species timing their emergence from their burrows to coincide with the profuse bloom of bright yellow flowers with their pollen and nectar.

On the Murray Canyon Trail in the Indian Canyons the creosote’s adaptability gave it a different appearance. Now the yellow flowers have turned to round white woolly seed-vessels which are its fruit. Resins on the leaves help stop water loss and the dropping of leaves is another way to conserve energy. After dry spells have forced other plants into dormancy, the hardy creosote continues to make the sugars needed for growth. Desert grasshoppers and a walking stick exclusively munch on creosote but the resinous foliage is a turn off to most mammals and insects. It is believed the same chemicals that repel have made it a pharmacy for Cahuilla Indians.

They made a medicinal tea from the stems and leaves in the belief it was good for colds, stomach cramps, as a decongestant and even a cure for cancer. The tea, sweetened with honey, was taken as a general health tonic upon waking. At the turn of the century, creosote was considered a remedy for consumption (tuberculosis) and given to horses with colds or distemper.

Another favorite place for viewing is the Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park in Palm Desert. On the guided tour of the botanical gardens, a creosote bush was featured and we were invited to crush and smell the leaves. Later, at the Park’s nursery, the plant propagator helped us pick out several small creosote bushes to plant in our xeriscape garden on the coast. So far even with the advent of El Nino weather, our experiment with growing creosote bush has been successful and a tribute to its adaptability. When the breeze blows at night it wafts the heavenly essence of the desert.

Creosote is a great teacher and example for humans. There are times when we could drop our leaves, so to speak, to conserve energy and then when a cleansing rain comes along we can sprout, nurture and renew ourselves.

Trail Locations:

South Lykken Trail in Palm Springs

The South Lykken trail has a trailhead on both north and south ends. The north end starts at the parking lot at the west end of Mesquite Road and South Palm Canyon Drive. The south end is on South Palm Canyon Drive across from the old Canyon Hotel. Follow the dike to the trailhead. Picnic tables are located at both north and south ends of the trail.

Murray Canyon in the Indian Canyons

The Indian Canyons are 3 miles south of where Palm Canyon Drive South and Palm Canyon Drive East intersect on Palm Canyon Drive South. Enter the Aqua Caliente Reservation through the toll gate and follow the sign to the right to Andreas/Murray Canyons. Indian Canyons information is 760- 325-1053. They are open daily in fall/winter from 8 AM to 5 PM and in spring/summer 8 AM to 6 PM. Fees are $6.00 adults, Senior 62+ $2.50 Children 6-12 $1.00 Equestrians $7.00 Students and Military $3.50 Season passes and group rates available.

Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park in Palm Desert

To reach the Living Desert Wildlife and Botanical Park turn right on Portola from Highway 111 in Palm Desert. It is located at 47-900 Portola Avenue. 760-346-5694.


Shrubs and Trees of the Southwest Deserts, Janice Emily Bowers, 1993, Southwest Parks and Monuments Association

The Anza-Borrego Desert Region, Lowell and Diana Lindsay, 1988, Wilderness Press

Temalpakh, Cahuilla Indian Knowledge and Usage of Plants, Lowell John Bean and Katherine Siva Saubel, 1972, Malki Museum Press

The Wonders of the Colorado Desert, George Wharton James, 1911, Boston Little, Brown, and Company

Plants for Dry Climates, Mary Rose Duffield and Warren D. Jones, 1981, HPBooks

Our Araby, Palm Springs and the Garden of the Sun, J. Smeaton Chase, 1920, Star-News Publishing Company

© Copyright Linda Pyle 1999

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