Wednesday, May 29, 2013

One Palm, Two Palms, a Thousand Palms and More ... at the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

Date: December 31, 2012
Place: Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve in the Coachella Valley Preserve System, Thousand Palms, California
Coordinates: 33.8375, -116.3102
Length: about 3.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy (in mild weather).

The morning of last day of 2012 was very relaxing for us. It was also our last day in the Southern California deserts winter vacation. We took our time packing and ate our breakfast in leisure.  All of yesterday's clouds were gone and the sky was clear.
7:15 am at Palm Springs, California. Mount San Jacinto under the setting moon. 
After the excitement of the day before we decided to take this day easy and spend our last vacation day in the area of Palm Springs checking out two of the local wildlife preserves. The first one we visited was the one we observed from Carrizo Canyon, all the way across the Coachella Valley: the Tousand Palms Oasis Preserve.
The quaint little visitor center is operated by docents who dispense information to visitors. We were also greeted by the sound of bird songs from the palm trees all over the place. Some even showed themselves :-)
House Finch, male 
At the visitor center we got a trail map and recommendations of hiking trails. The maps are free, but donations are very much appreciated. One thing that visitors should be aware of is that there's no drinking water there. It is important to remember to bring enough with you.
Based on the docent's recommendation we took the trail to McCahun Grove and the Moon Country Loop. The weather was perfect: sunny with soft wind and mild temperatures. Perfect hiking conditions.

Our hike started at the Thousand Palms Oasis. It sure feels like there are thousand palms there. At least a thousand. Probably more.
Washingtonia fan palms need fresh water, and lots of it. Wherever these trees are found, water is close by. The sight of these palms, therefore, has always been a blessing for desert travelers. Even today, when we are never too far from a source of drinking water, these trees provide a refreshing coolness in the desert heat.
Thousand Palms Oasis
Often the oasis water is not visible above ground. In this place it is, and there's much of it. The ground water seeps up through the San Andeas fault, the major fault that runs along California. It begins at Salton Sea and runs up the Coachella Valley, right through the preserve, delivering precious water to support desert life. (Although we did not know it at the time, we would meet the San Andreas Fault one more time before returning home - at the Carrizo Plain and Soda Lake National Monument).
Oasis water
Inside the grove the trail is on a boardwalk. The intensity of sunlight that pierces in patches the deep darkness of the palms' shade plays tricks on the eyes and on the camera. Outside the palm grove everything becomes very bright indeed.

The hills are almost bare. The wash bed, however, is rich with vegetation. About the oasis the ground was completely covered with plants, as tall as an adult person.
And the birds were taking full advantage of it, too:
It is an easy walk to the McCahun Grove, another group of palms surrounding a lovely pond of clear water. 
We stayed there for quite a while. I found it hard to separate from this enchanting place. Having been raised in the desert myself probably had something to do with it :-)
The palms provide shade and shelter. Also food:
White-crowned Sparrow
Eventually the chikas got bored with their game of hide and seek and so we left the grove and continued our hike. A vista point at the beginning of the Moon Country hills provided us with great view of the mountain range to the east beyond which lies Joshua Tree National Park. I just love the reddish hues of those rocks!
The most common shrub there is the Creosote bush. Probably the second most common is (if judged by the scratches I collected there) the Cat-claw Acacia. In this picture, a home for the Bewick's Wren.
Bewick's Wren
A little further up the trail we met another wren: the Rock Wren. It blends so well with the rock color that I had to crop the image to bring out the bird.
Rock Wren
The Moon Country Trail runs along the ridge of a low sedimentary hill that separates the wash from the main valley. A bit further away from the oasis the water become scarce and the shrubs are separated by the length of their roots, showing the bare ground between them.
People who are not used to the desert might find it monotonic, but I see character in every wrinkle of the ground and inspiration in every shrub that grows in defiance of the harsh conditions.
It is the deafening desert silence that I can hear my own spirit speak.
The hill continues but the trail descends into the wash and loops back towards the oasis.
The ground is marked by the tracks of the last flash flood which happened, who knows when. The ground was completely dry.
It was a lonely walk back. We've seen no animals, nor any other hiker on the Moon Country Trail loop. As we neared the oasis, though, we were once again surrounded with bird songs.
A grove of Tamarisk, an aggressive, invasive species that spreads in the California deserts on the expense of native plants.
After a lunch picnic at the Oasis we bade farewell to the Coachella Valley, and with a final look at the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains we were on our way north east to our nest destination: The Big Morongo Canyon Preserve. 


  1. very nice... and very very desert indeed :-)
    seeing the Washingtonia fan palms in their natural habitat is much more impressive than seeing them here, planted on street corners and in city-"parks"

    1. Everything looks best at its natural place :-)

  2. Very beautiful place.
    The McCahun Grove pictures are great.

  3. Mama Quail,
    I have never been to the desert. I wonder how it would be for me? Thank you. I hope to go sometime together.

    1. I think you'll love it. It is so quiet there one can hear their own spirit talking. Don't go in summer though, otherwise you'll hear it complaining ...