We continue our adventure in Palm Desert by exploring a few of the many trails located on the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ land, then end with a stroll through the College of the Desert Street Fair.
Tahquitz (pronounced taw—kwish) Canyon is a culturally sensitive area preserved and opened to visitors. Along the trail hikers can see ancient irrigation systems, rock art, plants, and a 60-foot waterfall. Artifacts are on display in the visitor center.
We stepped up to pay our money, and the ranger said, “You should watch the Legend of Tahquitz first. You might not want to take the trail once you do.” We heeded her advice even though we didn’t believe we’d be scared. The legend says the great shaman Tahquitz used his power for selfish reasons and turned on his people. So the Agua Caliente banished him to the canyon. Some people believe his evil spirit lives there still.
As we thought, the legend was not scary. Who knows, maybe the ranger was just monitoring the number of people.
A promotional card gives visitors a $2.50 discount off the regular adult fee of $12.50 for up to 10 people. Children under thirteen years of age and U.S. Military with an ID are free. We picked up the card from our RV park. I’m sure they have them at the visitor information center in town or in hotel lobbies.
This canyon was not always so beautiful or accessible. In 1969 tribal leaders were forced to close the culturally sensitive area after a Canned Heat rock concert drew more than 1,000 people. Many of the people stayed for days and trashed the mountains. Spring break revelers showed up each year bringing guns and drugs. Squatters lugged in bags of cement to make “home” improvements. Trespassers trampled wild grapevines and polluted the freshwater pools. Hikers became stranded, were injured, or died.
The tribe was in a Catch 22 situation. People would continue to destroy the beautiful, magical place and use it as a dumping ground if the tribe did nothing. They didn’t want to open the canyon to the public, but had to find a way to save the canyon and still respect the culture.
In January 1998 the tribe began a cleanup effort costing more than $100,000. They removed trash, erased graffiti, and rousted homeless who had set up camp just a few blocks from Palm Canyon Drive. They installed fencing, hired security guards, improved trails, and built a museum annex.
We enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and the walk along the stream while we searched for the points of interest designated by geometric signs. It was an honor to follow the paths where ancient Agua Caliente Indians once lived, and I’m thankful the tribe restored the canyon for visitors like us to enjoy.
Indian Canyons, the ancestral home of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, preserves rock art, house pits, foundations, irrigation ditches, dams, reservoirs, trails, and food preparation areas for current and future generations. There are three canyons available to explore: Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon.
We headed for the 15-mile long Palm Canyon, the world’s largest California Fan Palm Oasis, arriving just in time for a ranger talk. The ranger took us down into the canyon, where he shared the philosophy of the Cahuilla Indians and how they dealt with hunger. He pointed out a kish replica made of reeds and brush, and a rock that was used as a mortar. He showed us how to pick out the ripest palm fruit berries that had fallen from the trees, then let us continue on the trail.
There are several trails from easy to strenuous from which to choose. We walked along the stream for a mile or so, then turned around and went back to the trading post.
Other options are to take the Victor Trail back to the parking lot or continue along the palm canyon trail. More strenuous hikes also shoot off from the trading post.
On our way out, we stopped to find out more about the mysterious gas station dating from the early to mid-1900s. Stories indicate there were gas pumps, except no one remembers gas ever being sold. The station did sell drinks and snacks to visitors. It looked like a place I might have stopped on a trip with my grandparents when I was a little girl, and I imagined Indians might have had tables set up out front to sell their jewelry, baskets, and pottery.
Andreas Canyon was our next stop. The trail was an easy one-mile loop beside a year-round flowing stream. The scenery attracts painters as well as hikers.
Tahquitz and the three Indian Canyons are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
These craggy cliffs reminded me of something one might see in Hawaii.
Living Desert Zoo and Gardens
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens in Palm Desert was celebrating its 50th anniversary and their mission encompasses more than their name implies.
They preserve a portion of the Colorado Desert in a natural state, foster an awareness and appreciation for the variety of plants and animals in worldwide ecosystems, build up populations of various species of desert animals and plants that face extinction in the wild, and foster studies to protect desert species in the wild.
The nature preserve protects 1,200 acres of Sonoran desert. Trails, which are closed in the summer, consist of easy half-mile walks and more difficult 5-mile treks. There are two main sections: North America and Africa. Australia Adventures was under construction during our visit with a planned opening in spring 2020.
The following are samples of the different types of animals that live in an environment typical of what they would experience in the wild.
Even the Big Horn Sheep have a mountain and cliffs to climb on.
Several garden areas provide shade and a peaceful environment to enjoy. The 1.5-mile walkway meanders through the zoo and garden, or hop on the tram if walking is difficult.
Make time to stop by the G-scale model train that sits on 3/4 of an acre. Some of the scenes include the Grand Canyon, Rocky Mountains, and Old Indio.
The College of the Desert Street Fair
Last on our places to explore was the College of the Desert Street Fair, which has operated year-round every weekend for over 36 years. Seasonal fresh fruits and vegetables are available along with a wide variety of vendors selling apparel, footwear, hats, handbags, and home goods, to name a few.
There is also a food court in case patrons work up an appetite from all the shopping. Parking is free, and there is plenty of shade under the solar panel shelters.
After our whirlwind in Palm Desert, we were ready for a bit of relaxation. Our next stop was San Diego and a visit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Stay tuned.