Morning View from Catalina Spa

Morning View from Catalina Spa
Morning View from Catalina Spa

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

01-11-2017 Treasure in the Desert

Current Location: Catalina Spa and RV Resort, Desert Hot Springs, California

At the moment, we are under a wind advisory, nothing too serious, and nothing unusual for Desert Hot Springs at this time of year.  The skies are wild and gorgeous, with huge puffy white clouds rolling over the mountains and making shadows on the desert floor.  We are in shorts, with sun pouring in the windows of the rig, although it is hard to guess what the actual outside temperature might be if the wind weren’t blowing.

Currently I have my favorite  George Yates rib recipe on the Weber Q, packets of yams/apples/and onions ready for cooking when the ribs are done, and some cole slaw in the fridge.  We are having company for supper, just a way to say thank you for lunch yesterday, which Claudia so delightfully offered after our hike in the desert.

In all the years we have traveled to Desert Hot Springs, we haven’t managed to hike the Indian Canyons.  There is a fee to enter and there are no dogs allowed.  With so many places to hike, even some dog friendly ones, it didn't’ seem necessary.  Yesterday we decided it was time to make the effort, and oh what a place it is!

But first I have to share the other desert treasure we visited.  Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve lies several miles east of the RV park.  I first hiked here on Christmas Eve in 2010, where Laurie and Odel met me and shared the hike they loved.  We had a great day, and I was thrilled by the beautiful palms.  Mo and I have returned several times to hike here, sometimes simply walking around the groves, and other times wandering off into the desert, lost even with a GPS (and no phone signal).  That was 2 years ago, and we did manage to find our way back to the visitor center without mishap.

This year we decided on the shorter hike from the Visitor Center to Simone Pond, just a little over a mile, and an easy walk through the desert wash landscape.  The ponds are home to an amazing array of wildlife, including the desert pupfish, birds, frogs, snakes, rabbits, and other critters.  The docent at the Visitor Center reminded us that this area has been preserved in perpetuity for the sake of protecting the habitats, and if people abuse the area it is a simple matter to close the trails.  The Oasis is not for people, but for habitat management, so protecting that habitat is the priority.

The true treasure of Thousand Palms, however, are the palms.  California fan palms, majestic in their size and unique nature, are the only native palm in California.  They occur in a few oases throughout this part of California, and while there are actually maybe a few hundred rather than a thousand in  this particular oasis, the trails that meander through the wetlands are a wonderful way to experience the rich shadows and glorious light that fills the palm forest.

We took our time, enjoying the trails and delighting in the brilliant, warm desert afternoon light.  Being Sunday, there were quite a few people on the trail and the parking lot was nearly full.  But no matter.  Everyone was respectful, families were pleasant, with lots of laughter and welcome greetings along the trail.  It was a lovely day.

The predicted rains and winds showed up on Monday, and Mo and I decided to track down a  couple of my favorite quilt shops before finding the Mary Pickford Theater in the heart of Cathedral City.  Our destination was an afternoon matinee showing of “Manchester by the Sea”.  It was a bit surprising to find fairly long lines at 2 in the afternoon, but the Palm Spring International Film Festival is happening this week as well.  The ticket seller warned us that the only seats left in our chosen theater were the first two rows.

Ok then.  When we walked into the theater, those first two rows looked like something out of a United Emirates Airline commercial. There were huge recliners, with cupholders and lots of space between pairs of seats.  The movie was well done, definitely worth seeing, but the chairs very nearly overshadowed the movie experience with such comfort.  Haven’t seen that before in our small town movie theaters.

The next day, Tuesday, again had high wind predictions for Desert Hot Springs, with winds ranging from 25 to 35 mph with gusts to 55.  As is often the case, however, the winds across the valley in Palm Springs were less than 5 to 10 mph, and the day was nice enough to go hiking without jackets.  We debated shorts, but settled for long pants instead. Claudia isn’t familiar with the area, and when she found out we were going hiking, asked if she could tag along.

The Indian Canyons of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians are an incredible desert treasure.  Cahuilla Indians have lived in these canyons for at least three thousand years, where they established villages, and tended the palms to increase fruit production.  The canyons are an invaluable resource, providing year round fresh running water, palm fronds for building homes, fruits and seeds from palms, mesquite, and other plants to provide ample food, and protection from the harshness of the summer and winter climates. 

We first hiked up Andreas Canyon, enthralled by the light and shadow, and the sound of running water over huge granite boulders.  There are mortars worn into the bedrock, formed from the grinding of palm and mesquite fruits, some of them as much as ten inches deep.

After completing the Andreas Canyon loop, we continued south on the main road toward the visitor center and the trailhead for Palm Canyon.  Hidden away in the wild badlands of this dry part of California are more than a hundred wild palm groves, and this is the largest, with a recent count of more than 2500 palms thriving along the canyon ravine.  The stream is live with fresh water, the sounds of water and birds are the background to the rustling of palm fronds in the winds above us. 

The floor of the canyon narrows and widens at intervals, and the trail is mostly level, wide, and soft.  The fragrance of moist sand, decaying vegetation, and organic matter is pungent.  The ravine is 12 miles long, and separates the Santa Rosa from the San Jacinto mountains.  The trail climbs above the canyon in places and then meanders along old beaches and around huge boulders.

It was one of the loveliest hikes we have ever experienced in all our years visiting this area, and there are so many trails to explore, you can be sure we will return again and again. A nice benefit, the cost for seniors to enter the canyons is a mere $7.00, and with her military ID, Mo got in free.  Wonderful.

We only hiked a little over three miles, saving the six mile round trip hike to the Stone Pools for our next visit.  It was nice spending hiking time with Claudia as well, and she wanted to treat us to lunch to thank us for showing her around the area.  Of course, there is no better nor iconic Palm Springs lunch spot than Sherman’s Delicatessen.  With a nice outside table, warmed by the propane heaters placed strategically about, we had classic Ruebens and a magnificent burger for Mo.  Dessert is crazy at this place, not only famous for its Ruebens, but for its bakery. 

We left the restaurant with half our lunch in boxes, and more than half our desserts in other boxes.  What a great day.  Returning home to the rig found a happy little dog, who seemed to have spent the entire afternoon quietly chewing on her knuckle bone and waiting patiently.  Lucky us!