January 07, 2012
Coachella Valley Preserve: Hiking Through Oases and Moon Country
Hikes in the Palm Springs area tend to come in three varieties:
1) Local hikes from the Valley floor up to a ridge. These hikes tend to be steep thighbusters but they usually reward fit hikers with nice views.
2) Flat hikes along the Valley floor, which are often boring.
3) Mountain hikes, such as along the Desert Divide or in the Santa Rosa Wilderness or in Joshua Tree National Park, which are wonderful hikes but usually require a long and twisty drive to get there.
This is why the Coachella Valley Preserve, located beyond Thousand Palms basically near the end of Ramon Road, is such a revelation. It has everything going for it: interesting things to see; some reasonably level trails; close to the Valley's cities, especially for people staying down-Valley like in Palm Desert; and as an added bonus, free parking! Among other advantages, this is one of the few hikes on the Coachella Valley side of Joshua Tree and the Little San Bernardino Mountains; most hikes in Joshua Tree require a lengthy drive around the mountains to Twentynine Palms.
We hiked from the visitor center to McCallum Oasis, then took the loop trail through Moon Country. Total hiking distance of about 4 miles. Had we not been dragging along two very tired kids, we could have done the trail in about 90 minutes. The trail had three highlights:
1) Thousand Palms Oasis, a nice oasis. I must say that I love hiking to and in oases. A stand of palm trees may be my favorite type of trees to hike in/to (after redwoods of course). The California fan palms are lovely. In addition, I love the feel of oases. They are cool, green and lush--a stark contrast to their surroundings--and they attract all sorts of interesting fauna, especially birds.
2) McCallum Oasis. A little smaller than Thousand Palms Oasis, it had the added bonus of a small gorgeous pond and a small stream running off it. Really stunning.
3) A vista point on the hillside above McCallum Oasis. The vista point has a wonderful birds-eye view of McCallum Oasis and a 180 degree view of Joshua Tree National Park, with a through-the-gap view of San Gorgonio Peak.
This is earthquake country; the oases are clustered along the San Andreas fault where springs come through the gaps in the earth's plates. The fault isn't really "visible" but it's still a neat (and slightly unsettling) context.
I love hiking to the oases in Indian Canyon, but I recommend this hike over those. The pricetag for admission to the Indian Canyons has gotten too steep; it would cost over $30 for our family of four to go there, while this hike is free. Perhaps the Indian Canyon oases are a little nicer (the views of the Desert Divide and Palm Springs certainly are nice), but not $30 nicer, and the Coachella Valley Preserve is close enough that the drive time from Palm Springs is worth it. So it's hard to justify the high prices of Indian Canyon when this option is free.
The signage is pretty good on the trail, but all of the precautions about desert hiking apply: wear good shoes, drink lots of water, use sunscreen and remember that everything looks closer in the desert than it actually is. Hiking here during hot weather would be just miserable.
Our photo album from our visit.
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