Desert Oasis, State and National Parks

The Thousand Palms Oasis preserve - The spectacular Thousand Palms Oasis preserve which is fed by water seeping out of the San Andreas Fault and boasts more than 25 miles of hiking paths is less than 15 minutes north of Sun City in the bluffs and mesas of the Indio Hills. It is part of The Coachella Valley Preserve, a 20,000 acre site that is home to the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard, which is found nowhere else in the world. Along the trails of Thousand Palms Oasis preserve you'll spot rare wildlife, lush palm woodland oases and desert wetlands, which at different times of the year blossom with wildflowers.
The Visitor Center’s historic log cabin is just a short walk from the parking lot and from here you can take the McCallum Trail to the McCallum Grove which is about a two-mile round-trip hike. When you leave the visitor’s center you will pass through the lush vegetation of Thousand Palms Oasis. Most of the trail in the oasis is on a well maintained raised wooden path above a marshy bottom. There are several ponds in this part of the trail with desert pupfish and other wildlife. After leaving the oasis the trail winds through a sandy wash before reaching McCallum Grove, one of the largest groves of desert fan palms in California. While the trail is not very strenuous, hiking in the sandy wash can be a little harder. At the McCallum Grove there is a large pond which is fed by underground springs which are a result of seismic activity along the San Andreas fault. This is a very beautiful lush area, and once again you will see pupfish and other wildlife in the area.

The Indian Canyons - The lush and beautiful Indian Canyons - Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, Murray Canyon collectively feature more than 60 miles of hiking and walking trails rated easy to strenuous. The adjacent Tahquitz Canyon is one of the most beautiful and culturally sensitive areas of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians Reservation. Tahquitz Canyon is home to a spectacular seasonal 60-foot waterfall, rock art, ancient irrigation systems, native wildlife, and plants.
To get to the Indian Canyons hiking trails in Palm Springs, take South Palm Canyon from Highway 111 and drive south about two miles to the Indian Canyons tollgate. There are signs posted to help you find your way. Indian Canyon in Palm Springs offers six hiking trails. The entrance to Tahquitz Canyon and its 1.8 miles hiking trail is just a bit north. From Highway 111 go north on South Palm Canyon then turn left onto West Mesquite Ave to reach the visitor center and trail head.
Palm Canyon is an area of great beauty. Its indigenous flora and fauna, and its abundant Washingtonia filifera (California Fan Palm) are breathtaking contrasts to the stark rocky gorges and barren desert lands beyond.
In Andreas Canyon the contrasting greens of the magnificent fan palms and more than 150 species of plants within a half-mile radius beckon the desert-weary traveler to this lush oasis. A scenic foot trail leads through the canyon passing groves of stately skirted palms, unusual rock formations and the perennial Andreas Creek. One can still see bedrock mortars and metates used centuries ago for preparing food. This tranquil setting is excellent for photography, bird-watching, or a picnic at one of the tables along the trail.
Murray Canyon is an easy to moderate hike south from Andreas Canyon. The less visited, Murray Canyon has its own secluded beauty. Foot and equestrian trails take visitors to beautiful recreation areas featuring many palm trees.
Tahquitz Canyon may be the most beautiful of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians canyons and is home to a spectacular seasonal 60-foot waterfall and rock art. Located at the entrance to the canyon, the Tahquitz Canyon Visitor Center offers educational and cultural exhibits. The Center offers a display of artifacts, an observation deck, and a theater room for viewing The Legend of Tahquitz Canyon. The trail is 1.8 miles and is rated strenuous with a 350 foot elevation gain the seasonal waterfall.
Joshua Tree National Park – Reached in about a 40 minute drive, Joshua Tree National Park is a vast protected area in southern California. It's characterized by boulders, rugged rock formations and stark desert landscapes. Named for the region’s twisted, bristled Joshua trees, the park straddles the cactus-dotted Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert, which is higher and cooler. The result is amazing desert flora, including its namesake trees (actually a type of yucca). Joshua Tree offers sightseeing, hiking, camping along with vibrant sunsets and dark sky nights filled with uncountable stars.
From Keys View you can get a great panoramic vista of Mount San Jacinto and Mount Gorgonio, with the Salton Sea stretching out in the distance. At Keys Ranch, you can take a guided walking tour to get a glimpse into what it was like to be an early 20th-century pioneer on this unforgiving terrain. Close by, but standing in contrast, is 49 Palm Oasis, where fan palms tower over a crystal-clear spring, and also nearby is Lost Horse Mine, one of the few mines in the area that proved to be a good investment. Today you can see what remains of the once booming operation with an easy 4-mile round-trip hike.
If you’re looking to do some rock climbing, Joshua Tree has more than 8,000 established climbing routes, from easy beginner scrambles to extreme vertical cracks and attracts climbers from all over the world.
Mt. San Jacinto State Park at the top of the Tram offers 54 miles of hiking trails located within a 14,000 acre pristine wilderness. The deeply weathered summit of Mount San Jacinto stands 10,804 feet above sea level, the highest point in the San Jacinto Range and second highest in Southern California. Easily reached by riding the tram up the mountain from Chino Canyon, the tram takes passengers from Valley Station at 2,643 feet elevation to Mountain Station on the edge of the wilderness, elevation 8,516 feet. The Mountain Station features a restaurant, gift shop, snack bar, and the state park visitor center. In Long Valley, a short walk from the station, you will find the Long Valley Ranger Station, a picnic area with barbecue stoves and restrooms, a ski center, a self-guiding nature trail, and Desert View Trail which offers panoramas of the high country including several peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation. You can also enter the hiking trail system from this point. The mountain's magnificent granite peaks, subalpine forests, and fern-bordered mountain meadows offer a unique opportunity to explore and enjoy a scenic, high-country wilderness area. The park offers two drive-in campgrounds near the town of Idyllwild. Most of the park is a designated wilderness area enjoyed by hikers and backpackers.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park about a 2 hour drive encompasses over 600,000 acres that includes one-fifth of San Diego County and it is the largest state park in California. The park occupies eastern San Diego County and reaches into Imperial and Riverside counties, enveloping Borrego Springs, which is home to the park's headquarters. It is awash with spring wildflower blooms in its occasional years of wet winters and offers camping, hiking, miles of dirt roads to explore with 4-wheel vehicles or mountain bikes and much more. One of the most frequently visited and photographed attractions in the park are the “Monsters in the Desert” – Metal sculptures - Over 130 full-sized metal sculptures are sited here. Many are inspired by creatures that roamed this same desert millions of years ago. Included among these huge metal sculptures is a 350-foot Serpent that rises from the Sand in Borrego Springs.
Although all vehicles in the park must be street legal and stay on the over 500 miles of roads, much of which are primitive jeep roads, the park connects to The Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, operated by California State Parks, which contains over 80,000 acres of magnificent desert open for off-road exploration and recreation. To the south and east of the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreation Area, large tracts of BLM land (U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management) are also open to off-highway vehicles.

Salton Sea - One of the world's largest inland seas and lowest spots on earth at -227 below sea level, Salton Sea was re-created in 1905 when high spring flooding on the Colorado River crashed the canal gates leading into the developing Imperial Valley. By the time engineers were finally able to stop the breaching water in 1907, the Salton Sea had been born at 45 miles long and 20 miles wide – equaling about 130 miles of shoreline.  On the east side of the Salton Sea is the Salton Sea State Recreation Area covering 14 miles of the northeastern shore and has long been a popular site for campers, boaters and anglers.  The Salton Sea State Recreation Area has hundreds of day use sites, a boat ramp and wash area, trails, a visitor center (open during peak season), a play area for the kids, and fishing jetties. During the season, Rangers offer guided tours in the park's interpretive boat to view the birds for which the Recreation Area is famous. The park is located on the Pacific Flyway, and 400 different species of birds have been counted at the Salton Sea--almost half of the 900 species known to exist on the North American Continent. During winter migration up to four million individual birds are estimated to use the Sea each day. There is a greater species variety and more individual species here than any other place in the nation.
Farther south, on the south east side of the Salton Sea, is the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge and visitor center. About 20 minutes to the east of there is Slab City and Salvation Mountain, two tourist sites of interest. Search each one on the Internet to learn more.

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