In the Coachella Valley Preserve
Just minutes from Palm Springs and other desert cities in southeastern CA lies the Coachella Valley Preserve.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey website, usgs.gov, the Preserve is located along strands of The San Andreas Fault System between the cities of Palm Springs and Indio. The California Nature Conservancy purchased the first 1,920 acres. With the support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Preserve expanded to 17,000 acres of desert dune fields and palm forests. Over 1,500 California fan palms are fed by springs rising along parallel fault strands emanating from The San Andreas Fault. Clustered into 6 groves, the main palm groves of the Preserve are called the Thousand Palms Oasis.
Today the Center for Natural Lands Management, CNLM, manages Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve in the Coachella Valley Preserve to protect and conserve an ecological habitat for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard. In 1980 the federal government listed the lizard as a threatened species. (CNLM brochure)
CNLM is a non-profit organization for the protection and management of natural resources. It’s main objective is to safeguard the native species and their habitat.
Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve comprises about 880 acres of the Coachella Valley Preserve. It is easy to get to from exit 131, Monterey Avenue, of Interstate 10. Take a right on Ramon Road for 3.5 miles and a left onto Thousand Palms Canyon Road.
All of a sudden, a grove of palm trees appears.
After driving 2 miles on Thousand Palms Canyon Road, we arrive at a small parking are. How small is small, you ask? Carpooling is recommended and RVs, campers, and 5th wheels are not allowed in the parking lot.
I take a few pictures after we park and head toward the rustic Visitors’ Center.
There is no entrance fee, donations are optional.
Although the Oasis is the hub for the 28 miles of hiking trails available in the Coachella Valley Preserve, the most popular hike is the McCallum trail, a 2 mile round trip excursion through a palm oasis, across an earthquake fault zone, and through a desert wash, ending at another oasis. (CNLM Trail Guide)
beginning of the McCallum Trail
Looking up at the fan palm trees…
a pretty spectacular view
Fan Palms are the only native palm trees in California. With roots that barely reach down 8-12 feet, they can only grow where water is at or near the surface. These palms can grow up to 60 feet tall with leaves over 6 feet wide. Some of the larger trees in the Preserve may be 150 years old, but most are younger. The grassy brown hula skirts around the trees are actually dead fronds. (CNLM Trail Guide)
In late spring the fan palm produces small fruits eaten by many birds and other animals.
Because of the presence of water, many water-loving plants thrive in the riparian biome of the oasis. Riparian refers to a river bank and is a wetlands area. Cattails, common reeds, arroyo willow, and salt grass are just some of the plant species providing food and cover for desert wildlife. (CNLM Trail Guide)
Leaving the riparian forest, we encounter another biome: a desert wash. Plants living here need more water than those on the desert floor, but not as much as plants in the wetlands. (CNLM Trail Guide)
the desert wash
The creosote bush is the most common shrub found in North American deserts. (sign on trail)
The desert smoke tree’s ashy stems resemble a puff of smoke in the distance. (sign on trail)
Arrow-weed is another species found in desert washes. Native Americans used the straight stems to make arrows. (sign on trail)
pink flowers blossom in spring
Tamarisk trees, seen below, are non-native vegetation. Originally imported from the Mediterranean region, they are often used as windbreakers, marking old homesteads and homes in the desert. (sign on trail)
The Coachella Valley Preserve is located on the Mission Creek trace of the San Andreas Fault, the famous and most visible earthquake fault. The San Andreas Fault stretches from California’s border with Mexico to just north of San Francisco, where it plunges into the Pacific Ocean. It extends somewhere between 700-800 miles and reaches at least 10 miles deep. Many smaller faults branch from it, so it is more of a linear fault zone as opposed to a single fault. The McCallum Trail runs on and parallel to the Mission Creek fault. (CNLM Trail Guide)
According to the sign along the trail, the bluff to the west has a mixture of exposed sand, gravel, and rock layers that are tilted. Who knew that was what I was looking at?
According to earthquake.usgs.gov, a fault is a fracture along which the blocks of the earth’s crust, the outermost layer, on either side have moved relative to one another, parallel to the fracture. Below is a depiction of the right lateral strike-slip fault that runs along this trace.
There has been no significant rupture of the Mission Creek trace in over 300 years, but the slip-rate on the fault is between 2.3 – 3.5 centimeters per year.
Slippage along the fault is uneven, with some sections continuously moving a small amount, while other sections move more rapidly. (CNLM brochure)
The mountain ranges create a “rain-shadow” desert, which means the moisture-laden ocean air does not reach the desert floor. As wet air from the coast moves up over the mountains, it cools, falling as rain in the mountains, but bringing very little moisture to the valley itself. (CNLM Trail Guide)
Approaching McCallum Oasis…
This beautiful pond is formed by water seeping up along a trace of the earthquake fault.
The inviting sitting area below is called “The Citadel”.
The hula-skirt-like palm fronds provide homes for snakes, lizards, rodents, and black widow spiders. The rare yellow bat also roosts in the palm skirts while great horned owls peer out of the tops of the trees. (CNLM Trail Guide)
We head back…