Frank’s Guided Desert Bird Walk

Every Sunday Frank leads a bird walk through the Thousand Palms Oasis. Today, however, most of the trails are still closed from the flash flood of October 13th. So we take a short walk around the Palm House. Jeff and I don binoculars and off we go.

Frank wears a perpetual smile and a vest covered with patches of all the places he has gone bird-watching. He carries his viewing scope and sets it up for crystal clear up-close observing. Then he plays the different bird calls on his iPad to attract more birds.

Below is a list of the birds I have seen in the desert oasis:

Cactus Wren

Very common where cholla cactus and mesquite brush grow, this bird has a very recognizable raspy voice. ( (courtesy Brian E. Small)


Yellow-rumped Warbler

With its trademark yellow rump patch, this warbler survives the winter eating berries all along the western coast of the United States and Mexico. ( (courtesy Laure W. Neish)


Bewick’s Wren

Common and widespread in the west, this wren enjoys the habitat of desert washes. ( (courtesy G. Lasley)

Song and call


In the desert Southwest, this bird arrives to announce the beginning of winter. Phainopeplas and mistletoe rely on each other. The birds eat the berries of this parasitic plant. After the berries pass through the birds’ digestive track, the seeds stick to the branches of the mesquite tree and sprout new clumps of mistletoe. ( (courtesy Bob Steele)


Western Tanager

The western counterpart of the scarlet tanager, this bird often shows up in the desert during migration. ( (courtesy Glenn Bartley)

Song and call

Great Horned Owl

Widespread and common throughout North America and parts of South America, this big bird is aggressive and powerful in its hunting. It is sometimes known by nicknames, such as “tiger owl”. ( (courtesy Johann Schumacher)


Barn Owl

Preying chiefly on mice and rats, the desert offers a good foraging territory. ( (courtesy Steve Young)


Long-eared Owl

This medium-sized owl favors habitats with dense trees for nesting and roosting and open country for  hunting. Streamside groves in deserts make an ideal environment. ( (courtesy Brian E. Small)

Bill snap and squeal near nest

Red-tailed Hawk

This is the most widespread and familiar large hawk in North America. An inhabitant of open country, this soaring bird is no stranger to the desert. ( (courtesy Tom Vezo)


Gambel’s Quail

The Sonoran desert is home to this distinctive bird, often abundant near desert streams and waterholes. Often found around mesquite thickets, foraging flocks are called coveys. (


Costa’s Hummingbird

The desert might seem like a bad place for a creature that feeds at flowers, but it is the favored habitat for this hummingbird. ( (Sid & Shirley Rucker)


Bird audio links copyrighted by National Audubon Society Bird Song Collection.

Susan’s Oasis Chat

Squaw hill, smoke tree ranch, boardwalK

From atop Squaw Hill the Indio Hills rise up in the immediate background. The California Fan Palms, the only native palm trees of California, wind their way through Thousand Palms Oasis and Simone Pond on the McCallum Trail. The Little San Bernardino Mountains are peaking up in the distance to the right. Joshua Tree National Park lies within these hills and abuts the boundaries of the Coachella Valley Preserve.

The Oasis water line crosses Thousand Palms Canyon Road to the southeast on the Mission Creek Strand of the San Andreas Fault. On the other side of the Indio Hills lies the Banning Strand of the Fault.

The Little San Bernardino Mountains overlook Thousand Palms Canyon Road and the parking area of Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve.

Palm trees are really grasses like bamboo. That’s why they easily bend toward the sunlight they require.

When the green palm fronds die they fold over to create a skirt that provides a habitat for birds, insects, rodents, and snakes.

Palm fruit is edible and delicious, tasting similar to a date or raisin, but like a pomegranate, contains a large seed. Freshly ripened palm fruit is gooey and juicy like molasses. The Cahuilla ate them and ground them into meal. The unripened fruit are light brown or green.

The ripened fruit are dark purple.

The inside of the skirt of palm fronds looks like this…

Looking up from the boardwalk… This view never gets old.

The “elephant trunk”… This palm tree begins some 25 feet away!

Thousand Palms Oasis

ETA… Noonish

Our last 100 miles takes us on the 15 to the 215 to the 10.

Exit 131 on the I-10…

Ramon Road…

Thousand Palms Canyon Road…

Gregg opens the summer gate for us to pull our motorhome through so we can move in.

This is the site of our new home for the next 7 months!

Thousand Palms Oasis consists of 880 acres continguous with the 38,000 acres of other conserved areas that are collectively known as the Coachella Valley Preserve System. The Center for Natural Lands Management owns the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve.

CNLM was founded in 1990 and incorporated as a nonprofit tax exempt organization.

CNLM protects and manages Preserves in California and Washington State. All Preserves provide refuge for endangered or threatened species or protect rare and sensitive habitat. Each Preserve is assigned to a specific member of the CNLM stewardship staff with expertise in the species or habitat type.

Ginny Short is our Preserve Manager. She joined CNLM in 2007  with over 10 years experience in biological monitoring, habitat restoration, and geographical  statiscal analysis. 

Most of CNLM’s 82 Preserves are too vulnerable to allow public access. Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is one of 16 with public trails. (

A Beautiful Day in the Desert

Another Hike in the Coachella Valley Preserve

Today we return to Palm Springs and head to the parking area near the intersection of Ramon Road and Thousand Palms Canyon Road where 2 trailheads begin. A few weeks ago we hiked the Willis Palms Loop Trail. Now we’re back for another desert adventure creating our own loop connecting segments of   3 trails: Hidden Palms, Horseshoe Palms, and Pushawalla Ridge, highlighted in orange on the map below.

The Hidden Palms Trailhead begins across the street from the parking area. Well placed rocks line the path and intermittent trail markers make the beginning of this hike easy to follow, although the thick loose sand makes it a workout to trudge through. Soon we reach a fork, one way leading to the Visitors Center and the other directing us to the grove of Hidden Palms.

We keep following the traffic of shoe prints. I turn around and capture the other side of Mt. San Gorgonio and the desert landscape.

I pause to take some close-ups that attract my attention.

Then the trail and tracks become confusing as we intersect a dirt road that leads to some fenced-off buildings, an old horse trailer, and what looks like some kind of elongated covered wagon used for driving sightseers. Oh, and 2 blue porta-potties…???… Out of options we head up the road and follow the truck tracks continuing through what seems to be private property. At last we see a hidden palm grove.

And we welcome the opportunity for some shade.

We find a small canopied lounging area with a fallen palm tree log to sit on, so we cool off, drink some water, and recharge with our cashew raisin trail mix.

Energized, our spirits are lifted and we’re ready to head for the Horseshoe Palms Trail.

Luckily, the Horseshoe Palms Trail corresponds with our map. Heading east out of Hidden Palms, we find the trail marker. But once again the trail becomes ambiguous and we are following truck tracks and shoe prints and slugging through dense sand.

Then, suddenly, we round a curve and 2 men are trudging toward us. They are returning from the Horseshoe Palms and warn us that there is lots more sand ahead.

Finally palm trees appear ahead of us in the distance.

As we search for more of a hiking trail than a vehicle trail, we discover an abandoned “campsite”…

An actual hiking trail pops up on the other side of the sandy dirt road and we decide this is the way to continue.

Confused, yet again, we choose to keep climbing up the hill. Distracted from second guessing our decision, I take pictures of Horseshoe Palms below.

But we keep hiking away from where we should be and the trail we are taking is not on the map. So, we head back. No problem, that is until Jeff suggests we hike up the rocky slope along a vaguely visible off-road trail. Are you kidding me? I don’t mind scaling up but good luck coaching me down! Jeff seriously thinks that there may be a trail back down to Horseshoe Palms.

Meanwhile, I document our out and back detour with an awesome view of San Jacinto and Gorgonio.

Instead of retracing our steps all the way back to the dirt road, we find a steep but short cutoff that lands us into the valley trail through the Horseshoe Palms.

Bearing left out of the valley, we head north toward the Pushawalla Ridge Trail.

We climb for awhile.

And then we make a decision. Do we choose to continue to ascend up the ridge or take the flat lower trail? Both will lead us back west to complete our loop.

We choose the high road.

So far, so good… We rise above the trails we just hiked.

And keep ascending.

As we pause to drink some water, I take a picture of Horseshoe Palms below.

Look closely, they’re there!

And then the real fun begins. The trail narrows as it cuts across the first ridge because on either side the drop-off is steep.

Before ascending again, I turn around and document where we just came from.

Onward and upward…

Here’s another view of the other end of Horseshoe Palms.

And now I can show you where we took the wrong trail and then backtracked.

Up and down we go.

Meanwhile, we get a bird’s eye view of the road not taken…

…and the other side of Hidden Palms…

Eventually we see the Visitors Center at Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve.

Soon, only a steep switchback separates us from the ridge trail to the trail back to our car.

As we descend our last few feet, I turn around and capture the moment.

We round the ridge and head back, once again on the Hidden Palms Trail, the loop we have not taken yet.

Large rocks line each side of the sandy trail again. Beyond the path, the sun highlights some cool desert rocks.

A large lizard scurries by and strikes a pose. Could it be the fringe-toed lizard?

We’ve been hiking for over 3 hours now. As we approach the trailhead where we began, I look behind and capture some photos.

What an amazing and beautiful day!

A Hike in the Desert

The Coachella Valley Preserve

Today we drive to Palm Springs and head northeast of I-10 toward Thousand Palms Canyon Road where a parking lot leads to a 4 mile trailhead for the Willis Palms Loop. I circled the area in red and highlighted the hike in blue.

The green rectangle above shows the proximity of Thousand Palms Oasis and the McCallum Trail that we explored on November 29, 2017.

Here are some highlights from today’s hike:

I don’t know what these strange plants are. The stems swell into ocean-like seaweed polyps. I’m guessing the bulges store water. My internet connection keeps timing out so I will have to get back to you on this.

Meanwhile, the scenery is dry, rocky, and sparse, but oh so beautiful. We gradually ascend a ridge.

That’s Mt. San Gorgonio  towering in the distance below…

Then we intersect with the Herman’s Hike Trail and head back down into the canyon.

The trail is not well-marked but instinct and numerous footprints guide us along.

The rocks are amazing and too big to collect so I take a few pics of our favorites.

At last the Willis Palm Grove appears and we KNOW we are heading in the right direction.

The deep blue sky, the bright green palm leaves, the dead yellow fronds, the fire-blackened tree trunks, and the deep white ash present a stunning photo opportunity but also remind us of the delicate ecosystem living here.