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!

Opening Day

The Winter gate opens at 7 am

The visitor center opens at 8 am

The Visitor Center, the Palm House, is a palm-log cabin built by Paul Wilhelm in the 1930s.

A brief history…

In 1877 the Desert Land Act  passes which opens up the desert for homesteading. In 1902 Albert Thornburg homesteads 80 acres of the Thousand Palms Oasis. Three years later Louis Wilhelm trades 2 mules and a wagon for the 80 acres. He, his wife and 12 children camp here for the next 2 decades. In the early 1930s Paul Wilhelm, the youngest child of Louis, rents the land from his father, builds a small cabin from palm tree logs, and lives in the Oasis. He adds a second “room”, with its own door, when his niece Dolly comes to stay. A self-made naturalist and entrepreneur, Paul builds shacks and tent sites to rent to overnight visitors. This leads to yet another addition to his cabin as Dolly provides meals for guests at Dolly’s Last Chance Cafe. (

Both composting toilets are open

The gate closes and locks at 5Pm

Unfortunately, many visitors cannot read.

As hosts we stand in the parking lot or outside the Palm House at 4:00 reminding new guests when we lock the gate. If a car still remains at 6:00 we start worrying that the visitors may be lost and in need of water and shade. By 7:00 we need to call Ginny, the Preserve Manager, aka, our boss.


Sometimes visitors will park outside of the locked gate and walk around the closure after 5:30 because they just want to walk through and take a picture.

Even better, some visitors will ignore the posted signs prohibiting dogs thinking it’s okay to bring their dog through after hours.

Ya gotta love people… bless their hearts!

Settling In…

View from our back window…

Gambel’s quail…

Sunset over the oasis …

An orange dragonfly…

Smoke Tree Ranch Trail…

Dark clouds over San Jacinto Mountain…

Ramon Road to Thousand Palms Canyon Road…

Approaching the Oasis… Joshua Tree National Park in the distance…

Pushawalla Ridge Trail…

A lightening display…

And no… it never did rain!

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. (

Heading Down the Coast

Our RV Spirit Guides

The remains of our dog Murph/Murphy… our first road trip without him…

Our pot head from Weasel and Fitz in Madrid, NM along the Turquoise Trail…

And our alien from Roswell, New Mexico…

Today we pack up tchotchkes and secure cabinets and fridge as we depart Port Orford and slowly head to Thousand Palms Oasis. Our first stop is just across the border into California north of Crescent City.

But before we can hitch the car onto the tow dolly and drive away… RV glitches stall us. First, the magnet needs to be attached to the screen door so that our entry steps can go up and down. Jeff tries a glue gun, duct tape, mailing tape, and tacky craft glue before realizing where the magnet needs to be placed. Then the hydraulic jacks won’t ascend properly. Finally the jacks cooperate but Jeff discovers a problem with one of the rear jacks.

Finally, we are on our way to a new adventure at Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve outside of Palm Springs, CA.

Jeff and I are volunteering as co-hosts in this lush oasis on the San Andras Fault from October through April.

Nestled into the Indio Hills on the northern side of the Coachella Valley, Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is a day-use area with 30 miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, oases, wildflowers, wildlife, and a rustic Visitor Center. Check out the website to find out more about the Preserve.

Our driving itinerary is an unconventional one in an RV. We plan on taking Highway 1 from Leggett, CA to Santa Monica where we will connect with Interstate 10 and head southeast to Palm Springs.  I’m sure we will encounter some iffy moments leaving us asking ourselves WHY. Who drives a 35-foot motorhome towing a car on a dolly on the narrow shoreline highway with twists and turns? We do.

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve

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,, 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)



034989FD-DCDE-461D-8371-B7801B5520E4 beginning of the McCallum Trail


Looking up at the fan palm trees…

FEA6944F-842D-437F-9CC9-B470DF8AFF9E 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)

04907BB1-3EE3-4A5D-84E9-CC1FC32223E7 salt grass

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)

5B946317-5880-4A63-B405-79FC17CA3282 the desert wash

The creosote bush is the most common shrub found in North American deserts. (sign on trail)

3F1758E2-8663-410F-8E94-0BFB90DBFF6B creosote bush

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)

2E3F82A2-0CB9-4ACA-900D-F7F62F45A868                                                 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, 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.

83134925-97A8-440B-9F12-1231BEC554D5 glossary

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…