Sunday, December 21, 2014

Take a hike!

As much as I love the backdrop of the beautiful mountains here in Palm Springs, I have little interest in climbing or exploring them. However, last week I was persuaded by Jim to take a hike into Tahquitz Canyon. Whilst a regular runner, I am not a walker or hiker, so this was new to me - did I need a compass and survival kit? The canyon is owned by the Band of the Cahuilla Indians and so  we passed through the modern visitor centre and paid the statutory $12.50. Leaving the building we were greeted by the sign 'Beware Rattlesnakes' - a great welcome for all visitors! I can see why they place the sign after you have paid your money!

The canyon in spring - internet pic!

Visitor center to welcome you!
Not so welcoming!

For centuries, the ancestors of the Cahuilla Indians lived in this and the nearby canyons. The constant water supply enabled them to grow crops and raise livestock.  A legend says that Tahquitz was the first shaman and had much power, that he used for the good of all people. But over time, Tahquitz began to use his power for selfish reasons and to harm the Cahuilla People. They became angry and banished Tahquitz to this canyon that now bears his name. A variation on the legend says he kidnapped a young woman and eventually struck her dead. He made his home high in the San Jacinto Mountains, in a secret cave below the towering rock known today as Tahquitz Peak. It is said that his spirit still lives in this canyon and that he steals the souls of those who venture too far into his canyon at night as well as being responsible for local earthquakes. As this was an afternoon walk, we hastened down before dusk!

Fall colour from Californian sycamores
The day we visited - a bit grey!

Looking back down over Palm Springs set in the desert

The canyon still shows faint remains of habitation but generally it appears as a natural environment. There are no signs and footpaths are not clearly marked, so you need to be aware of your route. The path does however roughly follow the creek that bisects the canyon. Its a rough path with rocky steps, which leads up into the mountain, crossing the stream at various places. The huge and beautifully coloured rock formations are amazingly impressive.  Sadly most of the ancient tribal art that used to be visible, has faded or been destroyed.

All around are cacti and other indigenous plants and towards the top of the path, the landscape becomes lusher with clusters of scrubby California sycamore. This is actually Platanus racemosa and would in the UK be known as a plane tree - one of the confusions of using common names. Being winter there were few wild flowers but we did see the occasional red bloom on chuparosa, Beloperone californica (correction - this should be Justicia californica - thanks Chad) and also Californian fuchsia, Zauschneria californica which is now correctly called Epilobium canum. (Aren't plant name changes annoying!) Amongst all the scrubby bushes, I was delighted to spot a plant of the desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, although not a particularly attractive plant, being smaller and scruffier that our European  one.  All around, bare areas of the sandy soil are now showing carpets of green seedlings so hopefully with a few more rainy days, we may well get wild flowers this spring.

Red barrel cactus

Dasylirion I think - corrected to Nolina biglovii - a native of California

Teddy bear cholla
prickly pear
chuparosa - lots more flower in spring
Native mistletoe- bit low down for kissing under!
Seedlings bring a promise of wild flowers
 At the top of the path, hidden behind a massive outcrop of rock is a 50ft waterfall that drops into a pool that varies in size. On the day we visited it was a modest puddle but the muddy soil surface all around indicates that in certain conditions, it would be quite a lake. The day of our visit was winter and overcast so my pictures are dull. Anyway that's my excuse for including a few more colourful internet pics. 

The waterfall last week

Internet pic with lake

Well, we survived the expedition, didn't disturb any rattlesnakes and managed to get back without risking Tahquitz's night-time wrath so maybe another trip in the spring!


  1. Beautiful photos of that hike...never been to that area, but those are very steep mountains. The Dasylirion looks like Nolina biglovii, or some native So Cal desert Nolina.

    The sycamore color and new seedlings so soon are a surprise for me.

  2. Aren't plant name changes annoying!

    Sometimes I think they just do it to perplex us.

    I think Beloperone californica has been Justicia californica for some time now as well!

    I think Calflora is your 'local' authority for up to date names.

    Best wishes of the season from UK [now disappearing under snow except for the favoured bits like Cornwall].


    1. Justicia - yes - you are of course correct! I was confused thinking it had changed the other way! Maybe it has in the past.