4 Natural wonders in the Palm Springs area
While Palm Springs may be known as a celebrity getaway, or for its desert modern architecture, it's also becoming famous for its stunning natural wonders. Some of them are worth a full day trip, others can be seen in just an hour or so.
Thousand Palms Oasis
I've been coming to Palm Springs for nearly 20 years, and it's only just recently I've visited Thousand Palms Oasis for the first time. Tucked out in the desert north of Highway 10, this large grove of palm trees has cropped up around a watering hole that's gurgled to the surface thanks to the San Andreas Fault. Towering palm trees encircle the water, and while the ground is swampy in some places, boardwalks and pathways will lead you safely through.
The oasis is an ideal visit on a hot sunny day, as the palm trees provide shade from the scorching desert heat. In several places, the palms part to reveal vast expanses of desert sand. You'll feel like Lawrence of Arabia traversing the Sahara in this gorgeous oasis which is free to visit. (Donations welcome)
A small visitor center displays old photographs and artifacts, as well as some history of this place.
The oasis is about a 20-25 minute drive from Palm Springs. You can either plan an hour-long visit just to see the oasis itself, or stay a little longer, and hike one of the numerous trails through the area.
Joshua Tree Park
This world famous park is known for its intense concentration of Joshua trees; which are found only in a few locales in the world; all of them in the continental USA.
The Joshua tree looks like a cactus, a deciduous tree and some type of dead wood all merged into one outlandish plant.
There are a few ways to see the park. Stop at one of the visitor centers on either the north or south end and grab a map, then drive yourself. You can also ditch the car and hike or bike to any number of cool viewpoints, natural wonders, or even out to one of several abandoned mine sites.
While you could get in and out of the park in just a few hours, do yourself a favor, pack a lunch and some cold drinks, and plan to spend the day here. There are no amenities in the park, so coming prepared will help you enjoy your visit.
Some of my personal favorite things to see in the park are Skull Rock, which as the name suggests is a giant skull shaped rock formation that makes for excellent photos. The Cholla Cactus Garden is an amazing (and short) quarter mile loop that will take you through a menacingly spiny field of cacti. Signs warn not to touch these sharp little plants, and you'll want to avoid temptation. If you're heading south along this road, keep going and have a look at the weirdly otherworldly Ocotillo Patch.
Keys View is worth the drive to get a glimpse of the break in the earth known as the San Andreas fault line. Also, on a very clear day, you might be able to see Mexico.
Taquitz Canyon/Taquitz Falls
The unexpected beauty of a waterfall in the middle of the desert is a novelty not lost on many. While getting to the canyon and the falls does require paying an admission fee of $12.50, the stark desert landscapes and craggy rock cliffs make for stunning photos and beautiful views.
The park is owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians and you'll find yourself learning about the native history and unique legends of this area while you’re here. There's very little shade in the park, so come prepared with water and a hat.
Mt San Jacinto State Park
The peak of the second highest mountain range in California towers more than 10,000 feet above sea level. One of the easiest ways to visit Mount San Jacinto is to take the Palm Springs aerial tram to the top of the mountain, where you can either enjoy dinner, or just sip cocktails and marvel at the sunset views. Of course, a ride in the rotating tram car, which clambers 6000 feet into the sky on massive steel cables is all part of this park’s unique experience and one not to be missed.
Hiking is also popular from the top of the mountain. You can take in the craggy granite rocks, or sub alpine forests and meadows via one of the trails once you get to the top. But be warned, winter weather is quite common up this high and it can be cold and snowy compared to the scorching temperatures on the desert floor far below.
Palm Springs and area is filled with gorgeous sights, many of them foreign to visitors who aren’t used to the desert landscapes. Do you have a favorite place I should check out? Reach me on Twitter or Instagram @ErinLYYC.