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See the World’s Largest Reserve of Fan Palms

palm canyon trail

Washingtonia filifera, also known as desert fan palm or California fan palm, is a flowering plant in the palm family. Growing to 49-66 feet tall and 10-20 feet wide, it is the only palm native to the Western United States and the country’s largest native palm.

Man stands beneath giant palms in desert oasis

The Cahuilla and the Fan Palm

The history of the Cahuilla Indians is interwoven the desert fan palm. Filifera means “thread-bearing” and Washingtonia is a nod to the first president, George Washington.

The desert palm is a sign that signifies “water is here.” It is recognizable not for extreme height — it’s stouter and shorter than the Mexican palm — but for the puffy “cloak” of dried leaves hanging down its trunk. Its nourishing moisture runs throughout its trunk, so it forms no annual rings and is rarely harmed by fire. Fire actually helps desert fan palm groves, driving out burrowing insects, stripping off the palms’ cloaks, and letting sunlight reach the ground for hundreds of new palm seedlings to sprout.

The Cahuilla located permanent villages at large palm groves, where oasis waters evaporate into the leaves, creating a moist, shady, cool microclimate that attracts game and fosters myriad useful plants such as cottonwood, mesquite, and willow.

They turned the dried leaves of the palm into huts, sandals, and cooking utensils. They harvested the sweet fruit for food. Seeds were also used for gourd rattles. All of these materials were regularly traded with nearby Indian tribes. By transporting the fruit and seeds to other camps and settlements in the mountains and valleys, the Cahuilla were integral to the spread of the desert fan palm.

palm canyon fan palm grove

Palm Creation Myth

The Cahuilla have a creation myth that best illustrates the way they conceptualize their culture as interlinked with the desert palm. In the myth, the first Cahuilla man, Ma-ul, was growing old. Faced with his own mortality, he wanted to leave his people with something of lasting value. When he realized there were no palm trees, he knew what to give his people.

Legend has it that after finding a nice spring where water was coming out of the ground, he stood still and firm until slowly roots took hold and bark formed around his legs. Then, from his hair sprouted palm fronds. Ma-ul turned himself into the first palm tree in the desert.

Scenic view of a rocky mountainside in Palm Springs framed with a row of palm trees and other natural foliage.

See the World’s Largest Reserve of Filifera

Fact: Palm Canyon holds the world’s largest reserve of filifera.

Palm Canyon includes indigenous flora and fauna, which the Cahuilla people so expertly used, and its abundant Washingtonia filifera, breathtaking contrast to the stark rocky gorges and barren desert lands beyond. A moderately graded foot path winds down into the canyon for picnicking near the stream, meditation, exploring, hiking or horseback riding. While in Palm Canyon visit the Trading Post for hiking maps, refreshments, Indian art and artifacts, books, jewelry, pottery, baskets, weaving, and conversational cultural lore.

Three people hiking in Indian Canyons
Palm Canyon

Fact: Andreas Canyon has the second largest reserve of Filifera.

Palm Canyon, Andreas Canyon, and Murray Canyon make up the larger Indian Canyons.

The contrasting greens of the magnificent fan palms and more than 150 species of plants within a 1/2 mile radius creates a lush oasis. A scenic foot trail leads through the canyon passing groves of stately skirted fan palm, unusual rock formations and the perennial Andreas Creek. One can still see bedrock mortars and metates used centuries ago for preparing food. This tranquil setting is excellent for photography, bird-watching, or a picnic at one of the tables along the trail.

andreas canyon

Admission

Purchase your day-hike tickets at the Indian Canyons Toll Gate,  38520 S. Palm Canyon Drive. It’s a short distance from downtown in south Palm Springs.

Hikes & Tours

There are season ranger led hikes in both Palm and Andreas Canyons – October through June. They are included in your paid admission.

Red Jeep Tours also offers a walking tour through both Canyons. Admission is included in this tour.

desert adventures red jeep tours

Smoke Tree Stables offers an amazing horse back riding experience. Ride time is 1.40 hours. They trailer the horses into the beautiful Indian Canyons for a ride along streams and through the native fan palm groves. The ride is from Andreas Canyon to Murray Canyon and back.

smoke tree stable indian canyons

7 Hikes in Palm Canyon

Hiking Lower Palm Canyon Trail

 

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