The Natural Side of Coachella, California

(Last Updated On: December 11, 2020)

Lane’s choice for hiking this morning is the Coachella Valley Preserve.We leave our favorite coffee shop knowing that the visitor’s center at Coachella will not be open when we arrive. (Have I mentioned that nothing out here opens before 8 a.m. and, apparently, any time before 9 a.m. is considered “early?”) That’s ok though, because there is sure to be a trail map posted and we can wander around for a while and then go back and check in at the visitor’s center to find out where the best flowers are.

We find the visitor center hiding in a palm oasis. As expected, it is closed. Also as expected, there is a trail map posted. Unfortunately that map is tiny, damp, and all but unreadable. Where are we? How long are the trails? How do you even reach the trails from here? Oh my.

Without a map I’m hesitant to wander too far, so we decide to check out the oasis. (It is, after all, cool and shady and right here.)

We follow a raised wooden trail that takes us into the oasis. It is dark and shady, the air heavy with the smell of rotting vegetation.

Now I realize how much work has gone into the maintenance of the other oases we have visited – clearly this is what a natural oasis looks like. It is not a neat, manicured place – the debris from the fan palms must be at least three feet deep. It looks and feels very different from the others we have visited.

The trail lead us through the oasis and then out into higher, drier land.

We think there is another oasis four miles ahead, but, since we’ve been averaging 1½ hours per mile on our hikes (I need time both to absorb my surroundings and to shoot) four miles is farther than I want to go this morning. . . and I don’t know that there will be flowers there. (There are none here.) I want to see flowers – after all, that is the whole reason for being here now!

So we head back through the oasis to the visitor’s center, where we find a large tour group. So much for peace and solitude. (I hope they are headed to some other part of the park.)

The visitor’s center now has lights on, but the door is still closed. Hmm. . . I wonder if it is open. Another visitor tries the door, pushes it open and steps in – only to be told by a rather unfriendly woman that the center is closed until 10 today.

10?!? But wait! That’s a couple hours away. “Is there a map? All I need is a trail map and some idea where to find the best flowers.”

The volunteer (I know everyone who works here is a volunteer, so I’m trying to be patiently) gives me a frustrated look (clearly there are other things she needs to tend to). “We haven’t had maps for months. There is a map on the outside wall.”

“Yes, I know. But I can’t read it. Can you just show me on the map where we are?”

I must look really desperate because she follows me outside to the photocopied map tacked to the wall. “We’re here.” She points to the map. “There are good flowers here and here – it’s about 8 miles round trip. See, the mileages are at the top.”

“Are there any places with flowers that aren’t such a long hike?”

“There are flowers just down the road. Get back in your car, go out the driveway, and turn back toward Palm Springs. There is a turnout on the left. Park there and you’ll find a trail.”

At that point she turns brusquely and goes back in the visitor center, ignoring the questions of another visitor and closing the door firmly behind her. (If you visit here, find and print a map from the web just in case.)

Lane is skeptical that that there is another parking place along the road – we didn’t we notice it when we came in – but, sure enough, there is indeed a small turn-out exactly where she said it would be.

We pull in, get out of the car and follow a path through what appears from the road to be rather empty scrub. We are in a sea of flowers.

We wander toward a mud cliff, sometimes following the trail, sometimes walking along the washes that weave through the area. We are within sight of the road, but utterly alone in this large, quiet landscape.

My flower-shooting Zen-state is unexpectedly interrupted by a distinctive a rattle.

Without ever having heard this sound before, I know exactly what it is and instinctively leap up and backward, only going to investigate once I know where the danger lies and my heart has stopped racing.

Finally, after all these years I’ve finally seen a rattle snake!

(I’m not sure whether it is a Western Diamondback or a Mohave – I wasn’t going to get that close and, to be honest, it didn’t give me a lot of time to observe it.)

We continue on the path a while longer, but it’s hard to slip back into a photography reverie now that I have been reminded of the need to keep an eye out for dangerous critters.

When we turn back, we follow the wash instead of the trail, thus avoiding the brush where the snake had been hiding.

Instead of simply following the trial back to the car, we take another trail that wraps around the base of a mud and rock cliff, leading us through waves of flowers.

Next post: A Cacti Extravaganza

California desert wildflower tour

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