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Flora of the Desert

Location: Palm Springs Calfornia

I wasn’t expecting to fall in love with the desert. But after two and half months in the Coachella Valley, I’ve been inspired and intrigued with the unusual beauty of the flora of the desert.

Sunnylands

Flora of the Desert

Coming from the wet and evergreen region of the Pacific Northwest I was unfamiliar with desert plant life. Of course I have seen a variety of deserts in our world travels, but never have I spent an extended period living in the desert. From our Airbnb in Palm Desert California I quickly became infatuated with the unique variety of the flora of the desert as well as the beautiful and musical birds.

Roadrunner

The Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley is an ancient seabed but today it is an arid desert 50 miles long and 15 miles wide. Surrounded by mountains, including two of California’s highest (San Jacinto and San Gorgonio) the valley sits in a rain shadow from the Pacific Ocean air. This dry region has more than 300 days of sun and averages 3.3 inches of rain a year. So the flora of the desert is uniquely suited to this harsh dry environment.

Moorten Botanical Gardens

There are dozens of ways to get into the desert and explore the beauty of it. There are also options right in town to learn about the desert without venturing out into the harsh climate. Whatever suits your needs, you will find it here. No matter what you do, take a moment to learn a bit about this magnificent ecosystem, its plants, birds and wildlife.

Where to Explore and Learn

Here is a list of some of the best places to enjoy the beauty, learn the lingo and history, and revel in the unique beauty of this valley.

Close to Town;

Living Desert and Zoo, Palm Desert – You’ll need to buy a ticket to the zoo, but it’s worth it to get out into the natural environment adjacent to the zoo known as the Living Desert. If you are up for an invigorating hike, climb up Eisenhower Mountain to enjoy the valley views and look across to the San Andreas Fault. The natural desert landscape is dry and barren with cactus, mesquite, creosote and much more. Learn more here.

Living Desert

Sunnylands, Rancho Mirage – the stunning landscaped desert gardens offer four distinct looks at desert life including an audio walking guide. All for free. The gardens include a sunken garden, a wildflower garden, a labyrinth and a wide variety of cactus. To visit the landscaped area around the mid-century modern home you can take a guided tour for $25. This is possibly my favorite thing in the greater Palm Springs area. Learn more here.

Sunnylands

Coachello Preserve, Thousand Palms

This little known spot turned out to be one of our favs. You can wander the Palm oasis or venture out into the desert known as Moon Country. There are several hikes offering great 360 degree views. Learn more here.

Coachella Valley Preserve


Moorten Botanical Gardens, Palm Springs – this little hidden gem in the heart of Palm Springs has a $5 entrance fee. Wait. What? How can this 85 year old cactus oasis only be $5? Best little gem in the valley. Learn more here.

Moorten Botanical Gardens

Indian Canyons, Palm Springs – entrance to this area on the ancestral lands of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians is $9 per person but the wide variety of hiking options is totally worth it. A great way to see and enjoy the palm oasis and palm trees in their natural, unadulterated habitat. Hike to a waterfall, see a wide variety of cactus and birds. Picnic areas available. Learn more.

Indian Canyons

Shield’s Date Farm, Indio – Date cultivation is big business in the valley, but date trees are not natural to the valley. Learn how the dates have been adapted to this desert area at Shield’s Date Farm. Learn more.

Further Afield;

Joshua Tree National Park – a little more than an hours drive from Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park is chock full of nature walks and longer hikes to get up close and personal with some of the high desert flora. You’ll also see astonishing boulders and of course, the namesake of the park the Joshua Tree. The park has three entrances (north, south and west) with the west entrance closest to Palm Springs. Learn more.

Joshua Tree

Palm to Pines Highway – Highway 74, fondly known as the Palm to Pines Highway leaves from Palm Desert and climbs up up up. Even if you only go as far as Vista Point (great views back on the valley) or the Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point (interpretive signs tell the story of the ancient life of the Cahuilla people) it’s a fun and easy tour of local flora.

Cahuilla Tewanet Vista Point

Like any natural environment be aware of your surroundings at all times. Rattlesnakes are present even in landscaped and cultivated areas. Other predators are also present, watch for warning signs. Always bring lots of water and stay hydrated. Even when cool the dry air can take it’s toll. Wear a hat and sunscreen whenever you are out and about.

Joshua Tree

Visiting the Coachella Valley of California is a must for anyone who loves plants and appreciates our earth’s varying ecosystems. Learning about the ancient history of this valley will help you appreciate what remains of the vast desert that once stretched for miles.

Read about our visit to Idyllwild California – Idle Away in Idyllwild

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12 Comments

  • Reply Kristina

    Gorgeous photos. I live in Southern California and only visited Joshua Tree for the first time a couple of years ago. I was instantly in love with how beautiful it is. I’ve been to Palm Springs and Indio several times too and always ask myself “why don’t I do this more often?” It’s such a world away from the city.

    March 12, 2021 at 5:37 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      Thanks kristina. It is very unique place

      March 13, 2021 at 4:43 pm
  • Reply Linda (LD Holland)

    I must admit that we were surprised at the variety we found in the desert. In both the cactus but in the other flora. And we did not expect the roadrunners to be so small! We wish we had visited Joshua Tree National Park when we stayed in Palm Desert. Next time!

    March 13, 2021 at 9:12 am
    • Reply Laureen

      Thanks Linda. We have enjoyed it very much. Our last day here today.

      March 13, 2021 at 4:43 pm
  • Reply Alison

    What a fabulous post. I’m definitely inspired, and would love to explore this place, and go hiking there.

    March 13, 2021 at 10:40 am
  • Reply Alma

    I am most intrigued by the flora in the desert! So different to what we have in our semi arid or arid landscapes in South Africa. Love your photos.

    March 15, 2021 at 3:30 am
  • Reply Chirasree Banerjee

    What a beautiful and unique post. I would love to go and explore Coachella Valley and see the flora of the desert in person. Perhaps next year! Thanks for sharing with us.

    March 18, 2021 at 12:58 pm
    • Reply Laureen

      You would love it.

      March 20, 2021 at 5:41 am
  • Reply Bree

    The desert is such a stark contrast of parched land and beautiful flowers and plants. I have never seen a road runner real other than the Road Runner in the cartoons lol.

    March 19, 2021 at 5:39 pm
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