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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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