October 6, 2006
Today, Pat showed me where the Dos Palmas Preserve is located. If you follow that link to its official website, you'll see they give you only the vaguest description of its location, which is how I ended up looking for it in North Shore last week. And if you go to this site they pretend to give you a map to the Preserve, but if you click on it, you will be amazed to discover that this precious and historic preserve is right in the heart of Palm Springs! Hardly.
Here you will find a Google Map hovering right over the oasis in the Dos Palmas Preserve. To get there, just drive south on Route 111 to Parkside Drive, which is easy to find because it is directly opposite the entrance to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area which has a big sign, but gets almost no visitors. The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is on the right (western) side of the road. To get to Dos Palmas, you turn left, eastward, away from the Salton Sea. Just follow the paved road. After the pavement ends, you'll get an occasional sign that either is the generic "wildlife viewing" sign, or a Dos Palmas sign to help guide you. But just follow the biggest, best condition dirt road and you'll eventually come to the parking area for Dos Palmas Preserve and the San Andres Preserve. You have to walk from here, and Dos Palmas is probably ¾ miles. Follow this road:
The history of Dos Palmas is quite interesting. There's been a bit of a spring there ever since the first European explorers visited the spot in the 1820s. American explorers didn't get there until after California had become part of the U.S., and by then it had a couple of palm trees, hence the name. The Spanish, the Mexicans, the Americans and even the Roman Catholic missionaries had always been quite happy to leave Coachella Valley alone, to let the natives languish in their heathenism. The valley was considered so hot and inhospitable that it wouldn't have been any fun to come in and even massacre them.
That changed when somebody discovered gold at La Paz in Arizona, and Californians didn't want to take a slow boat around Baja and sail up the Colorado River to get there. They wanted to hump ass straight across from Los Angeles to Blythe, and that means negotiating Coachella Valley, which could only be done if you knew where the watering holes were. At about that time seismic activity caused the flow of spring water to increase at Dos Palmas. Was this a sign that God wanted white Californians to come into Coachella Valley, bringing measles and smallpox to the natives, killing well more than half of them? I'm sure we could find a couple of Republican Christians who would find that an acceptable interpretation.
But I digress. Dos Palmas went from a place to water your horse and bed down for the night, to a stage coach stop, to a watering stop for the railroad. It had a post office at one time. The Salton Sea happened. A crazy desert prospector, Frank Coffey, lived there a long time. A ranch was developed nearby.
By the 1940s there were hundreds of palm trees. Then the big change came: the building of the Coachella Canal just uphill from the oasis. The canal carried Colorado River water to the farmers of Coachella Valley (Indio, Mecca, Thermal). This stretch of the canal was unlined, so it leaked. Only now, in 2006, has a new concrete lined canal been built just downhill from the unlined one. The leaking canal fed an even greater quantity of water into the oasis. Somebody built fish ponds in the oasis (you can see them still in the Google Map link above). The palms went crazy. There are thousands of them now. It's a thick as a jungle. 99.99% of the palms are the only genuinely native American palm, the Washingtonia filifera, but a few are date palms that traveled here from the abundant date palm groves.
Today the place is a preserve, and the fish ponds are being maintained because fish have taken up permanent residence and the area has become an important stop for migrating birds. In fact, now that the Coachella Canal will soon stop leaking, the CVWD has agreed to squirt out a bit of water from the canal to continue to support the luxuriant growth at the oasis (I think that comes out of San Diego's water allocation).
I've put all 63 photos together in a set on Flickr, and here are a few samples: