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Wandering the Desert, Part 1

A few weeks ago I took a solo vacation to Joshua Tree, Palm Springs, and surrounding area. Guided primarily by a 2009 "California Trips" book by Lonely Planet, I hiked almost every day of the seven I spent in the desert. When I travel to unknown lands I shy away from any serious planning, which usually serves me well (although I did miss out on securing a session at the Integratron) as it allows for unplanned bursts of energy and/or laziness.

One of the book's chapters focused on hikes to desert oases throughout the region. "Finding" a desert oasis was highly appealing to me, especially since I wouldn't be dying of thirst when I arrived and the trail would be clearly marked. So, hiking to oases was my primary directive for the entire trip as a means to achieving a stress-free, relaxed end. The first oasis I trekked to was the Hidden Palms oasis, located within the Coachella Valley Preserve, home of the fringe-toed lizard. 

Hidden Palms Oasis

Distance (round trip): 6.43 mi

Total climb: 2231 ft

Total time: 4 hrs

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The trailhead for this trail actually starts just down the road from the main visitor center, where I discovered most people do the short walk to the Thousand Palms oasis where there is actual standing water and one can see the San Andreas fault. I also learned that someone had introduced crawfish to the pool, and despite the best efforts of the staff, they were thriving. More recently, another person had dumped a bunch of koi fish into the pond. People suck.

Looking back from the beginning of the trail: the visitor center and parking lot can be seen off to the right.

This hike is not particularly scenic until one reaches the oasis, but one can see Indio and Palm Springs (and even the Salton Sea) to the South. As I walked through the scrubby, rocky terrain I encountered several lizards, a few bugs, and loud crows. 

Hidden Palms Oasis

After a relatively flat walk that eventually slopes downward, I came upon a gathering of palm trees. I was amused at how closely the oasis resembled childhood drawings, in which the trees spring forth from a yellow ground. While this one didn't have a turquoise pool of water at its center, the soil gets much sandier and softer, and I assume in wetter seasons there is some surface water.

Aw, baby palms.

As you can see, these palms differ from your typical lawn palm in that the old, brown fronds are not trimmed (unless, apparently, there is a fire). Anthropomorphizing a bit, they looked like shaggy, bearded desert guardians, with little baby palms at their feet. I rested here for about 30 minutes and had a snack before leaving the peaceful shade of the oasis. 

Bye bye, oasis!

The return trip was a bit more strenuous. I had applied my 50 SPF sunscreen twice at this point, and there was more vertical distance to cover as I meandered East towards Pushwalla Palms. I veered West back towards the visitor center along a ridge which came with additional views of the surrounding area. Again, not particularly beautiful but perhaps interesting from a geographic and geological standpoint.

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By the time I reached the visitor center, I had drank all of my water and asked one of the staff members where I could refill my bottles. I was informed that there was no public tap, but I could obtain a plastic bottle of water for a donation (unless I was "dying"). Hot, tired, and a little perturbed, I sat down in front of a fan and waited to cool down. Normally, I would have angrily pointed out the irony of bottled water for purchase in a nature preserve whose primary draw is an oasis, but I refrained. The magic of vacation was already working on my jaded attitude, and I returned to my lodgings for lunch.