Before you descend onto Palm Canyon, one of three main hiking trails in the Indian Canyons (Murray and Andreas are the others), give yourself a moment to behold the splendor of the landscape — particularly the dramatic meeting of Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountain ranges and the world’s largest grove of Washingtonia filifera palm trees — and consider its incredible history: centuries of Cahuilla life preceded the canyon’s popularity among visitors and hikers.
The story of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians traces through every twist and turn of this 15-mile trail. A ranger-led half-mile hike reveals everything you might want to know — from the flora and the fauna to how the land originally provided for the Cahuilla people since time immemorial.
Ranger Timothy Soulliere, our guide on a recent hike through Indian Canyons, has been coming to the canyons since his childhood and has amassed appreciable knowledge of the place and its people. He led us along the moderately graded footpath winding down into the canyon and revealed the reason the Cahuilla people made their home here since time immemorial: water. A stream runs along the path shaded by the glorious palm oasis. This became their main source of shade, shelter, and materials such as the juncus grass they used to weave baskets, plants and seeds they gathered for food and medicine, and the arrowweed they fashioned into hunting weapons and used to construct kish (the Cahuilla word for this traditional dwelling). They used fallen palm fronds to cover their hut-like homes. In one spot along the hike, Soulliere pointed out two of the dwellings, each with a hole on top that allowed for cooking inside the structure.
Also along the floor, he pointed out rocks with holes in them — mortars the Cahuilla people used to prepare food and medicine. The area was a gathering place where the Cahuilla people collected and ground the beans from mesquite into a flour to make cakes and biscuits. They used the mesquite wood for cooking. They’d also gather acorns and palm fruit, as well as the fragrant desert lavender used to make a tea to ease coughs and sore throats.
A ranger-led half-mile hike reveals everything you might want to know — from the flora and the fauna to how the land originally provided for the Cahuilla people since time immemorial.
Today, in addition to hikers, this particular slice of Palm Canyon draws visitors to picnic, meditate, and horseback ride. Visitors marvel at the exposed plates of the Palm Canyon fault line, which cuts through the middle of Palm Springs and meets the San Andreas Fault. The canyon has endured many earthquakes, floods, and fires over the years. Soulliere pointed some palm trees with burn marks dating to a 1980 fire. While the trees were singed, the tree remained intact because of its high water content.
If you’re lucky, you might even spot a peninsular bighorn sheep high up on the mountain. The endangered rams with their massive curled horns will fill you with awe. They’re extraordinary.
A Tribal ranger can tell you about every plant and creature you encounter in this storybook canyon. And you’ll certainly be encouraged to come back to see this incredible place in different seasons. As breathtaking as Palm Canyon is in the fall, springtime colors it with its magical bloom. “It’s amazing to see the contrast in the spring,” Soulliere says. “Everywhere you look, there are all sorts of different colors.”
At the end of the Palm Canyon hike, you return to where the hike began: at the Trading Post, where you can enjoy refreshments and find keepsakes such as art, books, jewelry, pottery, baskets, and weavings — a great way to remember your experience and deepen your appreciation for the indigenous people who continue to maintain this desert oasis.
The hike through Indian Canyons shows the natural beauty of the land that helped draw the Cahuilla Tribe to the area.
When You Go
Ninety-minute ranger-led hikes are free with admission from October through June on Fridays through Sundays at 10 a.m. (Palm Canyon) and 1 p.m. (Andreas Canyon).