road runner

Where to View 10 Desert Species in Greater Palm Springs

There are guided tours, nature walks, and hikes with experts who can safely show and inform you about these critters.

Karen Graninger Attractions

road runner

With all its comfort and luxury, Palm Springs is also located in one of the hottest, driest landscapes on earth. As a result, it features distinct fauna, some of which are endangered and found only in the Coachella Valley.

What is the best opportunity to view desert species in their natural habitat? Several valley organizations offer guided nature walks, hikes, biking and jeep trips that you can customize to include seeing several desert species.

“There are several great sources, public and private, which provide nature-oriented, canyon and custom-hiking tours,” explains Tracy Albrecht, interpretive specialist for the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument and Bureau of Land Management, “Keep continuous watch on the tour calendars at the different locations as certain species of wildlife can more easily be seen at specific times of the year.”

Desert species can be seen at these locations in conjunction with classes and/or hikes.


Featuring long legs, strong feet, and an oversized dark bill, Roadrunners are a common sight in the desert. Join the Nature Walk to Windy Point Dunes with Albrecht to watch for roadrunners and other desert fauna. This ever-changing, serene, and remote dune system provides stunning habitat and scenery for endangered and rare species. Bring water and sun protection. Free, but RSVP is required. January 17, 2018 from 8:30-11 a.m..

Location: Meet at Whitewater/ Tipton Road at Highway 111

Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. 760-862-9984;

Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard

Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve is home to this endangered reptile. The distinct Desert Pupfish can also be found at the preserve. Guided hikes are available that also include an expert overview of the preserve’s history, flora, and fauna. Contact Preserve Manager Ginny Short for updated hike schedules.



Though the Coachella Valley Fringe-Toed Lizard is still endangered, preservation efforts are working to save its habitat.

Thousand Palms Oasis in the Coachella Valley Preserve, 29200 Thousand Palms Canyon Road, Thousand Palms. 760-343-1234;

Burrowing Owl

For a chance to see one of these, travel south to the Salton Sea during December through April. Contact Project Leader Christian Schoneman at U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for more information on how and where to see the burrowing owl.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge, 906 West Sinclair Road, Calipatria. 760-348-5278;



Burrowing owls hunt throughout the day and night. They generally stay close to the ground and grab food with their talons.



The exoskeleton of the scorpion glows under black light. There are theories as to why, but no firm answer.


Head to the Black Rock Canyon Nature Center for the “Insects and Arthropods of the Morongo Basin” class. Join Kurt Leuschner as he explores the largest group of animals in the world. Enjoy a special night session to see scorpions under a black light. Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m. and also Dec. 2 at noon.

Insects and Arthropods of the Morongo Basin. Black Rock Canyon Nature Center, 9800 Black Rock Canyon Road, Yucca Valley. 760-367-3001;

Desert Bighorn Sheep

The cliffs near the Whitewater Preserve are highly recommended for seeing bighorn sheep. Free interpretive programs are ongoing, but reservations are recommended. There is a visitor facility, ranger station, a trailhead leading to the Pacific Crest Trail, and paths around the trout ponds. You will need permits for after hours hiking and overnight camping.



Peninsular Desert Bighorn Sheep eat a vast variety of desert plants, including cacti.

Whitewater Preserve, 9160 Whitewater Canyon Road, Whitewater, 760-325-7222;

Kangaroo Rat

The kangaroo rat is most active at night. What better way to possibly see this creature than during the Monument Night Adventure. Take a short walk along the Art Smith Trail looking for the nocturnal creatures of the desert. It’s a family event and parents must accompany children. Wear closed-toed shoes and bring some water. Sept. 16, 7:15-9 p.m. RSVP is required.


Kangaroo rats can leap a distance up to 6 feet long and 9 feet high.

Monument Night Adventure, Art Smith Trailhead, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. 760-862-9984;

Gambels Quail and
the Tarantula

The Hike to Vargas Palms includes a chance to see Gambels Quail in several habitats including desert wash, sand dunes, rocky canyon and native palm oases. Male tarantulas go on daylight prowls for females in December. You’ll want to bring sun protection, water, and a snack. Be prepared for windy conditions. Free, but a RSVP is required by Dec. 4. Hike is Dec. 6 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. It is a moderate, 1,000-foot elevation change, 5-mile hike.

Location: Meet ½ mile south on Snow Creek Road at Highway 111. West of Windy Point, near the Interstate 10 and Highway 111 intersection.



Gambel’s quails can travel in coveys up to 10 or more birds.

Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. 760-862-9984;

Coachella Valley Milk vetch

To maximize your chance of seeing this plant’s delicate, purple petals, join the Wildflower Workshop with Albrecht. Learn the names of common flowers and where to view the most blooms. Hand lenses and identification guides will be provided. Feb. 21, 2018 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Repeats on March 21, 2018. Free, but RSVP is necessary.

Santa Rosa & San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. 760-862-9984;



The Mojave Green Rattlesnake’s neurotoxic-hemotoxic venom is the world’s most potent rattlesnake venom.


Discover the world of desert snakes in a safe environment at the Desert Snakes: Mystery & Intrigue class with Dr. William Hayes. This is a classroom lecture on the desert’s venomous and non-venomous snakes, followed by an exploration in the desert to look for snakes and reptiles. The uses of snake venom will also be discussed. Sept. 24 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Desert Snakes: Mystery & Intrigue, Black Rock Canyon Nature Center, 9800 Black Rock Canyon Road, Yucca Valley. 760-367-3001;

Who Offers Tours

• The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center and Friends of the Desert Mountains team up to provide events and tours throughout the year. Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument Visitor Center, 51500 Highway 74, Palm Desert. 760-862-9984;

• Friends of the Desert Mountains, 51500 California 74, Palm Desert. 760-568-9918;

• The Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians’ Tahquitz Visitor Center presents cultural and educational exhibits and a 15-minute film on the “Legend of Tahquitz Canyon.”

• Trail Discovery takes adventurers on tours through Indian Canyons, San Jacinto State Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Painted and Ladder Canyons, and the Whitewater Canyon Preserve. Custom hikes are also available. Trail Discovery, P.O. Box 554, Palm Springs. 760-413-1575;

• Big Wheel Tours offers custom bike, mountain bike, hiking, jeep and SUV tours to the nature areas around the valley. They also rent bicycles. Big Wheel Tours, 74850 42nd Avenue, Palm Desert. 760-779-1837;

• Desert Adventures provides custom eco-tours to many valley sites and also offers private tours on its 800 acre Metate Ranch in the Indio Hills. Desert Adventures, 74794 Lennon Place, Suite B, Palm Desert. 760-324-5337;