Desert life foretold in Palm Springs
For outdoor enthusiasts looking for a family or multi-generational weekend getaway, Palm Springs, California will certainly fit the bill. Although there are hundreds of wonderful things to do here, three places should be on the top of the list for those traveling with people of different ages.
These top destinations are the Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, the Palm Canyons of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway. Getting to these places could allow you to ride the world’s largest revolving streetcar, hike through San Jacinto National Forest, feed a giraffe, and commune in nature along a perennial creek in a canyon. filled with palm trees.
The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens alone are worth the trip. Located in nearby Palm Desert, it spans approximately 2,000 acres and celebrates not only the American deserts, but other arid climates around the world, such as the African savanna and Australia. Some 500 animals, representing 150 species from these regions, have taken up residence there.
One of the most popular exhibits is the African Safari, where you can see cheetahs, zebras and giraffes. You may even be lucky enough to feed one of the giraffes. The Savannah Giraffe Habitat is now home to a herd of 10 giraffes, thanks to the recent birth in February (2022) of a baby girl who weighs 143 pounds and is 5ft 10in tall.
The Living Desert Botanical Gardens has 50 immersive gardens representing the deserts of North America and Mexico. There are also nature trails, animal displays and interactive attractions for kids of all ages. To reserve tickets, call 760-346-5694 or visit www.livingdesert.org
The best places to hike in or near Palm Springs are in the Indian Canyons, managed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, descendants of the original settlers of Palm Springs. The canyons are just a short drive from anywhere in the city; 6,700 acres (of the reservation’s 32,000 total) are actually within the city limits. The four main canyons are Palm, Andreas, Murray and Tahquitz, all a bit different but all home to the California fan palm (Washingtonia filifera).
If you only have the time or inclination to hike in a canyon I would suggest Andreas as it is a loop trail about 1 mile long and follows the palm-fringed banks of the ever-flowing Andreas Creek. There are plenty of places to access the creek, rest, and take in the sights and sounds. On the rocks along the way you can still see metates, depressions in the rock formed centuries ago to grind food.
Back when the Cahuillas lived here undisturbed, the canyons provided all their needs. There was plenty of water, game, and over 200 different plants useful for food, shelter, and clothing. Even today, depending on the time of year, location, and time of day, you might be able to see wild ponies, mule deer, and peninsula sheep.
One of the highlights of a trip to Palm Springs would be to ride the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, the largest revolving tram in the world. This takes visitors on a breathtaking climb up Chino Canyon to Mount San Jacinto State Park. It’s definitely not a ride for those afraid of heights as it soars from 2,643 feet at Valley Station to 8,516 feet at Mountain Station in just 2 ½ miles and 10 minutes.
Once you disembark the tram, you’ll find restaurants and observation decks with stunning views of the Coachella Valley below. Directly behind the station are the starting points for 50 miles of forest hiking. At this elevation it will be about 30-40 degrees cooler than in Palm Springs and even in the spring there could be snow, so dress accordingly. For more information, call 888-515-8726 or visit www.pstramway.com.
For accommodations, restaurants and other information about the Palm Springs area, visit www.visitgreaterpalmsprings.com.
Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books on hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility”. Wall can be contacted at Deborabus@aol.com.