only one palm tree native to California, and itís not
the one you see rising above Los Angeles.
might call it the bastard child of the palm family, with a
look akin to a shaggy monster from the Muppet world.
Underneath its familiar palm fronds lies a
"skirt" of their dead brethren covering the
entire trunk from top to bottom.
Castro, a tribal ranger at Indian Canyons, tells me this
skirt is like a condo: Insects, snakes and rodents live
below, birds and bats live in the midsection and raptors
prowl from up above. Thus, Indian Canyons is renowned
throughout the animal kingdom as the largest condo complex
of California fan palms.
humans know it as a great place for a hike. These
sprawling groves within the Agua Caliente Indian
Reservation follow the contours of the regionís natural
springs, which breathe life into the otherwise barren
wilds of Californiaís low desert. As I hike with Castro
along the waterways of Indian Canyons, it becomes
abundantly clear how nearby Palm Springs got its name.
its chic art galleries, boutique shops and boisterous gay
bars, itís hard to believe Palm Springs is just a
10-minute drive from this rugged wilderness. The famed
desert town is my entry point into the greater Coachella
Valley ó a place long regarded for its luxurious resorts
but lesser so for its myriad adventures.
in the Coachella Valley grew out of a quirk in early
Hollywood that prevented contracted stars from venturing
more than two hours from L.A.ís studios. Palm Springs
subsequently blossomed into an escape for Californiaís
rich and famous. Today the area is perhaps best known
outside California for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts
Festival, an event that draws 99,000 daily attendees each
spring during its six-day run, April 14-16 and 21-23 this
year (www.coachella.com). But this startlingly green oasis
is so much more than just the setting of an iconic
festival, and its attractions go far beyond the midcentury
modern architecture and pool-centered resorts Angelenos
flock to on the weekends.
come to this sun-kissed valley seeking its more
adventurous side, and to do so, Iíve based myself at the
Miramonte Resort & Spa in palm-lined Indian Wells.
resortís chef, Paul Hancock, explains that Coachella
Valley is home to a $626 million agricultural industry,
mainly in citrus fruits, sundried raisins and vegetables.
Heís revamped the seasonal menus at Grove Artisan
Kitchen to reflect a farm-to-fork ethos where the
ingredients are sourced from the propertyís gardens and
take one of Miramonteís bicycles to Shields Date Garden,
5 miles away, to try one of the regionís specialties:
the date shake. This enticing milk shake of vanilla ice
cream and sweet dates is perhaps never more appealing than
when slurped beneath the welcoming shade of a date palm.
the afternoon I trade two thin wheels for four thick ones
to chase the famed San Andreas Fault across the valley
with George Raymond of Big Wheel Tours. As we bump along
in his Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, Raymond tells me that
geologists call this section of the fault one of the most
tortured landscapes on Earth.
not hard to see why.
rock formations rise from the desert at 45-degree angles
alongside narrow slot canyons ripe for exploration and
sheer cliffs painted in rainbows thanks to their prismatic
mineral striations. There are also serene sections of the
fault where water was forced up to the surface, creating
more tropical oases of California fan palms.
alternate between paved park roads in the Coachella Valley
Preserve and rugged backcountry trails in the Mecca Hills
and Orocopia Mountains wilderness areas. As we bumble
along, we dig deeper into the stunning effects of plate
tectonics and what happens to the land here as the Pacific
Plate jams up against the North American one. Raymond says
this process actually shifts the earth "at about the
same rate it takes your fingernails to grow," making
this area an invaluable spot for geologists to study the
effects of tremors on the earthís crust.
my final day, I rise into the high desert above the valley
and enter Joshua Tree National Park, so named for its
cartoon-like yucca trees, whose twisted branches and
dagger-like leaves could have been designed by Dr. Seuss.
never been rock climbing, but Roddy McCalley of
Cliffhanger Guides convinces me that this is the place to
learn, thanks to the parkís other signature feature: its
granitic rock piles.
Tree is the birthplace of the Stonemasters, a crew of
Southern California rock climbers who pushed the sport to
unseen levels in the 1970s. The routes they pioneered are
now test pieces for aspiring climbers like me.
and I base ourselves in one of the Stonemastersí
favorite sections of the park, Indian Cove, to learn the
techniques of slab climbing on 80-foot Pixie Rock.
climbing is like dancing," he explains. "Itís
about balance and moving gracefully on your feet."
easier said than done. But once I pick up the techniques
of dancing on rock I come to appreciate the growing appeal
of the sport. Rock climbing is not only a physical
challenge but a mental one, too. As you puzzle together a
route up the rock, you gain a visceral connection with the
landscape that only comes from a duet with danger.
Valley ó and the neighboring wilds of Joshua Tree
National Park ó offer many adventures like these for
curious travelers. From meals inspired by the local larder
to hiking and biking along the valleyís edge, the
rewards are many for those willing to venture off-piste.