I have been coming to the Palm Springs Indian Canyons for as long as I can remember. As a matter of fact, some of my first very vivid memories are from there, hiking with my mom and dad, picnicking under the lush canopy of towering palms, and trudging through the aqua blue water. I say it every time I’m there, it doesn’t matter if it’s the first time of the 5-hundredth time, every time will take your breath away. I say it’s the definition of magic. It’s so truly beautiful that you feel like somehow you landed in the backdrop of a painting of Utopia.
Purple mountains, laced with wildflowers A lapis colored sky, an orange glowing desert holding back a tropical oasis.
Now open…you’re here, a spot where the horizon gets lost in awe. Where you can walk amongst giants, feel the power of nature’s blessings and take pause to sense what solitude must have been like thousands of years ago.
Raven Longbow has been a ranger with the tribe for many years, he says this place has it’s own type of magic. “It’s like they say the secrets that are between the leaves and under the rocks are existent out here.”
You can feel it, whatever it may be, a sense of self, of calm, of past, or of purpose, you can feel it. Palm Canyon, is the largest undisturbed Palm Oasis in the world. Fifteen miles long, it snakes along the base of Mount San Jacinto which provides a year round water source for the 2-thousand native California Fan Palms. Its caretakers, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians who settled in these canyons and lived here, in peace for centuries.
Longbow says, this area wasn’t just part of the Cahuilla universe, to them, it was the whole universe. The tribal legend of how this Shangri-La came to be is still passed down through generations.
“A long time ago there was an elder in the tribe and he felt his spirit was leaving him and time was growing short he wanted to be useful always in his being and when he passes. What can he leave for the people. He walked throughout the cv and said I will become a palm tree.”
The elder, Maoul, planted himself next to a stream. His body became still and rigid, his hair became fronds, his good thoughts, palm fruit. As the legend goes, Maoul became rooted to the earth, leaving his people a source for food, water, and a home wherever there’s a palm tree.
The palms that you see in the Indian Canyons are the largest palms anywhere in north america . They can reach up to 60 feet in height sometimes even higher. Ecologist Jim Cornett, is a leading expert on native fan palms, or Washingtonia Filifera. He has traveled the world far and wide studying Palm Oases. He says you can’t duplicate the stark contrast of Palm Canyon anywhere else on the planet.
Cornett says, “I’m sitting in the Colorado desert subdivision of the north American desert which is the hottest driest environment outside of death valley of any place in all of north America and so we should be hot and thirsty right now but we’re not because we’re sitting in a palm oasis.”
The Cahuilla people expertly used every part of the fan palms, primarily for shelter and for food. They not only survived in this canyon, they thrived.
Something else that is so incredible about this spot is that you can actually touch mortar holes in several spots throughout the canyons. The mortars were used by Indian women to grind up the palm fruit, which they used to make cakes. I was told that every inch of depth is equal to 100 years of use.
Longbow says, there’s always going to be science and there’s always going to be spirit. The Cahuilla people want everyone to feel that spirit, to walk these trails, in the footsteps of their ancestors.
To know the trees, the animals, the water. To stand beneath the falls and feel the power of nature. To appreciate all the life that exists here, in a spot that is the most unreal looking real you can imagine. Palm Canyon, take it in, hold it close, protect it just as the Cahuilla have for 3-thousand years.
Longbow continues, “you can forget a lot of things but don’t forget the word achema. that is the most important word in the Cahuilla language, achema simply means, thank you.”
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