Many people think the North American Desert region is this arid land where nothing grows. A landscape dominated by sand and rocks. Moreover, the mere thought of walking through the desert creates visions of sun-bleached bones and ill-fated travelers struggling to survive under the merciless sun. But in reality this desert hides a lot of nice surprises. It can be stunningly beautiful, quite green and really enjoyable. You just have to choose the right place and the right time to visit it.
One of my favorite hikes in California is the Tahquitz Canyon in the Sonoran Desert of the Coachella Valley, next to Palm Springs. This is a moderate hike that follows a narrow valley and culminates with a really beautiful waterfall.
Owned by the Agua Client tribe of the Cahuilla Indians, Tahquitz Canyon was only recently transformed into the well-maintained area that you see today. For centuries, tales of a Cahuilla Indian shaman who was roaming the canyon kept people away from it. The legend says that the shaman, whose name was Taquitz, first practiced the art of healing. But in time became increasingly mischievous degenerating into a soul-devouring spirit. According to some stories, his presence is still felt in the canyon to this day, manifesting himself through thunders, earthquakes and meteor showers. In more recent times, the canyon became an attraction for some gangs who liked to party here. Later on, hippies and homeless took up residence in the canyon caves and began spray-painting graffiti on the bolders and trashing the area. In 1969, after several such incidents, the Cahuilla Indians were forced to close the canyon to the public. Tahquitz Canyon remained closed for 30 years, until 1998, when the Aqua Caliente Tribal Council organized a big clean up and the restoration of the canyon. It was only in 2001 that Taquitz Canyon was finally open to the public for hikes.
To get on the trail you have to pass through the Visitor Center. The is a $12.50 entry charge which may seems a little steep for such a small attraction, but seeing how well the area is being maintained you’ll realize it’s not a actually that much. You have the option to walk through the canyon alone, which we did, or opt for a guided tour.
At the Visitor Center you are being provided with a map that has some points of interest marked on it, which you can easily locate along the trail. The 2 mile long looping trail is a little steep and sometimes rocky, with many rock steps to climb, but is not difficult. The views are gorgeous, you walk surrounded by beautiful native plants and you may even spot some wildlife. For the most part of the year, a sparkling stream runs through the canyon floor — a flow that for thousands of years made life possible for the Indians who populated the area. There are a couple of small bridges crossings the water which proves the trail is really maintained.
The climaxing the hike up the canyon is a spectacular waterfall that has remained unchanged for thousands of years. The 60-foot drop of water pours beautifully over the rock straight into a pretty deep pool. Even after the drought of the past several years, there is still enough water in the Tahquitz Canyon waterfall. For the desert area this kind of waterfall is quite impressive, since in Southern California waterfalls are rather small and scarce. From the Tahquitz Canyon Fall, the trail turns back towards the valley and starts descending. Along the way, you find a shaded smaller waterfall with a pond.
Best to visit the canyon is in the early morning, before the sun is overhead. We visited the area in April and it was already pretty hot. In summer the temperatures go up to over 100ºF in this area. There are some side trails that you can also hike, so be sure to pick up the trail map at the Visitor Centre. Going up the canyon to the waterfalls, take the left side which is a little shaded and come back down on the right, which is the easier part of the trail.
The canyon has very little shade, no restroom facilities and no water fountains, so be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen, plenty of water and use the bathrooms at the Visitor Center before you start the hike. The hike is good exercise, although relatively short – about one hour return. The canyon and the waterfalls are well worth the effort and the entrance fee that you pay. Parking is also very easy.