Saturday, March 20, 2010

Desert Oasis

Bored with walking the asphalt paved campground streets, I talked Denny into wandering around the Coachella Valley Preserve, home of the California Fan Palm tree and the Fringe-toed lizard.  The 20,000 acres of the preserve were purchased in 1986 to ensure the survival of the fringe-toed lizard which is native to the area.  The lizard is so named because of the fringe-like appearance of its feet, which allow it to sort of swim through the sand dunes when it needs to hide from predators and the heat.  One of the preserves original owners had envisioned the area as a tourist attraction as far back as the early 1900s and the home he from the trunks of the native fan palm still stands as the visitor center.
As you approach the visitor center, this sign informs you that you are near the San Andreas Fault. I have to admit, I always envisioned the San Andreas fault as a big crevasse or chasm in the earth but here in the preserve the way it presents itself is through the water that pushes up through the fault area, creating this area of desert oasises (boy does that spelling look awkward).   And these folks were busily painting their own versions of the palm fans surrounding the visitor center.
The California fan palm tree, indigenous to the area, grows to a height of 45 feet.  The old palm fronds hang down when they when they die, forming a skirt around the trunk which shelters all sorts of creatures here, including owls.  The dark things you see hanging down in the picture are the fruit of the palm.
After you leave the visitor center you wander a wooden boardwalk above the marshy area created by the water coming up through the ground along the San Andreas fault. This oasis is called the Thousand Palm oasis and is cool and shady compared to the surrounding desert.
According to the information at the visitors' center, one might see brilliantly colored hooded orioles here, but all I saw was this dove perched on a dead palm tree.  The area is also home to kestrels, hawks, killdeer, cactus wrens, Gambrel quail and the ever present sparrow.

We didn't see a fringe-toed lizard, but did spot a couple of western zebra-tailed lizards.  Fortunately, neither did we see any rattlesnakes which are common.  I would have liked to have seen the bobcat that hangs around, but I imagine dawn or dusk would be the better time for animal sightings.

There are several trails in the preserve, but we took the shortest one leading to the McCallum Grove and Oasis.  Within the preserve plants and bushes are marked with descriptive signs and the trails are clearly marked.  At the time of our visit, the trail map brochures were in the process of being reprinted so none were available but the volunteer at the visitors' center told us they were planning on uploading them online in the future.

It was hot and dry on our walk and Denny had enough before we made it to Mc Callum's Grove, so I continued on while he sat in the shade of a small grove of fan palms.  The pond at Mc Callum's Grove has pupfish in it, which are not native to the area but have been placed there in an effort to save the species.  It's a quiet, peaceful place.  And certainly much more enjoyable than tromping around the campground.


Al Gaines said...

Am enjoying your guided tour of the USA. Keep it coming.

Anonymous said...

Would you believe that I have never seen a real live palm tree.. let alone a fringe-toed lizard. :-)

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