"This place has a great vibe." Jay said while gazing down over a recreated Cahuilla Indian encampment from an eagle's eye hillside view, "People need to know about this." Those were my exact sentiments as I busily scribbled more cryptic notes in my notebook while on this amazing Palm Springs assignment for Jetsetters Magazine. After a glorious three hour Indian Cultural Tour with Desert Adventures, I had amassed over six full pages of notes on Desert Adventures, history, agriculture, and most importantly, the first occupants of the Palm Springs area - the Cahuilla Indians.

Desert Adventures offer
many off road jeep safaris
exploring the Coachella Valley.

For over 14 years, Desert Adventures has been 4x4'ing their way through the desert in and around Palm Springs, California. Trust me, they have lots of big red Jeeps: 18, but who's counting. They can lead any size group from one to 116 people on any of their three fully escorted regular Jeep tours. They range from the one I took, the Indian Cultural Adventure, to Lost Legends of the Wild West Adventure, where you can explore "Faultline, Californy," a replica of the Wild West mining camps that sprang up in the late 1800's and learn about mining techniques in a walk-through replica of an old mine. You can enjoy the colorful local history and legends of a rowdy by-gone era when settlers came here in search of freedom and fortune.

Or, adjust your geological clock and go on the Mystery Canyons Adventure. This compass points to the awe inspiring Mystery Canyons, described by geologists as the most tortured landscape on Earth. Thrust up by tectonic collisions and cut into endless mazes by water, these steep walled canyons and ravines along the San Andreas Fault document the passage of time with unerring accuracy. If that's not enough, hiking is geared to your group's ability, from a casual nature walk to the infamous "hike of death!" Looking for that special someone, or something to eat? This tour even includes a stop at date ranch.

Maybe you need to focus on astrological pursuits by taking their Night Watch Adventure. As the sun sets in the West, you'll have the memorable experience of watching the cities light up as twilight and silence envelope the desert, and dramatic rock formations are washed with twilight hues on this surrealistic landscape along the San Andreas Fault. As the twilight deepens, the sparkling stars and peaceful solitude provide aOutdoor Gear Here unique magic found only in the desert, with crystal clear skies providing a view of the stars that many of us remember only from childhood. The stars are so brilliant, it's as if an interplanetary jewel thief fell in his escape and littered the sky with diamonds. The moon is so close you can stir its craters with your fingertips. This Jeep tour is offered in warm months and on evenings with a full moon.

High Desert 4 x 4ing in the Mojave is the only way to experience the outback around Palm Springs, California.

In addition, custom tours can be arranged for everything from wedding parties, hiking, mountain biking excursions, and corporate team building programs. Whether you are six years old or a senior citizen, you will certainly enjoy a Desert Adventure Jeep Eco-Tour as they tread lightly through the desert. Relax, each and every guide is fully trained as a naturalist, geologist, historian, narrator, and first aid and CPR certified.

They will even pick you up at your hotel. Be sure and pack your camera and sun block if you're heading out in daylight. Being a constant grazer, I was happy to learn that food and drinks are provided, and range from water and snacks on the Jeep tours, up to fully catered events for hundreds of people with beer, wine, and a full bar. Dress comfy and casual, and be ready to enjoy these tours that have won Desert Adventures numerous awards. Talk about a professional organization, Desert Adventures even has one person solely dedicated to maintaining all 18 radio equipped Jeep CJ-8's to ensure that they are in tip top condition for exploring old cultures and new environments.

Off the Road, Again - On my eco-tour, my guide was called "Spirit Walker." It seems that each guide is given a suitable nickname after completing his or her intensive three-month training. For Jay Brown, aka Spirit Walker, he has lived in the Palm Springs area for over 46 years and is a walking encyclopedia for flora, fauna, geology, history and just about anything else you ask him.

The spirits of the first inhabitants, the Cahuilla Indians, are alive and kicking and well represented by Jay. Aside from being a very down to earth decent human being, he cares about this natural desert environment and loves to share it with passengers on his Jeep CJ-8. He commandeered this rugged Jeep for me, another guest coincidentally named Jay, along with his girlfriend from Buenos Aires and led us to the path less traveled.

Mountains in the Mojave Desert
nd the Coachella Valley.

Imagine land selling for $250 - $500 per acre way before the late 1950's when the rat pack was escaping from Los Angeles to sip martinis by the pool in the hip hideaway known as Palm Springs. In fact, the United States government declared the Coachella Valley area to be a wasteland as they sold off hundreds of acres and gave away 2 ½ acre parcels as a result of the Homestead Act. With its natural beauty, the desert certainly isn't for everyone with its contrasting harsh climate. Thanks to the Wilhelm Family Trust, over 900 acres purchased in the 1960's were set aside as an undisturbed natural environment to study the natural beauty and artifacts left behind by hundreds of generations of Cahuilla Indians. It's on some of these pristine, undisturbed acres that Desert Adventures led us for our Indian Cultural Tour.

To get there, we passed some of the 75,000 acres of agriculture: peppers, carrots, lettuce, artichokes, broccoli, grapes, and dates. This agricultural goldmine reaps over $600 million dollars in annual income. Desert wasteland? I don't think so. With only four inches of annual rainfall, it's amazing how the only native fan palm tree, the Washingtonia Filifera or the California Fan Palm, prospers as each sucks more than 30 gallons of water every day from the underground aquifers. This palm tree is the largest of the 2,500 species of palms worldwide and thrives in this desert location that is more than 400 feet below the water table.

Cahuilla Indian huts.

California palms were used by the small groups of Cahuilla Indians in a number of ways: as roofing for their thatched huts; the berries were boiled and mashed into a jelly and used as food; the fronds were used as sandals to protect sensitive feet from scorching sands; for fire tinder and woven into baskets for storing items; and most importantly, as a gathering and habitation site. Of course, these desert palms grow by underground springs, or oases, which, generally were along earthquake fault lines like these here by the San Andreas Fault.

Tough Times Call for Tough Measures. Natural desert flora includes the Arrow Weed, from which the dried stems were used for, guess what? Arrows. Rocks were ground into arrowheads and used primarily for hunting, since the Cahuilla Indians were a peaceful tribe, unlike other tribes. Palo Verde Trees provided bean pods, which allowed the Cahuilla Indians sustenance when boiled and ground into paste. Tempted by the fruit of another? Be sure and try some of the Mesquite Honey Bean, which was a storable, staple food that is as nutritious as barley.

I am no MD, nor do I play one on television, but it's not recommended that you drink a whole lot of water from an oasis, since it is heavily mineral laden and if consumed in large quantities will wreak havoc on your digestive system and cause diarrhea. With limited food and water supplies such as these, the Cahuilla Indians were fairly mobile in order to hunt and gather.

As we drove on this warm, sunny day under a big blue sky, Jay provided excellent narration and was eager to stop as we off roaded near the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. To really get a feel for how the Cahuilla Indians lived and ate, Jay showed us where to get more snacks if we were hungry: we picked and ate the sweet, raisin like shells from the date palm tree, which were actually pretty tasty! Of the 114 varieties of date palms, 20 are found in the Coachella Valley, and account for 95% of the U.S. production and 5% of the world production. As we munched, we toured the recreated huts in a Cahuilla Indian village, saw authentic recovered tools, weapons and a huge three-ton grinding rock. According to Jay, a good Cahuilla woman could grind seeds without wearing the grinding stone into sand. Although, by age 35, most Cahuilla Indians had teeth ground down pretty far from eating too much sand. Go figure.

Natural Palm Oasis in the heart of the
outback surrounding Palm Springs,
California and the Coachella Valley.

Like the Cahuilla Indians, the sand dunes are disappearing. Construction is eating up whatever desert land is not protected by the Federal Government or owned by the Indian Tribal Nations. With a population of over 270,000 people between nine incorporated and three unincorporated cities, the Coachella Valley still has a cool vibe. The hot, dry natural desert beauty still thrives in the cool, lush natural palm oases, canyons and rock formations that can be found within a short drive from downtown hotels. Year around, visitors from from across the world are heading to Palm Springs to soak up this cool, natural lifestyle and calm desert silence.

Call Jan at Desert Adventures any time of year and book any of these, or perhaps a custom Jeep Eco-Tour. More details can be found at http://www.red-jeep.com/index.html

By Donald Tatera, Southern California Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.
Joshua Tree Nat'l Monument, CA Joshua Tree Nat'l Monument, CA

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