"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.
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 a 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.