Mountain Palm Springs

Not to be confused with the far more fabulous Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley, this series of palm-studded oasis features a moderate meandering through several California fan palm groves, a campground, and a rare grove of the bizarre elephant tree, also known as “torote” in Spanish.

Distance: 2.5 Miles
Elevation Gained: 500′
Difficulty: Easy
Time: 1:30
Critters: All kinds of peepers

Get there like this. 


I’m going to save an entire post for both the prehistoric holdover California fan palm as well as the utterly weird elephant tree. Both are relic species and are exceedingly rare, in spite of the fact that the California fan palm is ubiquitous in Los Angeles as an ornamental. I’ll explain how that happened later. But first, I’ll tell you about Mountain Palm Springs

Through some kind of geologic fluke that I know very little about, surface water is very close to the surface in two separate canyons that drain the Tierras Blancas Mountains. In some places, the water actually seeps through. Springs are strange things, and I often wonder where all that water actually comes from. I suppose each spring is a little different, but the one universal is that where springs bubble, life thrives. Nowhere is this more obvious and striking than at a desert oasis.

Mountain Palm Springs is an example. Palm Springs, which is named after one of the many oases in the canyons draining the San Jacinto Mountains is another. These springs support a bizarre prehistoric holdover from a much wetter time while also supporting a surprising amount of wildlife, including frogs, snakes, rodents, coyotes, birds, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions. Don’t ever be fooled that the desert is an empty place because it full of surprises.

It’s possible to do a simple 2.5 mile loop through this area and catch all of the groves. I did not do this as I intended to make it to Torote Bowl, which features a grove of the even rarer elephant tree. This tree, which is more frequently the size of a shrub, has a spotty distribution throughout the desert. I know very little about it beyond my own fascination with it. This location features several dozen of the tree, including one very large specimen that I could not find. Exploring Torote Bowl is really difficult since there are no trails and the landscape is a confetti of jagged granite boulders.

An elephant tree

This was a satisfying cap to the long walkabout through Bow Willow and Rockhouse Canyons. Short, sweet, unique, and satisfying, this small trail through groves of palm trees was just the thing after so much starkness. I hope to check out the campground here, which, along with Bow Willow, provides too quiet and remote desert campgrounds to enjoy and add to the ever-growing list of camping destinations.

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