A little birdie told me that one of the best hikes in Palm Springs is through Tahquitz Canyon to the 60 foot waterfall. Since we had a day to spare after our Dinah experience we decided to check it out. After doing a little research, we decided to take a guided tour with a ranger for just $12 and it was one of the best hiking experiences I have ever had. There’s just so much history there.
We made a reservation and arrived at noon, the days hottest time of the day but the weather was perfect for hiking. We met up with Ranger Ralph and started with a short video to learn all about Tahquitz Canyon, who lived there, why it was called that, other historical events that happened in the canyon and what to expect on our hike.
Tahquitz Canyon is named after the first shaman created by Mukat, Tahquitz. In the beginning he used his power for the good of all people and became the guardian spirit of all shamans. Then Tahquitz began to use his power for selfish reasons. He started to use his power to harm the Cahuilla People. The people became angry and banished Tahquitz to the canyon. He now lives high in the San Jacinto Mountains in a secret cave below the towering rock known as Tahquitz Peak.
Today, the Agua Caliente Cahuilla (pronounced Kaw-we-ah) Indians believe that his spirit still lives in the canyon. It is said that he can sometimes be seen as a large green fireball streaking across the night sky and is the cause of the strange rumblings heard deep within the San Jacinto Mountains. They tell their children stories about seeing him on the mountain peaks. If you see him you should scream to scare him away because he is there ready to take the soul of someone below.
After hearing that terrifying story we were a little uncertain of going on the hike, but Ranger Ralph wouldn’t let anything happen to us. We started our trek and our first stop was at the mouth of the canyon, named Kakwawit, to learn about Palm Springs and how travelers used to use the hot spring as a bathing stop along their desert journey. Today the hot springs are located under one of the casino and spa resorts. Next time you head to Palm Springs look for the tall yellow resort and you might have just found the spot of the original springs.
We continued our hike along a dirt path and into the canyon stopping along the way to learn about the different plants. The main one Ranger Ralph spoke to us about was the mesquite tree. It was the most commonly used plant by the Cahuilla Indians and was even an abundant food source. Mistletoe can sometimes be found within the branches. It kills the mesquite, but the Cahuilla Indians had a use for that too. They would crush it to create dyes for there clothing and paintings.
We moved a short distance by the path and Ranger Ralph spoke to us about the river that currently runs through the canyon. Today, the river looks like more of a stream. The water comes from the snow on the mountains and runs all the way to the valley below. Many years ago, the river was much higher. The water would wash away the bacteria the grows on the rocks giving them their rust coloration. As you look around the canyon, the change in color on the rocks show you were the river once ran through the canyon.
We made a stop at Sacred Rock, one of the oldest Cahuilla village sites, where many rock mortars and a pictograph can be found. In the 1960’s the canyon was in pristine condition. In 1969 many people came to the area for a concert by the band Canned Heat. More than 1,000 fans moved into the canyon and for some reason they decided to never go home. The hippies, hermits, and homeless just kept coming. They lived in the rock shelters scattered throughout the canyon and made a complete mess which led the Cahuilla Indians to decide to close to the public the space they consider sacred. In 1997 the tribe came through and evicted all the squatters in an attempt to clean the area and bring the canyon back to it’s original condition. While cleaning the graffiti off the Sacred Rock they realized there was a pictograph underneath. Once they noticed they were extremely careful not to wash away anymore of the figure, but that was difficult. It is hard to make out, but if you look closely enough you will see a stick figure with it’s hands above it’s head and some diamond shapes in a line off to the side.
Our trek continued and we crossed the river over the cutest little rock bridge! A little further and we came upon the White Tree Pool (I think that’s the name). I thought back to the movie we had watched and realized that this was the place that they told the story of how Tahquitz came down from the canyon and stole one of the Cahuilla Indian women. He kept her in his cave for a few years and the people thought they would never see her again. Tahquitz realized that she was depressed and missed her family so he allowed her to return on one condition, that she never tell anyone what happened to her. She agreed and he let her go home, but the village people would not stop asking her about what happened. Eventually she gave in and told them the story about where she had been. That night she died as Tahquitz had told her would happen.
Ranger Ralph gave us additional information about the White Tree Pool. He told that in the beginning of 2013 the pool was 30 ft deep and crystal clear, but there was a fire at the top of the canyon that year. After they were finally able to put the fire out the ash settled in the canyon. As the river runs through, the ash gets washed down into the canyon we were hiking in that day. Unfortunately the White Tree Pool has been filled with soot and ash making the water cloudy and filling the pool so much that it’s new depth is only a few feet deep.
The next stop on our journey was at an old irrigation system originally made in 1830. The Cahuillan people used this to bring water from the canyon to their village for drinking and irrigation. At some point, possibly the early 1900’s, the irrigation system was upgraded with steel pipes brought into the canyon in sections and welded together. Today the system is no longer in use, but it’s fun to think about how it would have worked and how they would have gotten the materials there.
A quick stop just a few feet farther is a U.S. Geological Survey Gaging Station. This station was built in 1947 and is still being used today. The USGS monitors the water flow of the river, keeping a daily record.
To be continued…