As you walk to the Visitor Center from the parking lot, the massive size of the California Fan Palms here are amazing. The Visitor Center was constructed using palm trunks cut to 10' by Paul Wilhelm who inherited the land from his father, Louis Wilhelm. A 2' deep trench was dug, filled with cement, and the trunks were placed on end to create the building. After the cement dried he made clay and chinked between the logs. The roof was made of palm fronds (of course!)
Be sure to pick up a trail guide at the visitor center and check out the interesting exhibits there about the history of the area and the flora and fauna here. Cahuilla Indians roamed the Coachella Valley thousands of years ago. They spent their winters here at the oasis and summers in the cooler climate of the nearby mountains.
This was a stop along the Butterfield Stage Line in 1858, the Alexander & Co Stages from 1862-65, and the US Mail route from 1866-76. In 1900, a military scout, Alfred Thornburg, claimed 80 acres of desert land (that included the Thousand Palms Oasis) in accordance with the Homestead Act of 1820. He received his deed signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905. Subsequently, Louis Wilhelm traded two mules and wagon to acquire the land from Thornburg, and left it to his son, Paul when he died. Paul was a writer and an artist. Much of what is known of the history of the area is due to his column published by the Desert Sun in the 1940s. In 1984 the Nature Conservancy of California purchased 1,800 acres, including the Thousand Palms Oasis.
The docent at the Visitor Center advised us that the McCallum Trail was the most popular with visitors. It is a two-mile round trip through the Thousand Palms Oasis to McCallum Grove where the beautiful Simone Pond can be seen. The trail is well marked and starts next to the Visitor Center. The first part of the trail meanders through the Thousand Palms Oasis where water seeps up from cracks in the earth caused by the San Andreas and other nearby faults.
Faults run along this hillside (San Andeas plus other branches). The trail follows a wash through open desert terrain. Smoketrees (shown below) thrive along washes as their seeds are dispersed by the rushing water that occurs during rain (only 2-5" rainfall per year here).
The McCallum Grove of fan palms in the distance surround Simone Pond (aka McCallum Pond).
The pond is also feed by fault seeps that bring 80 degree water to the surface here and is really very beautiful. There is a path all the way around the pond where there are heavily shaded (and cool) areas with benches to enjoy the beauty of your surroundings.
The fringe toed lizard is an endangered species that is found here. Below is a protected area of habitat for them near the pond.
The endangered desert pup fish used to thrive in the pond, but the Louisiana crayfish was introduced to it in the 1950s. The crayfish feed on anything (including its own species) and have virtually wiped out the pup fish here. Conservation efforts are underway to get rid of the invasive crayfish and reintroduced the endangered pup fish (that can be found in two streams that flow into the nearby Salton Sea).
The scientific name for the California Fan Palm is Washingtonian filifera and is the only Palm native to the state (although many thousands of other palms have been planted here). They are actually a member of the grass family and not a tree. Lifespan of the fan palm is about 150 years. This is one of the largest groves of fan palms in the state and is very impressive when seen in person!
Admission to the Preserve is free although donations are, of course, very much appreciated. Don't miss the opportunity to see these two groves of the massive California Fan Palm if you are in the Palm Springs area.