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Photographing the Unique Beauty of the California Palm (Washingtonia filifera).

California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera) hug the perennial stream of Palm Canyon, thus tracing a thin green line in the arid and rocky landscape.

The undulating line of palms on a hillside above the canyon indicates the location of the stream. The parallel brown line above is a hiking trail. Photo:© Donald J. Rommes

This winter, on the recommendation of some of our neighbors, we took a trip to Palm Springs, California, for a diversion from routine and a change from the chilly greyness of the Northwest. Those who have been to the area know Mt. San Jacinto dominates the geography to the southwest. At nearly 11,000 feet, the mountain casts a rain shadow over the region, making an already dry climate even drier.

The landscape is rocky and mountainous. Low-lying brittle bushes dot the arid slopes and valleys. Trees are present only where they have been planted and irrigated or where there is enough natural groundwater — typically, at mountain streams or desert springs associated with ground faults.

Nancy and I explored two such areas: the Indian Canyons on the lands of the Aqua Caliente people and Thousand Palms in the Coachella Valley near the San Andreas Fault. In contrast to their arid surroundings, both places had abundant water that supported the lush growth of California's native palm tree species.

From the parking area, looking up Palm Canyon, a group of identical trees crowd together to follow the stream. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes closely

There is an entrance fee to the Indian Canyons on Aqua Caliente land. A good paved road led to a crowded parking lot that looked down on Palm Canyon. A well-trodden trail led down to the water and continued up the canyon for a mile before dividing, becoming rockier, and climbing out of the canyon.

We strolled the canyon floor in the shade of the dense palm groves. When every tree is of the same species, one notices the variations in their individual characteristics.

California palms grow in dense groves along the perennial stream in Palm Canyon. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Older, spent palm fronds drape down the tree before falling to the ground. The local Native Americans trim the hanging fronds and carry off the fallen ones. To my eye, the trimmed fronds of uniform length reminded me of the dark blue skirts of Catholic school girls lining up at an assembly. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Further north, in the Coachella Valley, surface water is rare. It is often found where deep cracks in the earth allow underground water to rise to the surface. Thousand Palms, near the San Andreas Fault, is one such place. Dense groves of California Palms grow in the mucky soil. Shallow streams and occasional pools are home to desert pupfish, and the air smells of sulfur.

A tight grouping of California Fan Palms, all with long skirts or leggings, crowd together near their water source. This scene reminds me of a herd of mature elephants in a defensive formation, protecting their young. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes

Trees are not manicured here. Huge gray piles of fallen palm fronds collect at their bases, evoking disquieting thoughts of rodents and reptiles.

More of Don's photos from the recent trip to the California desert can be found in the "Recents from Don" gallery here.

Plies of fallen palm fronds, eight feet high, lie below the charred trunks of California Palms at Thousand Palms. Photo: © Donald J. Rommes,



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