Things to See in the Coachella Valley and Colorado Desert

Palm Springs is surrounded by desert. In a single day, you can tour parts of the Colorado Desert and the Coachella Valley.

01 of 09

Fan Palm Oasis

Date Palm Oasis Near Palm Springs

Betsy Malloy Photography

Found almost exclusively in the Colorado Desert along areas where the San Andreas Fault fractures underground rock formations and allows water to seep to the surface. Found mostly along the east side of the Coachella Valley, the oases have provided shelter for humans for millennia. Today, only about 35 to 40 of them remain. One of the easiest to visit is 1,000 Palms Canyon in the Coachella Valley Preserve.

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02 of 09

Homesteader's Cabin

Homesteader's Cabin in the Desert Near Palm Springs

Betsy Malloy Photography

In 1938, the Bureau of Land Management decided to unload about 1,800 acres of the Colorado Desert, deeming it "disposable." The Small Tract Act of 1938 was passed to facilitate their efforts, granting free land to anyone who would inhabit the barren landscape. All they had to do gain claim to five acres was build a structure no less than 12 by 16 feet within three years of filing their claim and pay a small fee. This little building was created as one of many that still dot the desert landscape.

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03 of 09

Shields Date Garden

Shields Date Garden since 1924
Thomas Hawk/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

One of a few remaining date orchards that offers its products for sale on site, Shields Date Garden has long been famous for a short film entitled "Romance & Sex Life of the Date," created in the 1920s by owner Floyd Shields to "educate their customers about date culture" - or so their website says.

Today, you can buy a variety of dates in their shop, including some that are Shields' own special hybrids - or buy a "date shake" at their soda fountain, a milkshake flavored with date sugar. You'll find them at 80225 US Highway 111 in Indio.

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04 of 09

Growing Dates

Dates Ready for Harvest in Indio, California

Betsy Malloy Photography

The only native palms in the Colorado Desert are California fan palms, but in the 1890s, early settlers figured if they grew here, so would date palms. Today, many varieties of dates imported from Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Iraq grow on over 7,000 acres of desert south of Palm Springs.

As much as 35 to 40 million pounds of dates (worth over $300 million) are picked every harvest season, which happens from September through December. In fact, 90% of all dates grown in the U.S. come from the Coachella Valley.

Date palms live up to 200 years but produce good harvests for about 55 to 60 years. In August, growers cover ripening dates with bags to protect them from birds and insects, and to catch ripe fruit that falls off before harvest.

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05 of 09

Date Festival

Home of the Indio Date Festival

Betsy Malloy Photography

Held in February after the end of the date harvest, the Date Festival is part county fair and part Arabian Nights fantasy. Besides a pageant crowning a local beauty Queen Scheherazade, you'll find more varieties of dates on display than you probably knew existed and you can sample date-flavored milkshakes while strolling the midway.Get more information about the Date Festival.

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06 of 09

Salton Sea

View of salton sea reflecting the clouds in the sky with mountains in far background

TripSavvy / Chris VR

One of the world's largest inland seas, 45 miles long and 25 miles wide and in some places you can't see the opposite shore because of the earth's curvature. At 227 feet below sea level, it's also one of the lowest spots on earth.

The Salton Sea lies on the Pacific Flyway, attracting over 400 species of migratory birds (almost half of those known in North America) which pass through between October and January.

If you want to know more about how the Salton Sea got there or how to see it yourself, use the Salton Sea visitor guide.

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07 of 09

Salvation Mountain

Salvation Mountain in the California Desert

Betsy Malloy Photography

Created by Leonard Knight as a tribute to God's gift to the world, Salvation Mountain is a 50-foot-high, 150-foot-long piece of folk art made of local adobe clay and donated paint. Knight has been living in the desert since 1984 and can often be found near his creation, happy to show it to visitors. You can read more about it at his website.

Salvation Mountain is located near Niland, California. To get there, take Niland Main Street east and keep following when it becomes Beal Rd.

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08 of 09

Slab City

Slab City

Betsy Malloy Photography

Just down the road from Salvation Mountain is Slab City, which takes its names from the concrete slabs left behind when World War II-era Marine Barracks Camp Dunlap was closed. Today, it's home to a free-spirited group of year-round residents and snowbirds who form an unofficial community. The only electricity is solar-generated and there's no running water, but because of its off-the-grid lifestyle and some of its residents' free-spirited attitudes, it's been called "The Last Free Place on Earth" - or so a painted sign on the way in proclaims. You can find out more about it at their website. To get there, continue on Beal Rd. past Salvation Mountain.

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09 of 09

Galleta Meadows Sculptures

Metal Sculptures at Galeta Meadows

Betsy Malloy Photography

Dennis Avery who owns Galleta Meadows Estates in Borrego Springs, wanted to add some outdoor sculptures to his property. He commissioned metal artist Ricardo Breceda to create a collection of original, welded-steel sculptures which now number in the hundreds and include extinct animals, farm workers, saints and cactus. You can see them from highways S3 and S22 around the town of Borrego Springs.