After it had dumped on L.A., rain moved to the Coachella Valley in more modest amounts on successive Sundays, last week and this. Early on the following Monday mornings, I hiked in Carrizo Canyon and Dead Indian Canyon, two short treks separated only by a spine of crag in the Santa Rosa Mountains about two miles from my house. Most of the year these canyons are closed to protect the resident bighorn sheep, but from October through December, humans are allowed to share the space.
Both hikes are mostly wash leading to formidable boulders that serve as the front porch for oases of California fan palms, the only such trees (well, grasses, if you want to get technical) indigenous to our state. It's no coincidence that fan palms are found in difficult terrain -- they thrive in areas regularly visited by fire (to vanquish beetles and propagate seeds) and earthquakes (it's a water table thing).
This morning and last week, both canyons were silent, bereft of humans and fragrant with creosote and whatever typically dry soil constituents wake up after a cool shower. The Carrizo wash was abundant with smoke trees, Dead Indian a bit more diverse, including one desert lavender bush on which a previous hiker had hung a pair of glasses. The local lost and found?
Other signs of human activity were much more intrusive and much less amusing. Halfway up the boulder field en route to the fan palm oasis at the end of Dead Indian Canyon, you're rewarded with clear evidence that some people just can't help being a dick.
And some people can't help being kind. Was it the same person traversing two different canyons who encountered a baby hedgehog cactus in the Carrizo wash and felt the need to protect it from oblivious hikers, and was similarly moved at the sight of an equally young smoke tree in the Dead Indian wash?
Unless you're willing to scale a two-story dry waterfall, the closest you come to the palm oasis at the terminus of Carrizo Canyon requires scrambling up to a boulder ledge that makes you feel one with the bighorn. Your reward is a view over the northeast Coachella Valley.
If you're willing to risk ankle integrity to clamber over the boulders in Dead Indian Canyon, you can stand next to the fan palms that loom shaggily overhead, punctuating the desert sky against noble granitic peaks.
Photos by Ellen Alperstein