When palm trees were first planted in California, they were a symbol of prosperity. Distinct and visible from a great distance, they drew attention to a home, a ranch or a town.
Later they came to represent Southern California and its year-round balmy weather.
Many years ago, two trees were planted in the middle of Highway 99 south of Madera to mark the halfway point between the state's northern and southern borders. A pine represents Northern California and a palm represents the southern part of the state.
In recent years palms have almost come to be a symbol of places that are desperately trying to evoke Southern California, especially shopping centers.
As foreign and incongruous as they sometimes look when planted among oaks or pines, one palm species is actually native to the deserts of California and the Southwest.
California fan palms grow around springs and other constant sources of water, forming oases not unlike those we might imagine in a Middle Eastern desert. Defying assumptions and expectations, oases are found on every continent except Antarctica. Fossils indicate that palms grew as far north as Oregon, Colorado and Wyoming when the world's climate was different.
Several easily accessible palm oases in the deserts of Southern California make interesting hikes:
The easiest is the ½ mile Oasis of Mara Trail at the Joshua Tree National Park Oasis Visitor Center in Twentynine Palms. The trail is designed to be accessible to all visitors. It's one of the easiest and most unique trails in the state. Nearby Twentynine Palms takes its name from this oasis.
Palm Springs also got its name from nearby oases. Andreas, Murray, Palm and Tahquitz Canyons -- collectively known as the "Indian Canyons" -- offer unforgettable hiking opportunities. The four canyons are located on Palm Canyon Drive in Palm Springs. Access to Tahquitz is by guided-hike only, but the other three are open for individual exploration during posted hours. The trails are easy and you can see a lot in less than two miles of hiking. For more information, go to http://www.theindiancanyons.com/.
One of the most impressive oases is found in Borrego Palm Canyon. Over 800 palms grow in the canyon and a small waterfall makes you forget that you are in the middle of the desert. The trail starts at the Borrego Palm Canyon Campground in Anza Borrego State Park, east of San Diego. A three-mile round trip trek takes you to one of the largest oases in the United States.
March and early April are great times to visit the desert. California's four gigantic desert parklands -- Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Mojave, Anza Borrego -- together offer nearly unlimited opportunities for outdoor recreation. The landscapes are surprisingly varied and palm canyons are only one of many unexpected surprises. Excellent wildflower displays are common in the spring.
Adam Blauert can be reached at email@example.com.