January 11, 2011/3:45pm – Willis Palms Oasis
The Coachella Valley Preserve in Thousand Palms, an area that the Friends of the Desert Mountains helped save, has many interesting places to explore, incredible bio-diversity and “that damn lizard” affectionately known by me and my friends as the Coachella Valley Fringe-toed Lizard and places to imagine and wander in solitude…
The Willis Palm Oasis is along the Indio Hills and right smack on the San Andreas Fault Zone. Wandering among these, our own, California Fan Palms with the breezes blowing was heaven to the ears. The constant whoosh was pure audio-indulgence like an internal massage for your head. And, peaceful. You couldn’t help but feel connected in the oasis. It is a life spring.
November 26th, 2010 for some particular reason either by nature or by some perverted disconnect from common sense, there was combustion and the Willis Palms Oasis became a short lived torch. Long, lanky black rods with jagged yellow arrowheads pierce the sky. Strange black coiled rods extend from palms both tall and small. It takes a minute to see the abstract form as a palm frond burnt to the core bracts. It’s quiet, desolate, windy but no sound. No indulgence for the ears today or tomorrow I fear.
January 11, 2011 for some particular reason, I decided to return to visit my friends who had received burns to over 97% of their body. I wandered around the oasis and looked at the devastation. It was so complete. It must have burned “hot”. It must have just “cooked” everything literally sterilizing the ground. There was a dense undercoat of grasses and small palms. I think it melted the plumbing in the oasis as in the center of the oasis there is a spring with water running out of it probably, 5 to 7 gallons per hour. That’s when I noticed I wasn’t alone.
A lone coyote was on top of the hill above the oasis. I ventured closer to his side and as I walked up the hill he vanished. When I turned around, I almost walked right into a fire ring. I wondered if this was where someone was sitting down trying to heat up a can of beans. It was from here I watched the sunset and as I departed, I began to notice something I hadn’t before. The very base of the fronds on all the blackened palm stalks had 2 to 5 inches of bright green stock showing. I walked off the hill and saw small green grasses beginning to shoot up out of the ashes. The baby palms were growing too. A slight change of perspective allowed me to see the best in an old friend and I got all excited inside for the palms. They would make it through this incident and become better and stronger from it.
Many good things can happen to plants after fire. I expect to see a great recovery of the oasis and look forward to visiting my friend more in the future. You will find its rewarding to watch life come back to this “new” oasis as you return again and again. PLEASE REMEMBER: Try not to hike through the ashes. Erosion will be a problem and the less we walk on or around the fire the better. The hike out to the oasis is easy mixed rock and sand for about 15 minutes from your car. Park your car at the small parking lot (room for 5 cars) on the left (west) side of Thousand Palms Road BEFORE you drive through the Indio Hills. There is a nice loop hike you can do from this trailhead too so, these’s 4 to 6 hours of good hiking from here.
By: John Warden Interpretive / Hiking Programs Volunteer, Friends of the Desert Mountains