Sunday, December 24, 2006

Tahquitz Canyon Winter Solstice



Tahquitz Canyon lies just off the main drag of Palm Springs in the San Jacinto Mountains.



The canyon is under the jurisdiction of the very wealthy Agua Caliente tribe of the Cahuilla Indians...



...who closed it down to visitors in the late 1960s after thousands of hippies congregated there after a rock concert.



This prohibition didn't stop people from using the canyon as a homeless shelter, party spot or a make-out location...



...and over the next 30 years the graffiti and trash mounted up into an unsightly mess.



Finally, in the late 1990s, the tribe took some of its local casino earnings and hired naturalists to clean up the canyon...



...which they opened to visitors for paid guided tours in 2000.



I went on the two-mile hike in 2001 and was astonished by the beauty of the place...



...but the "interpretive" tour by the "Native Tribal" ranger, a young blonde man from Minnesota, was "Disneyesque" as one writer put it at trails.com, filled with groan-inducing puns interspersed with the natural history.



Hoping that we would snag a different guide five years later, a trio of us were delighted to find that the policy had changed in the intervening years...



...and that we were free to take the two-mile hike up the canyon unaccompanied...



...to a waterfall that was featured in the 1937 movie version of "Lost Horizon."



The canyon is named after a powerful Cahuilla Indian shaman ("witch doctor") who supposedly went bad and who continues to harvest the souls of the unwitting.



It seems that the energy is bad enough from this spirit that some Cahuilla Indians refuse to enter the place.



It's strange that one of the major streets in Palm Springs is named after a villain, Tahquitz...



...but it's oddly consonant with the naming of other major boulevards in the Coachella Valley like Bob Hope Drive, Frank Sinatra Drive, and the Gene Autry Trail.



My friend Willie remarked that the hike felt like returning to the womb and going up the birth canal, and the metaphor seemed apt.



There are also legends concerning earthquakes and how a roaring can be heard at the mouth of the canyon before a major temblor begins.



Small quakes have been shaking with some frequency lately in both the San Francisco Bay Area and the Coachella Valley, where there was a 4.1 last night on the 23rd.



Maybe the evil shaman Tahquitz can warn us, possibly by appearing as a burning bush (the above image was not Photoshopped by the way).

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lovely photos, and thank you for the bits of history, and the story of Tahquitz.

djwolf said...

I may be completely wrong about this (after all, I was in grade school at the time), but I believe that the canyon trail was shut down because conservatives were more upset about people skinny-dipping at the falls than anyone dropping trash about, a typical culture-clash of the times.

sfmike said...

Dear Daniel: I think your version probably is the correct one. The serious trashing of the canyon, complete with lots of graffiti, seems to have happened when it was made "off-limits" for 30 years, presumably to keep all that nubile youth from getting naked in the waterfall.

janinsanfran said...

What a gorgeous place! We hiked a canyon under tribal control down there some years ago, but I don't think it was this one. More palms.

greg said...

your photos are awesome!

remind me to get you a DVD of the movie we filmed out that way.

steve said...

Nice shots. As a "hippie" in 1970 or so, I hiked up above the falls with a group of friends. I recall there being being many nude bathers in the lower reaches. I certainly wouldn't have drank the water. The trail above the falls was very dangerous, narrow with high cliffs. We spent several nights up there. Absolutely beautiful area.