It’s not very often that you find water in the desert and that’s one of the allures of hiking at the Coachella Valley Preserve near Thousand Palms. The McCullum Trail features a walk through two oasis in the middle of the desert.
The hike starts at the preserve’s Visitor Center (directions below). Inside, pick up a brochure with a trail map on one side and a nature trail guide on the other side. The trail guide has descriptions to go along with numbered signs along the trail.
As you exit the Visitor Center, turn right. You should see signs for McCullum Trail/McCullum Grove/McCullum Pond. You should also spot a small number 1 along the trail. The trail guide explains that the McCullum Trail is a two-mile round trip adventure through a palm oasis, across an earthquake fault zone, through a desert wash, ending at the McCullum Oasis. (Note, a nearby sign board says the hike is 1.4 miles roundtrip. My GPS measured the hike at about 1.8 miles roundtrip.)
The hike starts in the Thousand Palms Oasis. Visitors walk alternating sections of sandy trails and boardwalks through the palm trees and around the ponds. The water is sporactic here, depending on recent rainfall, but the shade under the thick palm trees is welcome on a warm day.
Wind your way through the oasis to the desert wash. The trail takes hikers along the infamous San Andreas fault. While you can’t see the fault “line,” the guide says the nearby bluff was actually lifted up by the fault.
As you walk through the desert, you’ll find more numbered signs to go with the guide, and other signs explaining the flora and fauna or the area. Look for plants eaten by cattle and others used for food, medicine, dye and other things.
The trail winds past a ranch and couple homes. Just follow the arrows to stay on the right path. From here, you should see the next oasis in the desert. It may seem like a bit of a walk to get there, but imagine what the pioneers thought when they saw a clump of trees in the distance? That usually meant there was enough water to sustain the trees.
Once you arrive at McCullum Grove, you will be treated to an oasis with a nice pond of water. We even spotted a lone duck here enjoying the refreshing water and eating the reeds under the water. The trail winds around the pond so you can enjoy it from different angles. In one spot, we found several tree stumps that you could sit on. In another spot, there was a picnic table.
As you walk around the pond, image the different animals that come here for water. Some even live in the dead palm fronds that encircle the palm trees.
After you walk around the pond, return the way you came.
Details: The walk from the Visitor’s Center to McCullum Grove, around the pond and back is about 1.8 miles with 150 feet of elevation gain. The trail is in some soft sand, so the walk is harder than a paved path.
Directions: From Interstate 10, exit Bob Hope Drive and north. Go to Varner Road and turn right/east. Turn left/north on Ramon Road and drive north about 4.5 miles to 1000 Palms Canyon Road. Turn left and drive 2 miles to the preserve’s parking lot on the left.
While you’re in the area, don’t miss Andreas Canyon, Palm Canyon, Whitewater Preserve, Morongo Canyon Preserve, the Lost Horse Mine at Joshua Tree National Park, Barker Dam at Joshua Tree NP, Wall Street Mill at Joshua Tree NP, and “The Slot” at Anza-Borego State Park. Check out more than two dozen hikes in the Coachella Valley area here.
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