Palm Springs - South Coast Field Office

Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument - Points of Interest


San Jacinto Mountain is the highest point along the Peninsular Range Province, rising to an elevation of 10,804 feet above mean sea level as the result of fault block activity.  Down below in the Coachella Valley, elevations range from below mean sea level to several hundred feet, resulting in an abrupt vertical relief of more than 10,000 feet on the steep eastern face of San Jacinto Mountain, and exceeding the vertical relief in most other parts of the contiguous United States except Death Valley.

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains provide the world-renowned scenic backdrop to Palm Springs and the desert communities of the Coachella Valley.  These mountains give valley residents and visitors a powerful sense of place for their natural scenic beauty, recreational opportunities, and extensive biodiversity and cultural values.  The quality of life and recreational opportunities which the mountains afford contribute significantly to the Coachella Valley's status as a popular destination resort and retirement community.Coachella Valley

During the 1980's, the Coachella Valley underwent tremendous urban development, more than doubling the number of resorts and residences.  Urban development began encroaching into the mountains.  Many wished to protect the mountains from development common to wild lands throughout Southern California.  Culminating years of effort among local governments, local organizations, valley residents and the BLM,  the Secretary of the Interior designated portions of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains as the Santa Rosa Mountains National Scenic Area on March 31, 1990.  Since then, acquisition and protection of lands within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains for conservation purposes has been the primary management focus of BLM, state and local agencies.  The designation as a National Monument further demonstrates the value recognized by Congress for this magnificent area and will give added protection and prestige.

As urban development continued through the 1990's, the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains became an even more important natural resource, not just for valley residents, but for millions of metropolitan Southern California residents and visitors from around the world.   The significant natural resources and recreational opportunities in the mountains provide the basis for a robust eco-tourism industry in the valley. 

Biological Resources

When desert floor collides with steep mountains, unique habitats form within the ecotone, resulting in unusually high biodiversity along this interface, as is the case along the base of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains in the Coachella Valley.   Moreover, these mountains rise to a lofty elevation of 10,805 feet, resulting in five distinct "life zones," from Sonoran Desert to Arctic Alpine.  The result is a region with exceptionally diverse biological resources.  The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains provide habitat for a suite of federally listed threatened and endangered species, magnificent fan palm oases, and more than 500 species of plants.

BighornPOIPeninsular Ranges Bighorn Sheep.  The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains provide important habitat for the Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis cremnobates), federally listed as endangered in 1998.  In many ways, the majestic and elusive bighorn sheep have become the symbol for the area.  Throughout the valley, sculptures and icons of bighorn sheep decorate public places and businesses.

Since the 1970's, the bighorn sheep population numbers have been steadily declining, dropping from about 1,000 in 1979 to about 300 today.   Several interrelated factors of disease, shrinking habitat and dwindling migration routes may be contributing to this decline.

Currently, BLM and other agencies are participating in a comprehensive, multi-agency planning effort to address these issues to ensure the survival of the sheep.

Southern yellow bat.  The Southern yellow bat (Lasiurus ega or xanthinus) is a fairly large member of the Vespertilionidae family, with yellowish brown fur and no hair on its muzzle or lips.  It is a California state species of concern.  The San Jacinto/Santa Rosa region is very important to this species due to its close association to palm oases, which exist in the lower elevation canyons.  The Southern yellow bat uses the dead fronds of palm trees for roosting and probably forms small maternity groups within them.  Preserving palm oases sheltered in desert canyons is considered significant in the conservation of this species.

Desert Tortodesert tortoiseise (Gopherus or Xerobates agassizii).  The desert tortoise is California´s official reptile.  The tortoise has large, elephantine hind feet and shovel-like forefeet.  Within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, desert tortoise may be found below 4000 feet elevation in desert alluvial fans, washes, canyon bottoms, rocky hillsides and other steep terrain up to 60 degrees in slope.  Populations north and west of the Colorado River were listed as threatened in April of 1990 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of California.

Desert Slender Salamander.  The desert slender salamander (Batrachoseps aridus) only occurs in one or two steep-walled desert canyons in the Santa Rosa Mountains.  The combination of permanent water, shade, and availability of retreat sites appears to be significant to the distribution of the species.  Conservation of the desert slender salamander depends on maintaining the quality and quantity of the water that feeds into these canyon springs.

Least Bell's Vireo.  The least Bell's vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus) is a small grey, migratory songbird that inhabits structurally diverse riparian woodlands and riverine systems.  It is federally and state listed as endangered.  This species was once considered one of the most abundant birds in the state of California.  In the last several decades it has undergone a precipitous decline in numbers, a decline attributed to the loss and degradation of riparian habitat throughout its range, as well as to the expansion in range of the brown-headed cowbird (Molothrus ater), a nest parasite.  Within California, least Bell's vireos are currently restricted in their distribution to eight southern counties, with a majority occurring in San Diego county. Several observations of nesting pairs of least Bell's vireo have been documented in willow riparian habitats of several canyons in the Santa Rosa Mountains.  Preserving riparian habitats within the Santa Rosa Mountains is an important component in the reestablishment of this species into its historic range.Archaeological site

Cultural Resources

The Santa Rosa Mountains have been the homeland of hundreds of generations of Cahuilla, whose culture has been described and recorded in numerous publications.   Direct evidence links the tribe to this area for at least 3,000 years.  Within the Santa Rosas are sacred sites, such as the peak of the Santa Rosa Mountain and Tahquitz Peak, and landscape features which are of great importance to Cahuilla history.  Within the mountain range, Cahulla villages were generally located in or near the mouth of a canyon or in a valley, and in some instances there were both summer and winter villages with the former being at higher elevations and the latter closer to the valley floor.  A network of trails connect village sites, campsites, and other areas of importance.  Cahuilla lived in the Santa Rosas until the late 19th century, by which time most Cahuilla had moved to nearby reservations or the Coachella Valley, and contemporary Cahuilla have strong feelings and concern for their ancestral homeland.  The Santa Rosas have great heritage value to the Cahuilla and many sites are of National Register quality.   The following is a description of some of the more significant prehistoric and historic sites in the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Agua Alta Canyon.  This canyon, which lies between Toro Canyon and Pinyon Alta Flat, is in an area important for Cahuilla hunting and gathering.  Recorded archaeological sites in the area contain roasting pits for agave.

Andreas Canyon Trail. This trail led up Andreas Canyon from its mouth up the south side of San Jacinto Mountain.  It was used for hunting, gathering, and ritual travel.

Archaeological Site of Clark Lake Dune Village.  This village site lies at the end of the trail from Rabbit Peak.  It is about two acres in area, the largest in the region.  The oldest occupation is an old dune surface at the north end of the site.  This had been exposed by erosion.  The village is near a mesquite and agave gathering place and was probably a winteArchaeological Siter camp. Artifacts and cremations have been recorded in this area.

Ataki, Hidden Spring Village.  According to Juan Siva (Bean field notes ca. 1960), this is the site of Ataki, the original home of the Wantcinakiktum and Palpunivikiktum clans of the Wildcat moiety (Strong 1929:41).  The site is on a mesa above a hidden spring.  It is possible that both early and late occupations are found here.  Some house pits were distinguishable in the 1930s.  (Anonymous, ca. 1938).

Bear Creek Trail.  A major trail ran along Bear Creek from the La Quinta area to Little Pinyon Flat in the Santa Rosa Mountains.

Big Falls.  Waterfalls, and in particular Big Falls, are documented to have been very important culturally to the Cahuilla, often having been the locale of legendary events.  This waterfall in Palm Canyon is famous to local desert travellers. 

Bottle Gourd, Rock Shelter.  A bottle gourd containing seeds was found in a rock shelter here (Bean and Saubel 1972).

Cactus Spring Area.  The Cactus Spring area is one of the most sacred areas for the Cahuilla who lived in the desert, and one of the last ones untouched by modern developments.  It contains the site Weh-ghett, the "Place of Ponderosa Pines," an important village, and a lower village called Tev-utt, "The Place of the Pinyon Trees."  The area is mapped as Little Pinyon Flat.  Both sites contain many bedrock mortar grinding places, smooth rock floors where people used to dance, as well as pictographs and petroglyphs.  Four important trails go from here to the west, northeast, southeast, and southwest. Some of the trails are worn two feet deep in places.

Cahuilla elders and others recently mounted a campaign to have this area included to the Santa Rosa Mountains State Wilderness in Anza- Borrego State Park and urged that letters be written to Congressmen and Senators in support of such action (Johnson 1979; Modesto and Modesto 1979; Bean field notes 1979).

Clark Lake Petroglyphs.  This petroglyph site lies at the base of the Santa Rosa Mountains, just east of the mouth of Rockhouse Canyon.  The petroglyphs, which are interpreted as a early Cahuilla type, are pecked into the reddish-brown patina of the boulders, which spread out for 100 feet along a trail.

Cottonwood Springs Village Ruins.  The remains of several rockhouses were found here.  These are probably the village of Kewel or Kiwil, occupied in the late 19th century by families of the sauicpakiktum lineage (Bean 1979).

Coyote Creek.  There are numerous archaeological sites in this canyon, including 22 trail shrines associated with a canyon trial.

Deep Canyon.  This canyon is important in the Cahuilla sacred literature as the home of Yellow Body (Patencio 1943:37), an occupied area of a village at some time in the past. Numerous archaeological sites have been recorded in this canyon. 

Fish Traps.  Along what was the falling shoreline of ancient Lake Cahuilla is a series of fish traps made of rocks that were built by ancestors of the Cahuilla 400-500 hundred years ago.  When the Colorado River changed its course, the huge freshwater lake began to dry up. This process took 50 to 60 years according to modern estimates. When the lake became too saline to support the growth of the fish they died by the thousands. The Cahuilla built the fish traps to catch the fish as the waters receded, which extend for some distance along the shoreline. They are very important to the Cahuilla people as historical features(Wilke 1976:178-180; James 1918:240). They are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.Martinez Canyon

Martinez Canyon Rockhouse.  This rare structure is located within the Santa Rosa Mountains Wilderness Area. Martinez Canyon Rockhouse, also known as Jack Miller Cabin, is a two-room vernacular style dwelling built sometime in the 1930's. This homestead/miners camp is constructed of cement with a facade of local river rock.  In 1999, the Martinez Canyon Rockhouse was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Rock Tanks.  These are natural rock tanks at about 2000 feet elevation in the Santa Rosa Mountains.  During heavy rains the tanks would hold water which was important to the Native people as well as the bighorn sheep.

Geological Resources

The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains trend northwest-southeast along the southwestern edge of the Colorado Desert Geomorphic Province.  The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains themselves are part of the Peninsular Range Province which consists of a chain of mountains beginning with the northernmost San Jacinto Mountain, and trending southward through southern California into Baja California, Mexico.  The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains consist largely of pre-late Cretaceous meta-sedimentary and meta-volcanic rocks that have been intruded by late Cretaceous age plutonic rocks, largely of granitic composition.

The Coachella Valley, part of the Colorado Desert with elevations ranging from less than mean sea level to several hundred feet, is nestled against the steep slopes of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains.  The San Andreas Fault itself runs parallel to the mountains on the other side of the Coachella Valley; however there are faults along the base of the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains which are all part of the San Andreas FSan Jacinto Mountainsault System.

San Jacinto Mountain is the highest point along the Peninsular Range Province, rising to an elevation of 10,805 feet above mean sea level as the result of fault block activity.  Down below in the Coachella Valley, elevations range from below mean sea level to several hundred feet, resulting in an abrupt vertical relief of more than 10,000 feet on the steep eastern face of San Jacinto Mountain, and exceeding the vertical relief in most other parts of the contiguous United States except Death Valley.

The loftiness of the mountain captures significant amounts of rain and snow which makes the Coachella Valley a garden spot in an otherwise dry desert region.  As water becomes a more scarce resource with the burgeoning southern California population, it will become critical to maintain the watershed afforded by the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains.   Development and activities which can contaminate the water resources need to be kept to a minimum.

San Jacinto Mountain is home to the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which takes visitors by cable car from the desert up 6,000 feet to alpine forests in 15 minutes.  The top of San Jacinto Mountain is managed by the Mount San Jacinto State Park and Wilderness.  In the winter, visitors leave the balmy desert to cross-country ski on top of San Jacinto Mountain.  In the summer, visitors escape the oppressive heat to hike in temperate alpine forests.

The spectacular vertical relief, the need to protect the watersheds, and the many recreation opportunities afforded by San Jacinto Mountain make it worthy of national recognition.

Indian CanyonNatural Hot Springs and Palm Oases.  The Palm Canyon Fault which runs along the base of San Jacinto Mountain is part of the San Andreas Fault System.  The faults dam ground water which is then forced up to the surface.  In the desert, native fan palm oases (Washingtonia filifera) and cottonwood/willow riparian areas form where there is surface water, providing a critically needed source of food and water for desert wildlife, and delightful places for humans to visit. These areas provide dramatic contrast to the hot, dry desert environment.

The Indian Canyons, located at the base of San Jacinto Mountain and managed by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, boasts the largest system of native fan palm oases in the United States.  Visitors from around the world come to visit these spectacular oases nestled in steep rocky canyons where the force of running water over the millennia have carved the rocks into curvaceous pools and waterfalls.  Higher up the canyon walls, the rocks sheen with the beautiful patina of desert varnish.

Associated with some of the springs along the base of the San Jacinto Mountains is hot mineral water, heated at depth probably by emanating gases and hydrothermal activity associated with the San Andreas Fault zone.  This hot mineral water is of excellent quality, and is available to visitors at world-class spas throughout the Coachella Valley.  Conservation and protection of the watershed which recharges these natural springs is important to maintain the high quality of water in the Coachella Valley, and to continue supporting the tourism industry which utilizes this resource.

Scientific Research

In the center of the proposed National Monument is Deep Canyon, which stretches from the source of its tributaries high on Toro Peak to its outflow in the Coachella Valley.  At the heart of Deep Canyon is the Philip L. Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center, a 16,301 acre area that is part of the University of California (UC) Natural Reserve System. The core of Deep Canyon was transferred to the UC system by BLM between 1960 and 1963 under the authority of the Recreation and Public Purposes Act.  Through additional acquisitions of surrounding land by UC, Deep Canyon is now among the largest of the NRS reserves, containing a major portion of an entire drainage system on the north side of the Santa Rosa plateau fronting Palm Desert, spanning montane forest to Sonoran desert scrublands.

The university maintains more than thirty natural reserves distributed throughout the state. The establishment of the system-wide UC Natural Reserve System was due in large part to the efforts in the 1940s and 1950s of Professors Ken Norris of UCLA and UC Santa Cruz and Wilbur Mayhew of UC Riverside, along with many others, who became concerned with the ever-increasing vandalism and disappearance of their field sites for research and teaching. Originally called the "Natural Land and Water Resources System," the Natural Reserve System was formally approved by the UC Regents in 1965. In essence, it is a 'library' of field sites. The system encompasses a wide variety of habitats, and is intended to insure that teachers and researchers will continue to have access to undisturbed natural habitats into the future.

The foresight of its founders made the Deep Canyon research center possible years ago when more than twenty kilometers separated this pristine canyon from the scattered development of Palm Springs. Today development has spread close to the boundaries of the reserve, and real estate values in the area have skyrocketed. Philip Boyd and a handful of scientists recognized in 1958 that the need for long-term environmental research would increase and the number of possible research sites would decline. Thanks to their vision, the Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center now protects a full spectrum of desert habitats for research and teaching for generations to come.

Cut into the plain, dry streambeds mark a history of floods. Centuries old barrel cacti stand on slopes, long protected from floods and illegal collectors. Farther up, the canyon narrows to a steep-walled gorge, water trickles intermittently from pool to pool along the polished streambed that forms the upper canyon floor. Above the gorge, steep slopes open to a rolling plateau, cut by a series of shallow canyons and ridges. Higher still, the Santa Rosas form a dark backdrop to the landscape.

The Boyd Deep Canyon Desert Research Center has proved to be an ideal site for research. Less than a two-hour drive from the UC Riverside campus, the center provides access to otherwise remote desert habitats. Scientists working at Deep Canyon during the 1960's expanded their field observations up to the peaks of the Santa Rosa Mountains and down to the floor of the Coachella Valley. This study area, known as the Deep Canyon transect, was standardized by Dr. Mayhew in 1979.

Thirty-one, smaller-scale, line transects and several study plots have been permanently established in order to ensure comparable results from different investigators. The result has been an effective and well-used tool for monitoring long-term patterns in desert ecosystems.

To further aid field research, Deep Canyon boasts an extensive long-term database including a complete herbarium and other synoptic collections, abundant archeological remains, data from six weather stations, aerial photos and topographical maps. A reference library contains a bibliography of reserve-based research including more than 425 books, journal articles, and theses.

The reserve is open to qualified users for teaching and research use only. The highest use is for long-term research projects on plant and animal ecophysiology (e.g., adaptation to water and heat stress), with teaching use moderate and public use only occasional due to the very high research value of the site.

Recreation Resources

Santa Rosa Mountains Visitor Center.  Generous contributions from local communities and private interest groups provided land and monies for the new Santa Rosa and San Jacinto  Mountains National Monument Visitor Center.   BLM oversaw construction of the building, which was dedicated in March of 1996.  BLM is responsible for managing the day-to-day operations at the visitor center with volunteer assistance from a non-profit group called Friends of the Desert Mountains.  The visitor center is open seven days a week although it is best to call ahead during the extremely hot summer season for hours of operation.  The center provides visitors information about the natural history, cultural resources and recreational opportunities in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. The Friends of the Desert Mountains operate a nonprofit bookstore at the visitor center.

The visitor center serves well as headquarters for managing the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.  As a federal agency responsible for  managing large tracts of public land within the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, the BLM is in a unique position to serve as a focal point to bring together the various community groups and local governments to cooperatively manage the National Monument.

Hiking, Biking and Equestrian Trails:  Many miles of trails can be found in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains which provide beautiful scenic vistas and natural treasures to be discovered by hikers, bikers, and equestrian trail users.  These trails are popular with local residents and visitors and there is a great deal of interest to maintain the trail system.   Unfortunately, some of these trails traverse Peninsular Ranges bighorn sheep lambing habitat and are subject to seasonal voluntary closures.  No dogs are permitted on the trails located on BLM lands.  The community is interested in finding solutions that would minimize intrusions into lambing habitat, yet allow for year-round trail recreation opportunities.

BLM, in coordination with local governments and local interest groups, has initiated a series of community meetings to begin addressing this important issue

Wilderness Areas. Wilderness areas are places where wildness is supreme- where man is a visitor who does not remain. The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument contains four wilderness areas comprising of 94,590 acres.  These areas are administered by three different agencies- BLM, USFS, and California State Parks.  Of these, 84,310 acres are federal wilderness and are administered under the Wilderness Act of 1964.    All of these areas contain outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive types of recreation.  Very few, if any, imprints of man will greet the visitor to these areas.  Those seeking the ultimate in escape from the human dominated landscape will find solace in these areas.  Travel in wilderness areas is limited to foot or equestrian conveyance.  Motorized vehicles, bicycles, or any other form of mechanized equipment is prohibited in these areas to protect the solitude and primitive nature of these special places. 

When entering wilderness areas, please be aware that you are entering an area that is remote and can contain numerous natural and physical hazards.  Please be prepared with adequate water (at least two gallons per person for each day), a map and compass/GPS, and be sure someone knows your itinerary and time of return.  Wilderness is fragile.  Even the wilderness explorer can leave impacts that can take many years to heal.  Practice the Leave No Trace principles whenever traveling through or camping in these areas.  Additionally, please contact the administering agency for each of the wilderness areas you wish to explore, as there may be regulations or requirements specific to each area.