Coachella Valley

Welcome To The Valley

California's Coachella Valley is known primarily as a playground for the rich and famous. Glamorous resort communities boast homes of presidents, film stars and financial tycoons.  Elegant private country clubs, exclusive gated communities and world class hotels dot a once barren desert landscape.  Looking under this man made facade the visitor will find a land of natural beauty and contrasts more surprising and exciting than every dreamed.  Just imagine that within one of the most arid spots in North America exists the third largest inland body of water in the United States, the world's largest natural palm oasis, the two tallest mountains in Southern California, the largest area below sea level in North America, the steepest escarpment in the United States and, just below the desert surface, the second largest aquifer in North America.  Add to this the ability to go through five ecological zones, from valley floor to 10,800' in less than an hour and you have just begun to understand this unique place called Coachella valley.  Contrast this to an early 19th century.

Old Names and New

The origin of Valley place names is either Indian, Spanish/Mexican or Yankee.  Palm Springs is a unique evolution of all three.  A small band of "Cahuilla" Indians named their village "Se-Khi", meaning "boiling water". Next came the Spanish name Agua Caliente or "hot water" and finally the Yankee name Palm Springs because of the many fan palms that had grown up by the hot springs. 

In 1856. 29 Palms was called Palm Springs then renamed 29 Palms in 1873.  1000 Palms was "100 Palms" in 1865 then changed to 1000 as the number of trees increased.  Indian Wells got its name because the Indians could reach water by simply digging down a few feet in the sand.  

"Eleven Miles Ranch", so named because it was exactly eleven miles between Palm Springs and Indio, because Rancho Mirage.  

La Quinta is the only town named after a country club.  Palm Desert, the retail hub of the Valley, was once called San Hole.

Disappearing Dunes

The life of Coachella Valley sand dunes begins many miles to the west where heavy rains send dislodged grains of sand cascading down to the Valley floor.  The were disappears but the grains of sand are left to be picked up by the strong westerly winds.  They are pushed into a larger pile of grains and a sand dune is formed.  Blowing winds, so common in the desert, account for the constant change in the size and shape of the dunes. In the early 1900's tamarisk trees were introduced from North Africa to act as sand barriers along the roads and railroad tracks.  Unfortunately they did such a good job they are now part of the problem of the disappearing dunes.

Coachella Valley sand dunes have been reduced by 9% or from 100 square miles to 5 square miles in the last forty years.

What Is A Calypte Costae and Why Is It In The Coachella Valley?

It's a hummingbird, of course.  And why is it here?  For some of the same reasons we're all here:  The beauty of the flowers and the nice warm winters!  It enjoys even more the heat of the summer.  Typical desert birds are plain in color as a natural protection form predators but these colorful little birds, known as Costa's Hummingbird, followed the human migration to the Valley and add another ingredient to the dazzle and beauty of the desert.

The Patient bird watcher has only to look in the desert scrub, oases, chaparral and pin yon-juniper woodlands on mountain slopes to find over 340 species of birds in the Valley including owls, gulls, grebes, swans, quail and sandpiper.  

The Mink and Manure Club

With a name like that there better be a good explanation.  In the early days Palm Springs played a major role in the radio and motion picture industry.  This was where pictures were filmed, where aspiring stars and starlets came to see and be seen.  Long before tennis and golf became the rage, the most popular outdoor activity was horseback riding.  Private riding clubs popped up at the edge of town and out in the open desert.  "Roughing it" was in vogue.  Visitors who wouldn't think of getting up before nine in the morning at home would travel to the desert for the thrill of rising before dawn and riding out into the open desert for a chuck-wagen breakfast while sunset rides conclude with dinner around a camp fire and followed by impromptu and after raucous entertainment.  

The story goes that the stars and starlets would flock to the riding clubs, discard their city clothes, toss their mink coasts on popular riding club adopted the name The Mink & Manure Club.

WW II Comes To The Coachella Valley

It's hard to believe that this carefree resort area played a vital part in WW II.  Just a short distance from the heart of Palm Desert military vehicles, especially tanks, were stored and repaired, sometimes as many as 2,300 at a time.  General George Patton choose this area to train his troops for the invasion of North Africa.  Many G.I.'s who had never seen a desert before were brought here for one year of preparation under the harshest conditions possible.  Over one million men and women of the Army endured rigid and exacting training including rationing of water and food, long marches with heavy packs in extreme heat and attacks by desert insects and snakes.  Their gallant efforts are commemorated at the General Patton Memorial Museum in the far east end of the Valley.  Another episode of the war found Italian prisoners of war being sent to Palm Springs to work in the U.S. Army Desert Hospital, once the fashionable El Mirador Hotel. The war is long over, the Army Hospital is now the widely respected Desert Regional Medical Center and Pal Springs has many excellent Italian restaurants.

Grapes Came First, Then Swimming Pools

Now, that's a strange statement.  Here's what it means. Before the Coachella Valley became a world-class resort destination, it was a major agricultural center and it remains that to this day.  A long growing season, good soil and plenty of water make the Valley most desirable for many crops.  The discovery of a giant underground aquifer in the late 1800's makes this possible.  Of the major crops grown in the Valley the most important is the table grape.  Over $118,000,000 in grapes is harvested annually.

Would we all be here if it weren't for the table grape? Something to think about next time you jump in the pool.

Special Things About Very Special Desert Homes

Local homes of the rich and famous boast most unusual attribute. The main house of Sunnylands, the Walter Annenberg Estate in Rancho Mirage, is 36,000 square feet with a 6,400 square foot living room and only one bedroom.  Guest are accommodated in guest houses on the 240 acre grounds.  There are 12 lakes on the grounds, each home to a different type of fish.  In addition to his own regulation 9 hole golf course Mr. Annenberg has one of the world's most valuable private art collections housed at Sunnylands.  Each Spring the collection is crated and shipped East to his summer home then in the Fall it is shipped back to Sunnylands for the Winter.  A fire stated in Bob Hope's hilltop home while it was being built.  It took the workmen so long to reach the fire department by phone that the home burned to the ground.  After it was rebuilt Mr. Hope quipped, " ....Palm Springs is so exclusive its fire department has an unlisted number".  Elizabeth Taylor's former 12,000 square foot home boasts an air-conditioned dog house.  Its swimming pool alone is valued at $350,000.  Liberace installed a different chandelier in room of his house as well as an antique English throne that serves as a toilet and a mailbox in the shape of a piano.  Frank Sinatra's home has a real train caboose on the property that he converted to a private hair salon.

A Fashion Revolution Begins In Palm Springs

 Women wearing shorts is as commonplace today as ice cream and apple pie, but in 1929 that was hardly the case.  While women were wearing long pants, or "slacks", in the '20's, the invention of shorts was not until 1929 and the place was the El Mirador Hotel in palm Springs.  The elegant hotel opened with a gala ball on New Year's Eve, 1929, not a great year to open a luxury hotel!  It was the first attraction of its magnitude in this sleepy little desert resort.  Tony Burke, an Englishman, was hired as the hotel publicist.  He had served with the British Army in North Africa in WW I.  Recalling the comfort of wearing uniform "shorts" in the North African deserts, Mr. Burke conceived of the idea of putting attractive young starlets in these abbreviated pants and photographing them on the hotel grounds.  The first shorts were slacks cut off mid-thigh, loose fitting and usually white.  Mr. Burke's idea sent shock waves around the world and of course, made the hotel famous. Soon I. Magnin's in Palm Springs was selling the new "sport short", as they were called.  They were made originally only in white, then in colors, and a fashion trend was born.

The Waters Of Palm Springs

One of the first Yankee families to settle in the Coachella Valley did so because of the natural warm-water springs at the base of Mt. San Jacinto.  The McCallum family, led by Indian guide Will Pablo, came to the valley in the 1880's seeking a cure for their son's chronic respiratory illness.  Establishing a home near the springs, the McCallums soon learned of the medicinal powers of the spring waters together with the warm, dry winters.

One of the earliest permanent buildings in the village was a rather primitive sanitarium operated by Nellie Coffman and her doctor husband. The attraction of the springs for those in poor health was so great that we are told it was not unusual to see people who had come to be cured walking around the village in bathrobes.

Today you can visit the Spa Hotel, owned by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, and bathe in the same springs the McCallum family discovered over 120 years ago.

Why There Are 18 Holes

There is agreement that the Coachella Valley is one of the truly great golf capitals of the world.  There is however some disagreement as to why the game is played over 18 holes.  Golf historians cannot agree on the reason but a common explanation of the magic number of 18 comes from Scotland (naturally) where at first a "round" consisted of any number of holes, depending on the player.  Because of the brisk Scottish climate one gentleman, prominent in the community, always took a flash of his favorite brew with him when he played.  It took him exactly 18 holes to finish the flask.... thus the standardization of an 18 hole course.  You may hear other stories but this is surely one of the best!

There are over 105 golf courses in the Coachella Valley, thirty-one just in the town of Palm Desert.  In the summer it takes about one million gallons of water a day to keep a golf course green.  Bet nobody was thinking of that in Scotland when they decided on 18 holes!

Enjoy your desert carefree vacation!

Contact Kathy Turnquist for more information 415.474.5000 Ext 2 |

back to the top arrow pointing up