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Experience the Magic of Tahquitz Canyon

Experience the Magic of Tahquitz Canyon

Cahuilla bird singer Anthony Purnel stars in a video about this special place—here’s how to explore it yourself

Listen carefully when walking through Tahquitz Canyon. Aside from enjoying sounds of desert nature, you might hear a mythic shaman shuffling around.

In this Outbound Collective video, Anthony Purnel of the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians points out the sights and sounds of the canyon that mean the most to him—a personal glimpse of this stretch of tribal homeland.

The Back Story

Tahquitz Canyon gets its name from the Cahuilla shaman Tahquitz—who, legend has it, acted badly and was banished to a cave within this canyon in the San Jacinto Mountains. As the story goes, Tahquitz’s spirit still resides in the rocky formations, and any rumbling or crashing noises are attributed to him, thrashing his way around his craggy, granite-rock home. Tahquitz’s enclave also includes a 60-foot waterfall, whose waters are thought to have healing energy.

How to Hike It

It’s easy to explore this special place that is part of the Indian Canyons in Greater Palm Springs: Tahquitz Canyon is located less than two miles from the heart of downtown Palm Springs.

Start at Tahquitz Canyon’s visitor’s center where you can learn more about the tribal history, watch a video about Tahquitz in the theater room, and check out artifacts. Sign up for one of the 2.5-hour guided hikes (free with day-use admission), which happen four times a day from October through June, or once a day (8 a.m.) from July through September.

Otherwise, set aside at least an hour to hike the 1.8-mile loop hike to the waterfall. The walk can be steep at times, with many rock steps and about a 350-foot gain in elevation. As with any hike in this area come equipped with a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

The waterfall—which, depending on the time of year, may be a mere stream—played a cameo role as the entrance of Shangri-la in the 1937 Frank Capra movie The Lost Horizon. Today, you can take detours on side trails to see rock art, especially at the dwelling spot known as Sacred Rock.

Along the way, you might see wildlife including red-tailed hawks, hummingbirds, and king snakes, as well as the occasional gray fox or even bighorn sheep. Broaden your cacti knowledge too: The canyon features beavertail, California red barrel, and hedgehog cacti.

How to Experience Bird Singing

Cahuilla bird singers such as Purnell perform songs and chants that tell the creation and migration stories of the Cahuilla people. Bird singers often shake custom rattles they have made themselves out of gourds, and wear ribbon-adorned shirts that are modern takes on traditional garb (each tribe tends toward certain ribbon colors—Cahuilla bird singers, for instance, often incorporate blue ribbons). You can hear bird singers at annual Pow Wows and other annual events such as Singing the Birds (January) and Kewet: Native American Learning Day & Market (November).

Where to Stay Near Tahquitz Canyon

For both easy access to Tahquitz Canyon and more insight into the Cahuilla culture, stay at Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage resort and spa in Rancho Mirage. The 340-room resort is home to its own restaurants, pools, and the Sunstone Spa, which includes Native-inspired treatments that incorporate desert mud, wild lavender, and native sage.