When it comes to responsible recreation in Greater Palm Springs, Friends of the Desert Mountains is working hard to educate and inspire visitors and locals alike. Beyond supporting education, conservation and research in the Coachella Valley, the nonprofit helps preserve and acquire land, and they act as the support organization for the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument. “Our volunteers like to give back to the community,” says Friends of the Desert Mountains Executive Director Tammy Martin. “They want to preserve this land, and with their enthusiasm, they inspire others to get involved.”
In addition to day hikes, birding walks and their popular full moon hikes, Friends of the Desert Mountains has teamed up with SoCal Adaptive Sports to run adaptive hikes. “The idea was to get people with disabilities, and their family members and friends, outside, and to see different parts of the valley,” says SoCal Adaptive Sports Executive Director Michael Rosencrantz. “It’s a social, physical and emotional health benefit, and it’s important for people to get outdoors, so we are doing these hikes about twice a month.”
Those who sign up for a group hike with Friends of the Desert Mountains will learn about the flora and fauna of the region, plus the history of the Cahuilla tribe, who are the first known inhabitants of the Greater Palm Springs area. Everyone also gets a quick refresher on relevant Leave No Trace (LNT) Principles and “The 10 Desert Essentials,” which offer guidance for respecting nature, and tips on useful gear for desert adventures.
Tips for Recreating Responsibly in Greater Palm Springs
1. Plan ahead and prepare
Bring the right gear, including sun protection, maps and navigation tools, and always tell someone where you’re going and when you plan to return. Other essential items include snacks, additional layers of clothing, a first aid kit, plus a comb and a mirror. Ada Nuckels, Hike Program Director at Friends of the Desert Mountains, quips, “It’s not just for doing your hair on the trail, as combs are useful in removing cactus spines, and a mirror can reflect sunlight for miles to signal for help.”
2. Stay on designated trails
Going off designated trails can lead to erosion, and it can damage wildflowers and other desert plants. Unauthorized, user-generated “social trails'' are becoming more prevalent in Greater Palm Springs, so hikers are asked to pay attention to trail signage, and not to take shortcuts or wander off for photo ops. When hikers get lost on social trails, it can also make rescue efforts much more challenging. “A lost hiker might say, ‘I’m on the Art Smith Trail,’ but there are so many social trails in that area, Search and Rescue may have difficulty finding them," Nuckels adds.
A network of unauthorized social trails is visible along the Bump and Grind Trail in Palm Springs.
3. Bring plenty of water
Most rescues on trails in Greater Palm Springs occur due to a lack of water. Hikers are advised to turn around when they have consumed half of their supply, and per the "Ten Desert Essentials," hikers should consider a minimum of two liters per person for short hikes, and extra water on hotter days and longer hikes. “Always bring more water than you think you’ll need,” Martin advises.
4. Pack out all trash
While some trailheads have trash bins, many do not, so it’s up to hikers to pack out all trash, and this includes toilet paper. Consider bringing a small trash bag, or a reusable wipe like a Kula Cloth. Though items like banana peels and nutshells are compostable, they also need to be packed out, as they can take years to biodegrade in sensitive desert environments.
5. Respect wildlife
Do not feed wildlife, as habituation to human food can cause wild animals to act aggressively, and it disrupts their natural diet. Always maintain a distance of at least 25 yards from bighorn sheep and other wildlife, and please be mindful of signage concerning dogs on trails. Many trails in Greater Palm Springs have strict leash regulations, and many more prohibit dogs to protect the endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep. Bighorn sheep have been known to abandon their lambs when threatened, and the animals perceive dogs to be a threat.
If you wish to volunteer, there is plenty of work to be done. While some trails need maintenance and signage, other areas are overrun with invasive plants, and some spots have a significant amount of graffiti. Trail crew is hard work, and sometimes it involves hiking a few miles with tools and heavy equipment, but the payoff is worth it. Gordon Fidler, who oversees maintenance and stewardship at Friends of the Desert Mountains, says, “When we see increased usage and people recognizing what we've done — and that we've made some trails safer or more enjoyable — it’s always rewarding.”
Volunteers with Friends of the Desert Mountains remove graffiti near a popular trail in La Quinta, which involves spray painting over the defaced area with shades of brown, gray and tan.
To learn more about events and volunteer opportunities, please visit the Friends of the Desert Mountains website.