Special Features and Perspectives
The Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains top 10,000 feet and rise abruptly from the desert floor, providing an arresting backdrop for the Coachella Valley. This 272,000-acre Monument includes five major ecological life zones, from Sonoran Desert to Arctic Alpine, making it a biological hotspot. The mountains also have special cultural value for the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians: the Monument contains sacred sites and remains of villages, petroglyphs, and other evidence of thousands of years of their habitation.
Rampant development encroaching on the Monument, invasive plants, and heavy trail use in sensitive wildlife areas. For more information, see below.
More about the Monument
In minutes, a resident or visitor to urban Palm Springs can be in the quiet, rugged Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains, exploring sun-scorched ridges and ranges. Fortunately, tucked in the Monument's many canyons, are lush native fan palm oases sprouting improbably from the arid desert. Indian Canyons, for example, contains the largest system of native fan palms in the United States. Tahquitz Falls, in Tahquitz Canyon, pours across sheer granite in a spectacular sixty-foot drop. Those occasional shady spots, cottonwood-lined creeks, and pools of water provide critical habitat for desert wildlife as well as relief for the hot hiker.
With 35 percent of the Monument designated as wilderness, there's no shortage of opportunities for solitude. And, with 500 miles of trails, including the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, there's no shortage of places to hike.
More than 500 plant and animal species, including the endangered Peninsular Bighorn Sheep, make their home in the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument. A small number of The Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, one of the most imperiled birds in the United States, survives on the slopes of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains. The Least Bells Vireo, another endangered bird, makes its nest in the canyons. Bald Eagles winter nearby. Reptiles abound, including three kinds of rattlesnakes, endangered desert tortoise, southern rubber boa, colorful granite spiny lizards, fence lizards. Depending on the season and part of the Monument, fuschia cactus blooms, orange-red sticky monkey flower, blue-flowered mountain lilac, or bright yellow brittlebush color the landscape.
The Monument's Human History
The Santa Rosa Mountains have been the homeland of hundreds of generations of Cahuilla Indians, who still live in the area and co-manage the Monument with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. Direct evidence links the Cahuilla to this area for at least 3,000 years.
Within the Santa Rosa Mountains are Native American sacred sites, such as the peak of the Santa Rosa Mountain and Tahquitz Peak. A visitor today can still encounter rock art, house pits and foundations, and areas and implements for food preparation. Cahuilla villages were generally located in or near the mouth of a canyon; in some instances there were summer and winter villages at different elevations, as the native Cahuilla trekked from year round desert villages to season mountain camps to harvest acorns and pine nuts, the staples of their diet. A network of trails connected villages of neighbors and various clans; many of those trails remain today as footpaths for the intrepid hiker's exploration.
Protecting the Monument
In October 2003, the BLM completed a Resource Management Plan to guide management of the National Monument in coming years. (for more on the management plan, go to: Santa Rosa and Santa Jacinto National Mountains Monument Proposed Resource Management Plan/ Final Environmental Impact Statement, October 2003)
However, no plan can solve or alleviate all threats. One is development: Golf courses, houses, and shopping centers from growing Palm Springs push right to the boundaries of the Monument--and even inside, as 20 percent of the Monument is privately-owned. Many of the Monument's creatures are vulnerable to such habitat disturbances; developments also sap water from the already arid area. Conservationists are seeking funding to buy crucial private inholdings from willing sellers, including several large, sensitive tracts slated for development.
Another problem is the use by mountain bikers and hikers of some popular trails that cross bighorn sheep lambing areas and waterholes. Many paths are now subject to voluntary seasonal closures to protect the sheep and watering holes, though visitors don't always respect those closures.
A third major threat is a woody tree called tamarisk, which is invading the Monument. Tamarisk persistently grows near any water source it can find, crowding out native plants, sapping large quantities of water that wildlife need, and sometimes filling canyons so thickly that human passage is impossible. Removal and restoration requires hundreds of thousands of dollars of funding. (See Invest in an American Treasure)