Art &



Base Camp

Desert Oases Virtual Field Trip

If you have joined us for our Desert Field Trip, we ended up in a pretty hot environment, and are now looking for an oasis to cool off at.

In the Colorado Desert, at the eastern base of the San Jacinto Mountains is the famous community of Palm Springs. Not as well known are the beautiful natural palm-lined springs that are nestled in rocky canyons up stream from Palm Springs, and are the home of the Agua Caliente Band of the Cahuilla Indians. In this oasis one can cool off in the spring-fed stream of Palm Canyon in the midst of a quiet riparian plant community with bulrushes, ash, and cottonwood trees lining the banks. Six feet away, the landscape reverts to the dry rocky surface, dotted by an occasional cactus. Other oases in the area are at Twenty Nine Palms, Mecca, and the Anza Borrego Desert.

In the Mojave Desert, Death Valley offers us an oasis to seek refreshment at … but warning .. the springs at this oasis are HOT water, not cool drinking water, a feed the swimming pool at a resort.

How is a natural California oasis formed ? Where the earth’s crust is cracked in these desert areas of California, the waters from the underground natural reservoirs can bubble up naturally as an artesian well. These water reservoirs have been accumulating water from mountain snow for centuries, and as all water flows towards the sea, gravity pulls the mountains waters down to the valley floor and there it runs in underground rivers through loose gravel and rock. Where an earthquake fault has cracked the crust, the water is then naturally pushed up to the surface and can form a natural spring and pool.

Plants can grow around this pool that could not survive 200 feet away out in the desert. Animals come to the springs for refreshing water. And humans since the earliest Californians have sought out an oasis as a respite from the hard heat of the desert.

Lets look at a few natural oases – some have original native plant communities, another has an introduced landscape.



Palm Springs

Joshua Trees

Copyright © 1998 California Academy of Sciences

In contrast to these natural palm stands that have taken hundreds of years to establish themselves, and remain backcountry hiking locations, the oasis in Death Valley at the Furnace Creek Inn has spawned a resort around it, with introduced palm trees.




 Any of these palm stands offers shade from the hot desert sand for animals and humans alike. Not all have surface springs .. some of their water is buried deep beneath the surface feeding the palm’s roots. Where is does bubble to the surface, refreshing springs may form, and some then feed into streams as part of the natural watershed.