It’s that time of year when you maybe hiking along—and, seemingly out of nowhere, bighorn sheep will cross the trail right in front of you. Newborn lambs may be tagging along as well.
However, the endangered peninsular desert bighorn sheep aren’t the only animals you’ll come across as spring approaches, because as the weather warms, it’s time for animals to start getting out and about. On a warm day during the first week of February, I was out scrambling around the desert and stumbled upon a tarantula. It didn’t appear to be very active, and was perhaps a bit confused, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve either been walking or running along a trail and nearly stepped on a tarantula. I’ve had similar unexpected encounters with rattlesnakes as well—and this is why, especially this time of year, it’s important to be aware of your surroundings when you’re out on the trails, and watch your every step.
Another most precious and threatened species that is coming out of brumation this time of year is the desert tortoise. Did you know that it’s actually illegal to touch or remove a desert tortoise from the wild? If you happen to be fortunate enough to see one, you want to be careful and courteous—and let it go about its way, undisturbed. Please keep your distance and don’t frighten it—because when frightened, a tortoise may void its bladder, which is where it stores much of its water.
It’s very rewarding and even an honor to come across and perhaps take a quick picture or two (from a distance, of course) of any desert species while out in the wild. But, again, remember that you are in their territory, and be careful not to disturb them.
It’s not just animals that are waking up this time of year; wildflowers should soon be blooming throughout the Coachella Valley and beyond. Wildflowers are such a beautiful sight to see, and it’s worth taking a day hike or drive to view these colorful blankets of beauty. Wildflowers will usually be in bloom from about mid-February to mid-April—depending on the weather, of course.
Speaking of wildflowers, it’s time for the Friends of the Desert Mountains’ annual Coachella Valley Wildflower Festival. While the festival is usually held on the first Saturday of March at the Palm Desert Civic Center, for this year’s fest—the 14th annual!—the Friends’ staff and fabulous team of volunteers, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have instead put together a “virtual” event. While the in-person festival takes place on one day only, this year’s virtual festival will run the entire month of March.
“The event offers several activities. One benefit of going virtual is that you don’t have to physically be here to participate this year,” said Tammy Martin, executive director of Friends of the Desert Mountains. “Attendance has continued to increase year over year, and we’re hoping the virtual event will engage others who would not normally be able to attend in person.”
Even though the festival is virtual, it is not limited to looking at a screen on a computer, tablet or phone. You may want to consider joining me in participating in the 30x30x30—aka 30 miles in 30 days for $30! It replaces the 5k trail run/walk, and offers participants an opportunity to walk, hike, run, ride or even use a treadmill to get in miles and help raise funds for the Friends. Other fun activities include “Flowers in the Field,” a downloadable field guide people can use to participate in a wildflower search. There will also be a scavenger hunt, a youth art contest, a silent auction and more. For participation and registration information, visit www.desertmountains.org/cvwf—and watch for updates as more details are added.
Another fun and free thing to do in the great outdoors of the Coachella Valley is Desert X 2021. Starting March 12 and running through May 16, Desert X is the biennial exhibition of contemporary art via site-specific installations by acclaimed artists, framed by the mountains and the desert of the Coachella Valley is back. Learn more at DesertX.org.
While more and more people are getting vaccines, and COVID-19 restrictions are being relaxed, we still must be vigilant. Please continue to be safe by keeping a distance, wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer. I hope to see you out on the trails!