Spring has sprung (officially, it arrives on March 20)—and there’s no better time to get out and bond with nature than right now.

The wildflowers are blooming. The birds are singing as the desert wildlife is migrating. It’s time to get out on the trails and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us—before the hot temperatures of summer kick in.

The arrival of springtime means it’s almost time for Earth Day! Every April 22, we celebrate the Earth. What will you do on Earth Day to show your appreciation for our amazing planet? Maybe plant a tree? Go for a bike ride? Or utilize some of the amazingly beautiful nearby trails and go for a hike? There are so many options for you to connect with our planet and all of its beauty.

Once, on Earth Day, I thought it would be cool to run the trail to Murray Peak barefoot, so I could actually feel the soil and gain a deeper connection with Earth itself. After getting onto the trail and finding a good stopping point, I removed my shoes and socks, strapped them to my backpack and trudged forward.

I would soon be in for a brutal awakening. The trail had more rocks than I could ever imagine—and sharp rocks at that. It felt like I was running through broken glass. I did manage to make it a full mile—a mixture of running, walking and lightly stepping along the trail—before I put my socks and shoes back on. I really gained a new appreciation for Mother Earth on that day. While you should probably learn from my mistake and refrain from running up a trail barefoot, it would be good to find a nice place and sit down; relax; remove your shoes and socks; put your bare feet in the dirt; and give yourself a meditation moment. Be present. Allow yourself to feel and fully appreciate what the earth gives us. It truly is rejuvenating.

Many surrounding trails are thriving with beautiful wildflowers and sights of wildlife this time of year. One of my favorite places to enjoy wildflowers is the Whitewater Preserve—nearly 3,000 acres surrounded by the San Gorgonio Wilderness and nestled in a quiet canyon between the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountains. This gorgeous habitat is absolutely breathtaking in every way. Not only does the Whitewater Preserve offer a variety of trails; there’s actually water, as the Whitewater River runs through the heart of the wilderness. The river actually originates on Mount San Gorgonio (the highest peak in Southern California) and flows through the San Bernardino Mountains into Whitewater and the Coachella Valley, all the way to the Salton Sea. There are so many tranquil spots along the water within the preserve. Learn more about The Wildlands Conservancy’s Whitewater Preserve at wildlandsconservancy.org/preserves/whitewater.

At the reserve, you can walk on a small portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. The PCT runs from Mexico to Canada—and right through our desert community: After coming off the San Jacinto Mountains into Cottonwood Canyon, it passes through Whitewater. From there, the PCT continues on up through Big Bear and Northern California, Oregon and Washington, all the way to the U.S.-Canada border—a total of 2,650 miles, or approximately five months of hiking from start to finish. (Learn more at www.pcta.org.)

The small part of the trail’s Section C that travels between Cottonwood Canyon and Whitewater is one of my personal favorites. It’s just less than 7 miles out and back, and is filled with hills and valleys that offer majestic views, along with numerous wildflowers and birds this time of year. But that’s not all: A herd of feral cattle has been known to graze across the wilderness area around the Whitewater Preserve. However, the cattle are not often around, and this is a very serene piece of the desert backcountry.

Moving away from Whitewater: Another great breakaway that offers an abundance of trails and palm oases is the Thousand Palms Oasis Preserve, within the Coachella Valley Preserve (www.cnlm.org/portfolio_page/coachella-valley). Much like the Whitewater Preserve, it is off the beaten path—and a nature-lovers’ hotspot. With almost 900 acres and more than 25 miles of trails over canyons and through desert washes and dunes, the preserve is home to amazing oases you would never imagine. It truly is a desert paradise and a perfect place to bond with nature. For a short, easy stroll, you can take the McCallum Trail to the oasis and visit McCallum Pond, where you may catch a glimpse of the endangered desert pupfish. This trail is about a two-mile round-trip from the visitor center.

Trails can become quite crowded this time of year, so remember to mask up, bring sanitizer and allow at least six feet of distance between you and others—and always be courteous! Also, remember you’re in the desert, and it’s getting warmer, so always bring lots of water, and wear appropriate shoes, a hat and sunscreen.

See ya on the trails!

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Theresa Sama

Theresa Sama is an outdoor enthusiast who writes the Independent’s hiking/outdoors column. She has been running and hiking the Coachella Valley desert trails for more than 10 years and enjoys sharing...