What’s in a name? Tahquitz Canyon…Tahquitz Falls…Tahquitz Creek…Tahquitz Peak? You see the name everywhere in the Coachella Valley (pronounced just the way it looks: tah quits). But where did that name come from?
If you hear rumbling in Tahquitz Canyon when there is no storm, see an odd green light floating over Tahquitz Peak, or see a shadow move across the face of the mountains where no shadow should be, you may have the answer. You have just witnessed the spirit of Tahquitz.
Are you ready for an epic story of creation and betrayal? Of good slowly turning evil? Of gods and monsters? Sit back a take in this tale passed down among the Cahuilla People:
Many moons ago, when the People still lived as brothers and sisters with Cougar and Coyote, when Primrose and Palm still spoke to each other and to the People, Mukat the Creator of All Things looked around and said, “The People need a guide, a teacher, a healer.” So, he created Tahquitz, the first of the shamans.
There lived at the same time Algoot, a strong, brave, thoughtful leader, Chief of the People. Algoot learned much from observing sister Eagle and brother Ant, much about watching over his tribe and industriousness. He shared his knowledge with the tribe. The people loved and respected Algoot. Algoot loved and cherished the tribe, holding especially close to his heart his brave and handsome son.
As the moons passed, Tahquitz became stronger, using his powers to heal the tribe and guide the other shamans. He was Algoot’s trusted confidant, providing wise counsel to the benefit of the tribe. But as Tahquitz’ strength grew, so did his boredom. He began to play tricks on children, scaring them in disguise and sneaking up on them in the dark. Then hunters began to disappear from forays. Others out gathering berries vanished. Algoot found their possessions in Tahquitz’ bag, smeared with blood and matted with hair. With sadness, Algoot realized that his friend was becoming a stranger, that the most powerful of all shamans was becoming a demon.
With a heavy heart, Algoot banished Tahquitz to the Canyon. Tahquitz vowed vengeance on Algoot and the People. Algoot, in his kindness, would send food to Tahquitz in the Canyon. But then rumblings could be heard coming from the Falls and those Algoot sent did not return. One who escaped described the Canyon, once verdant and full of animals, now charred and black, strewn with bones. Algoot sent the three strongest and bravest of his tribe members to investigate, at their head his beloved son. Tahquitz killed the son and sent his bones back to Algoot, carried on tendrils of smoke.
In grief, Algoot now realized that he must vanquish Tahquitz once and for all. He trained for battle with weapons and powers from this world and the next. After twelve moons had passed, the People cheered as Algoot ascended the Canyon. The ensuing battle pushed up mountains and created lakes. The skies rolled with thunder and lightning shot from the peaks. In the end, Algoot killed Tahquitz, but his immortal spirit escaped and took refuge in ice caves in the mountains.
Peace returned to the People. The Canyon again became lush and full of brothers and sisters. But now and then a ball of green fire appeared over the peaks and a shadow would pass over the face of the mountain. When food would disappear, or animal bones were found off the trail, the People knew that Tahquitz was still there…waiting.
Tahquitz Canyon and Tahquitz Falls
Agua Caliente Tahquitz Visitors Center
500 W Mesquite Ave, Palm Springs, CA 92264
From the Visitors Center, you can take the trail up the canyon to see the 60-foot Tahquitz Falls. The 2-mile hike is rocky and steep, no shade, no water, a climb of 350 feet. But you will get to experience Tahquitz’ home in banishment. The cold water of the Falls is at the end. You may even see some bighorn sheep along the way.
If a hike like this is not in your plans, you could stay at the Visitors Center for the cultural and historical exhibits. You can also view The Legend of Tahquitz in the theatre. Parking available.
800 N. Riverside Dr, Palm Springs, CA 92264
Take a 1-mile stroll up and down the creek to see a bit of wilderness in the city. Depending on the season, the creek bed may be lush and green with a flowing stream in the center or take on the brown of summer. You can often spot roadrunners and hawks looking for a meal. If you’d like a bite yourself, stop in at Townie Bagels (650 E Sunny Dunes Rd) for some New York style bagels and an iced coffee.
Tahquitz Peak Hike via the Devils Slide Trail
24559 Fern Valley Rd, Idyllwild, CA 92549
This 8-mile hike will take you to incredible views, a historic fire lookout, mountain flowers, birding and fauna viewing opportunities. The trail is moderate for experienced hikers and bordering on strenuous for novices. You will definitely know that you are making a climb. But it’s well worth the effort for the amazing views of the Inland Empire and the San Jacinto Valley.
It will take a little over an hour to drive here from Palm Springs, but the drive gives spectacular views and a great study in the changing climactic zones of SoCal. We suggest taking the Pines to Palms Highway (Hwy 74) out of Palm Desert on the way there and Hwy 243 through Banning on the way back. You’ll need a permit for this hike. It’s free and can be picked up by filling out a form at the Idyllwild Ranger Station (54270 Pine Crest Ave, Idyllwild, CA 92549).
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