Tahquitz Canyon

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Tahquitz Canyon
Waterfall, Tahquitz Canyon, Palm Springs.jpg
Floor elevation351 ft (107 m)
LocationSan Jacinto Mountains
Palm Springs, California
Coordinates33°30′05″N 116°18′30″W / 33.50139°N 116.30833°W / 33.50139; -116.30833Coordinates: 33°30′05″N 116°18′30″W / 33.50139°N 116.30833°W / 33.50139; -116.30833[1]
RiversTahquitz Creek
Elevation listed is for Tahquitz Creek[2]

Tahquitz Canyon is located in Southern California in the Coachella Valley near Palm Springs, California. It has been continually inhabited for at least 2,000 years by the Cahuilla tribe of Native Americans.[3] It is one of many canyons of cultural significance to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians.[4]

Legend of Tahquitz[edit]

Tahquitz Canyon is an important location in the creation myths of the Agua Caliente band. Although the legend comes in many versions, most regard Tahquitz as a powerful nukatam, roughly "Shaman," who was created directly by the creator of the world, Mukat. He became obsessed with a young woman whom he kidnapped and took to Tahquitz canyon, where they lived for several years. Due to her continued unhappiness, Tahquitz allowed her to leave on the condition that she not tell her people what had transpired. She disregarded this warning and was consequently struck dead by Tahquitz' power. The legend states that Tahquitz himself is immortal, that he still imparts power to worthy nukatam, and that he steals the souls of those who venture too far into his canyon at night. He is said to be the cause of the earthquakes in the area, and to reveal himself as a bright ball of green light or a meteor.[5] Other versions of the legend report that Tahquitz was a normal man who gained his powers when he fled his people, as opposed to being directly created by Mukat.[6]

History of human occupation[edit]

In the late Quaternary period, the Colorado river had sometimes discharged its waters not into the Gulf of California as it currently does, but into the Salton Basin. This resultant body of water, known as Lake Cahuilla, was a major food supplier to the indigenous people of the area, supporting large populations of fish and migratory birds.[6] The Salton Sea currently occupies the bottom of the former Lake Cahuilla.

At some point in the past few thousand years, Lake Cahuilla disappeared, and easy access to fresh water, fish, and fowl along with it. This forced the Cahuilla Indians in the area to relocate to new sources of water. Along with Andreas Canyon, Palm Canyon, and Murray Canyon, Tahquitz Canyon was one such location.[6]

Indians living in the canyon created various petroglyphs, most of which are lost today.[7] Stone artifacts were discovered in the canyon including arrow shaft straighteners made from soapstones (steatites) and heated to steam and shape arrows.[8] Fragments of broken ceramic ollas were also found in the canyon, used to store water, seeds and to bury the cremated remains of the dead.

Irrigation ditches in the canyon were used by the Agua Caliente people to carry water to crops before the arrival of outsiders.

Flood control[edit]

Flood control channels were laid in order to manage the threat of devastating flooding occurring during years of heavy rain and snow fall in the mountains of the Tahquitz Canyon.[9] As a consequence of the project, the Tahquitz creek was channeled with the least impact to the resources of the canyon. An excavation project preceded the flood control project.

Archaeological project[edit]

Between 1988 and 1994 an extensive program conducted excavations and retrieval of artifacts and archaeological data in the Canyon. The project produced the largest collection of artifacts and features of any site in the southern California desert and constitutes the most extensive research on the history of the inhabitants of Tahuqitz Canyon, the Kauisiktum clan of the Agua Caliente. The project was conducted prior to the Tahquitz Creek Flood Control Program.

Reintroduced wildlife[edit]

In 2010, researchers from the San Diego Zoo, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Department of Fish and Game reintroduced the endangered Mountain yellow-legged frog into Tahquitz Creek after it had been rediscovered in 2009.[10]

Desert Plays[edit]

From 1921 through 1930 the canyon was used for outdoor plays. The series of three Desert Plays featured Fire and The Arrow Maker by Mary Hunter Austin and one based on the legend of Tahquitz, written by Garnet Holme.[11][12]

In film[edit]

The Tahquitz Falls were used as a scene in Frank Capra's 1937 film, Lost Horizon.[13]

Visitor's Center and hiking trail[edit]

The Agua Caliente Band maintains a visitor's center and hiking trail for the canyon. The trail is a two-mile loop which leads to Tahquitz Falls[14] and back.[5]


  1. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Tahquitz Canyon
  2. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Tahquitz Creek
  3. ^ http://www.aguacaliente.org/content/History%20&%20Culture/
  4. ^ Kaldenberg, Rusell (October 1981). The Cahuilla and the Santa Rosa Mountain Region: Places and their Native American Associations. Riverside, CA: United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management California Desert Planning Program.
  5. ^ a b "The legend of Tahquitz". Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians. Archived from the original on 2014-05-23. Retrieved 2014-05-23.
  6. ^ a b c Wilke, Philip; King, Hammond (1975). The Cahuilla Indians of the Colorado Desert: Ethnohistory and Prehistory. Ballena Press. p. 48.
  7. ^ Hough, Susan E. "Writing on the walls: geological context and early American spiritual beliefs" (PDF). Rock Art: Geology and Spiritual Context. US Geological Survey: 107–115.
  8. ^ Route Location and Right-of-way Preservation for a New Multi-modal Transportation Facility in the Winchester to Temecula Corridor in the County of Riverside: Environmental Impact Statement. United States Federal Highway Administration. 2003. pp. 13.2–5.
  9. ^ "History: Pre-District Years". Riverside County Flood Control and Water Conservation District. Retrieved 12 September 2017.
  10. ^ USGS Newsroom: Mountain yellow-legged frogs reintroduced to wild (April 16, 2010); USGS Newsroom: Biologist Rediscover Endangered Frog Population (July 24, 2009)
  11. ^ Browne, Renee (August 8, 2015). "History: 'Ramona' inspired early Palm Springs plays". The Desert Sun. Gannett.
  12. ^ Brown, Renee (June 11, 2015). "'Desert Plays' performed in Tahquitz Canyon in 19202". The Desert Sun. Palm Springs, CA: Gannett.
  13. ^ Lost Horizon at the American Film Institute Catalog
  14. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Tahquitz Falls