The original two palms at Dos Palmas have now increased to 27. The grade of the All-American canal may be seen at the base of Orocopia mountains in the background.
Waterhole on the
Old Bradshaw Trail
Gold at La Paz! Eighty-four years ago prospectors poured through the Colorado desert, and Bill Bradshaw flung a freight road across a wilderness that has remained, to this day, dry and desolate and uninhabited. This month, Randall Henderson takes Desert readers to one of the most important waterholes on that forgotten road--historic Dos Palmas oasis.
IN 1862 when rumors reached San Bernardino, California, that Mexican prospectors were finding big nuggets of gold in the gravel along the Colorado river at a place called La Paz, there was feverish excitement as every man with adventure in his blood began looking for transportation to the new placer strike.
But where was La Paz? Freight drivers on the road from San Bernardino through San Gorgonio pass and thence to Yuma had brought in news of the new gold field. Pauline Weaver, trapper and frontiersman, had brought some of the gold to Yuma, they said. But the teamsters had only a vague idea as to where the golden gravel was located.
"Up the river somewhere above Yuma perhaps a hundred miles," was the only information they could give. "No, there were no roads up the river. Only Indian trails."
But lack of roads is no serious obstacle when gleaming nuggets lay thick under-foot, and fortunes may be recovered with crude placer tools. And so the stampede was on. On horseback, in buckboards, and in lumbering freight wagons men were heading out into the desert as fast as they could get together their grubstakes and equipment. Bill Bradshaw, described by his friend and biographer, Major Horace Bell, as a "natural lunatic," was one of the first to reach the new field. A giant in stature, and a brave and competent man despite his eccentricities, Bradshaw could see no sense in making the long detour to Yuma and thence up the river, when a more direct route might be found over the 180-mile span of desert between San Gor-gonio and the Colorado River.
From Chief Cabazon of the Desert Cahuilla Indians, Bradshaw learned the loca-tion of the springs and waterholes along the southern toe of the Chuckawalla Range--Dos Palmas, Canyon springs, Tabaseca tanks, Chuckawalla Spring, Mule Spring, and thence into the Palo Verde valley and the Colorado River. Bradshaw went over the route with an Indian guide, found the springs as they had been described by the Cahuilla chief--and with characteristic energy began building a freight road.
Much of the old road may still be followed, in a rugged automobile, and all the old Bradshaw waterholes may be found today with one exception. Ruins of the old stage station at Mule spring still mark the site, but the spring has long since dried up and disappeared beneath the blow sand.
Perhaps Bradshaw was not aware of it, but he was indebted to those natural forces which created the great San Andreas earthquake fault and its tributary fractures, for part of the water supply along his route.
The springs at Dos Palmas are fault springs. Their flowing water comes from that great underground fissure which may be traced across the Colorado desert from Desert Hot springs community at the base of the Little San Bernardino mountain range through the Indio and Mecca hills and thence to the Algodones sand dunes east of El Centro which themselves are believed to be an indirect result of the frac-tures in the earth's crust known as the San Andreas fault system.
But this story is concerned mainly with Dos Palmas. For this oasis is outstanding among the historic waterholes of the Southern California desert. It deserves a chapter of its own.
For nearly 100 years-perhaps longer, the dark fronds of the palms at Dos Palmas, visible for miles across the com-paratively level floor of the desert, have been guiding mountain men, explorers trappers, prospectors and surveyors to this always dependable source of water. No doubt the desert Indians camped at these springs countless generations before the coming of the white man.
The Washingtonia filifera palms which gave the springs their name, were mature trees when Bill Bradshaw's crew of brush - cutters and mule - skinners roughed in the road that was to carry countless gold-seekers to the gold at La Paz.
In the '90s the Orocopia mining cornpany installed a pump at Dos Palmas to supply water for mining operations 18 miles away in Orocopia mountains. According to hearsay, the mine was never a highly profitable venture, and the last trace of the old pumping plant has long since disappeared. The sheet-iron shack now at the springs was erected by the mili-tary during World War II and having served its purpose is now falling apart a victim of vandal erosion. No one will regret its disappearance.
In 1906, 43 years after Bradshaw had blazed the trail, George Wharton James and Carl Eytel, the artist, following their three burros, arrived at the springs from Palo Verde valley. Recording his visit there, James wrote in The Wonders of the Colorado Desert:
"Our canteens hang empty on our shoulders. There is no more danger of thirst, for in the morning, only a few miles farther on, are palms rising out of the desert, telling of the presence of an oasis where there is an abundance of water. It is Dos Palmas, well-loved spot of desert teamsters and prospectors; the old stagestation, where two springs supply an abundance of good water so that animals and men can drink all they desire without fear A small shack, which serves as bedroom, parlor, sitting-room, dining-room, kitchen, hall, reception and smoking room, stands close by the spring, which is surrounded by beautiful trees, carrizo, grass and flowers to which it gives life."
To the thirsty traveler, the springs at Dos Palmas are, as James describes them, "good water." Actually, the description written two years later by Walter C. Mendenhall and published in the U. S. Geological Survey's Desert Watering Places in California and Nevada, Water Supply Paper 224, is more accurate. Mendenhall wrote:
"Dos Palmas is a well known stopping place on the old San Bernardino and Yuma road, about six miles east of the new Salton Station on the Southern Pacific railroad, near the clearly defined old beach line that stands 40 feet above sea level in the Colorado desert. The position of the springs is marked by two large desert palms, which give the name to the place. The springs yield a large quantity of tepid and slightly salty but drinkable water the first to be found on this old road southeast of Mecca, which is 16 miles distant."
But while the water at Dos Palmas has given life to man and beast for countless years, this oasis also has been the scene of tragedy. Hermann Ehrenberg stopped here overnight in 1866 and spread his bedroll under a brush ramada outside the stage station. He had $3500 in gold from the placer field at La Paz During the night he was shot through the heart, and robbed of the money. The station keeper, named Smith, reported that the assassin was an Indian. Charles D. Poston, friend of Ehrenberg, who had camped at Dos Palmas the previous night, expressed the opinion that the station keeper was the murderer. No one ever was prosecuted for the crime. A year later the new town of Arizona City on the Colorado River seven miles south of La Paz was renamed in honor of Ehrenberg.
My first visit to Dos Palmas was in the winter of 1920 when I accompanied a group of Blythe men scouting the old Bradshaw road, which had long been abandoned, to see if it offered a more feasible route than the sandy Chuckawalla trail which then connected the Palo Verde valley with the outside world. Our report was adverse, due to the long sandy pull up Salt creek wash, east of Dos Palmas. There were three or four grown palms at the springs then, and several smaller trees. Also several mesquites. The adobe walls of the old Dos Palmas stage station had almost disappeared, but prospectors were camping there.
A few years later Frank Coffey, who had been prospecting the Chocolate and Chuckawalla ranges since 1885, built a cabin and resided at the springs until his death nine years ago. Coffey planted rare species of fish in the pool at one of the springs, some of them from China, he said. The fish were Frank's pets, and he fed them every morning from a box of oatmeal. A short time after friends took him to the hospital for his last illness his cabin was burned, and the fish have long since disappeared.
Last October Arles Adams and I revisited Dos Palmas--and met Raymond Morgan who three years ago purchased the Rancho Dos Palmas, a mile from the springs.
The route from Mecca to Dos Palmas spring is now marked by these signs erected by the owner of Rancho Dos Palmas.
The ranch house was built originally as a desert guest resort. But Morgan, head of a very successful advertising con-cern in Hollywood, is not interested in its commercial possibilities. He maintains the ranch as a desert retreat for his staff and friends. Barry Atwater, the painter, has a little cabin there and has done some exquisite landscapes in the area. Morgan has increased his ranch to 2000 acres, including the Dos Palmas oasis.
From the standpoint of agricultural possibilities, Raymond probably has the worst 2000 acres in the Colorado Desert. But he knew that when he bought it. He does not assure to be a big shot rancher. He wanted this spot for its historic and scenic interest. There is an abundance of sun and sand and solitude out on this desert--and those things are good tonic for folks who are cooped up all week in an office in the big city and he was smart enough to know that, and had the means to do something about it.
Raymond told me Dos Palmas is to be preserved in its natural state, as a historic landmark. His ranch is cut with barrancas spotted with sand dunes, and covered with salt flats and boulders. And that is just what he wanted. There's a dry lake that makes an excellent runway for airplanes, the rocks are good building material for barbecues, stone walls and cabins, and the dunes are covered with the shells left by the marine life of ancient Lake Cahuilla. The old beach line which runs across the ranch contains artifacts of a prehistoric Indian culture. And there are more springs than he has been able to count. When the colossal pressures which created the San Andreas fault were heaving and twisting the earth's crust they did an extra good job of shattering the rock massif that underlies this terrain, and as a result, springs bubble to the surface all over the place.
Today the original dos palmas have in-creased to veintisiete--and that is 27 if you do not speak the language of the Mexican who first gave the oasis its name. I believe the original two palms are still standing. I cannot be sure of them, but two of the 27 are fire-scarred veterans which have the appearance of having lived 75 or 100 years. A majority of the trees arc comparatively young, and my guess is that under the custodianship of Raymond Mor-gan their numbers will continue to increase.
The springs at Dos Palmas are sur-rounded by a dense growth of tules, and, as Walter Mendenhall wrote, the water is a trifle salty. But Frank Coffey assured me more than once, "It is the healthiest water on earth--puts mineral in your system. Look how my fish thrive on it."
The author believes this is one of the original two palms which gave the spring its name.
Silhouetted against the skyline two miles southwest of Dos Palmas is another oasis--San Andreas springs. There is no road to this group of palms. Several months ago I tried to drive across the desert to get a closeup picture of the San Andreas palms--and riding through the undergrowth I encountered one of those springs. My car stayed there until the folks at the rancho pulled it out with a tractor several hours later.
Arles and I climbed a low ridge just south of San Andreas palms and found a section of railroad grade probably built by Southern Pacific in 1906 and 1907 when its engineers were fighting to keep the tracks above the rising waters of Salton Sea. According to George Keenan in The Salton Sea, the railroad company moved its tracks five times during 1906 as the runaway Colorado continued to pour its flood into the Imperial basin and the sea level rose as much as seven inches in a day.
Eventually the breach through which the river poured its torrent was closed and the grade above San Andreas oasis was never used--but it remains today a well--preserved reminder of that historic battle between man and a mighty river.
TWO DOS PALMAS OASES
There are two Dos Patinas oases on the Southern California desert. One of them is on the north slope of Santa Rosa mountains at an elevation of 3500 feet (see Desert Magazine, Nov.'45). The Dos Patinas described in the accompanying article is much better known and is the oasis generally referred to when you hear desert people speak of Dos Patinas.
But Arles and I were in a jeep this time. We reached the oasis without difficulty and found the palms growing in a thicket of tules which mark a series of springs, obviously extending along the fault line.
Just east of these palms is a long sand dune which bears out the theory of geologists that dunes may be the indirect result of a fault in the earth's crust. The explanation is that water seeps to the surface through the fracture and provides moisture hot a heavy belt of vegetation. The trees and shrubs serve to retard the blow sand which sweeps across the desert and gradually a dune is formed. Water is still coming to the surface of the dune I refer to, and it presents the novel spectacle of a great hill of sand covered with a thick growth of grass and shrubs. This is another of the interesting phenomena on Raymond Morgan's 2000 - acre playground.
We counted 16 vigorous natives of the palm family at San Andreas, and then made an inspection tour of the Rancho Dos Palmas---a tour in which the little jeep was called upon to do everything except turn somersaults. It took us over dunes and across terrain slashed with barrancas and pitted with craters. I am sure Raymond Morgan's jackrabbit farm will never be overrun with rubberneck tourists.
The Coachella valley extension of the All-American canal now cuts across the desert a half mile above Dos Palmas oasis. Doubtless the time will come when rnany thousands of acres along the bajada which extends from the base of the Orocopia and Chocolate mountains to the north shore of Salton sea will be brought under cultivation.
But Raymond Morgan has given assur-ance that the historic oasis of Dos Palmas is to be preserved as a waterhole where the thirsty traveler may always find refreshment--just as it was in the days when Bill Bradshaw and Frank Coffey and the great fraternity of frontiersmen whom they symbolize came here to rest and fill their canteens.