From the San Bernardino mountains to the north shore of Salton Sea in Riverside Country, Southern California, stretching for 45 miles, is the desert valley of Coachella, not to be confused with the city of the same name, which is one of nine that make up the valley. About 15 miles in width for the most part, the valley sits at the foot of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto mountains in the west, and the Little San Bernardino Mountains in the east and north, with the San Andreas Fault crossing it from the southeast corner in the Chocolate Mountains through the centerline of Little San Bernardino Mountains. The fault is the only belt of greenery stretching along the desert mountain on its northern side.
The Chocolate Mountains, holding the United States Navy live gunnery range, are a restricted area generally closed off to the public. Coachella Valley, or the Desert Empire, as it’s sometimes called to set it apart from its neighbor, the urbanized Imperial Valley (the Inland Empire) attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors and tourists annually.
The valley’s popularity, in part, is owed to the popular resorts cities of Palm Desert and Palm Springs, while Indio and Coachella are also popular among visitors. Five other cities, Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, La Quinta, Indian Wells, and Rancho Mirage also make up Coachella Valley. According to the national census of 2010, the combined population of permanent residents in the valley is approximately 346,500. Being a popular holiday destination, especially during the winters, the population can rise as high as 800,000 around December and January, falling gradually as weather gets warmer. Coachella Valley is a well-connected destination, with the San Gorgonio Pass linking it to Greater Los Angeles in the west via the Union Pacific Railroad and Interstate 10.
How Coachella got its names no one seems to agree on, but the prevailing theory comes from local lore. As story goes, the late 19th century saw the arrival of the Southern Pacific Railway to the valley of Conchilla, meaning seashell in Spanish owing to the area once being underneath the great inland sea. The map-makers hired by the railway for the expensive but important task of mapping land-area misspelled the area’s name, recording it as Coachella. When the mistake came to light, the railroad decided it would be cheaper to begin calling the valley by its mis-recorded name rather than paying to have the expensive map redone, and so the area got its name due to a spelling mistake.
The coming of the Southern Railway to the now-renamed valley led to the discovery of a large number of artesian wells, enhancing its appeal, with the 1890s seeing an increasing Scottish and Irish presence in the area. This growth can be credited to Welwood Murray, an immigrant from Scotland, and John Guthrie McCallum, a US resident from the East Coast, both of whom co-founded the agricultural colony of Palm Valley. The new colony was advertised as an ideal home for settlers seeking warm weather and townsfolk looking to build a winter home.
For a long time, up until the later half of the 20th century, Coachella was home to less than a thousand permanent residents, with a majority of the population being Mexican and Native American and less than 50% being ‘white’, the census of 1930 showed. The construction of Route 99 through Indio and Coachella going westward to LA in 1926, and of State Highway 111 in early 1930s connecting all primary settlements within the valley opened it up to tourism and commerce.
According to the US census of 2010, Indio is the most populated city in the valley, with a population of approx. 76,000 and Cathedral City is the second most populated at 51,200; Palm Desert, Palm Springs and Coachella follow with 48,445, 44,552 and 40,700 residents respectively. Indian Wells is the least populated with a population of 4,958.
Coachella Valley is a popular retirement destination with a considerable number of residents being above the age of 65. The communities edge towards being politically conservative but are diverse, popular for their acceptance of lesbians and gays, with approximately 33% of the population identifying as lesbian or gay. Cathedral City and Palm Springs hold a number of gay bars, restaurants, clubs and resort.
A Holiday Destination
Summers can be very hot in Coachella Valley but it also boasts the warmest winters in western United States making it a popular winter destination offering a range of activities from horseback riding to hiking which the mountains and canyons encompassing the valley are ideal for. Thousand Palms Canyon is a popular attraction, and so are the 125 golf courses spread across the area that make it a premier golf vacation destination not only in California, but the world. Indian Wells attracts professional tennis fans with the BNP Paribas Open tennis tournament it hosts every year in March at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
A large number of casinos, spas and resorts owned by the local Native American tribes populate Palm Springs. It also boasts the biggest collection of mid-century architecture in the country, attracting enthusiasts from all over the globe. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway runs from the base of the valley up to San Jacinto mountain station some 8,500ft above sea-level.
In recent years, Palm Springs has turned itself into a smaller Hollywood; the Palm Springs International Film Festival held annually rivals its counterpart in Sundance, Utah and so does the Palm Springs International Short Film Festival organize annually at Plaza Theatre, a popular historic venue.
Every year in February, Indio hosts the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival. It’s also very popular for the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival it organizes annually at the Empire Polo Ground. The festival has achieved recognition as a leading arts and music festival in the US commended for its influential acts, and picturesque beauty.
Tourists can take in the crude but magnificent beauty of the desert at the Joshua Tree National Park, the Sand to Snow National Monument, the Santa Rosa Mountains, and from the Aerial Tram running from Palm Springs to San Jacinto mountain station. Palm Desert is renowned for The Living Desert Zoo and Gardens, housing animals from across the globe and annually hosting the Wild Lights Christmas light show.