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Coachella Valley

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Coachella Valley
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Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley is an irrigated agricultural and recreational desert valley in southern California east of Los Angeles. The valley extends for approximately 45 miles (72 km) in Riverside County southeast from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Salton Sea. It is approximately 15 miles (24 km) wide along most of its length, bounded on the west by the San Jacinto Mountains and the Santa Rosa Mountains and on the north and east by the Little San Bernardino Mountains. The San Andreas Fault crosses the valley from the Chocolate Mountains in the southeast corner and along the centerline of the Little San Bernardinos. The fault is easily visible along its northern length as a strip of greenery against an otherwise bare mountain. The Chocolate Mountains are home to a United States Navy live gunnery range and are mostly off-limits to the public.

Although geographically the valley is the northwestern extension of the Colorado Desert to the southeast, the irrigation of over 100,000 acres (405 km²) of the valley since the early 20th century has allowed widespread agriculture. In its 2003 annual report, the Coachella Valley Water District listed the year's total crop value at over $550 million or just over $8000 per acre ($2/m²). The Coachella Canal, a concrete-lined aqueduct built between 1938 and 1948 as a branch of the All-American Canal, brings water from the Colorado River to the valley. The Colorado River Aqueduct, which provides drinking water to Los Angeles and San Diego, crosses the northeast end of the valley along the base of the Little San Bernardino Mountains.

The valley is the primary date-growing region in the United States, responsible for nearly 95 percent of the nation's crop and is celebrated each year in Indio during the Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival. The earliest attempt at growing dates came about in 1890 when the United States Department of Agriculture imported date palm shoots from Iraq and Egypt. Sixty-eight shoots were distributed across the Southwest in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Yuma, Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona, and several California cites: Indio, Pomona, Tulare and National City. The imports were almost all male seedlings and produced poor fruit. The Coachella Valley showed promise, so USDA horticulturist Bernard Johnson planted a number of shoots that he brought back from Algeria in September, 1903. On his own initiative, Johnson imported more shoots from Algeria in 1908 and again in 1912. The area's entire date industry can be traced back to those original USDA experiments near present-day Mecca. Other agricultural products cultivated in the valley include fruits and vegetables, especially table grapes and peppers along with avocados, artichokes, corn, citrus fruits, grain and cotton. The Coachella grapefruit originated in the region.

The town of Coachella is the primary shipping point for agricultural goods. The popular resort community of Palm Springs sits at the northwest end of the valley. Other communities in the valley include Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, La Quinta and Indio. Unincorporated areas and towns include Bermuda Dunes and Thousand Palms in the west end of the valley with Indio Hills, Sky Valley, North Palm Springs and Garnet along the northern rim along with Thermal, Valerie Jean, Vista Santa Rosa, Oasis and Mecca to the southeast. The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, Twentynine Palms Band of Mission Indians, Agua Caliente Band of Mission Indians and the Torres-Martinez tribe each have reservations in the area.

The valley's northwest entrance from the Inland Empire along Interstate 10 is known as the "San Gorgonio Pass" and is one of the windiest places on earth. Cool coastal air is forced through the pass and mixes with the hot desert air, making the San Gorgonio Pass one of only three ideal places in California for steady, wind-generated electricity. Hundreds of huge wind turbines spread across the desert and hills on either side of the highway greet visitors as they approach the crest of the pass and have become somewhat of a symbol of the area. The state's other wind farms are in the Tehachapi Pass between Mojave and Bakersfield and in the Altamont Pass near Livermore.

Contents

History

There is some contention as to the origin of the name. Early maps show the area as "Conchella," the Spanish word for "seashell." Since the area was once a part of a vast inland sea, tiny fossilized mollusk shells can be found in just about every remote area. The general consensus is that the name was made up, much to the consternation of the area's early settlers. Even though the area had been surveyed by Edward Fitzgerald Beale in 1857, whose survey party actually used camels to cross the desert, primarily along the path of the historic Bradshaw Trail, it wasn't until the coming of the Southern Pacific Railroad and the discovery of abundant artesian wells later in the 19th Century that the area began to expand. Cindarella Courtney was the first non-Indian child born in Indio in 1898. The first boy, David Elgin, was born in 1899.

The coming in 1926 of U.S. Highway 99 northward through Coachella and Indio and westward toward Los Angeles more or less along the present route of Interstate 10 helped further open both agriculture and tourism to the rest of the country. So too did the coming of State Highway 111 in the early 1930's, which cut a diagonal swath through the valley and connected all of its major settlements. Dr. June McCarroll, then a nurse with the Southern Pacific whose office fronted US 99 in Coachella, is credited with being the first person to delineate a divided highway by painting a stripe down the middle of the roadbed in response to frequent head-on collisions. The standard was refined and adopted worldwide. Doctor McCarroll is memorialized by a stretch of I-10 through Indio named in her honor.

Activities and trivia

With more than 350 days of sunshine per year and warm, mild winters - though summer can be quite hot - recreational hiking and horseback riding are popular in the many canyons in the mountains that surround the valley. The area has been a magnet for Hollywood stars since the 1930s when Bing Crosby, Charles Farrell and Ralph Bellamy founded the area's first tennis club in Palm Springs. Crosby would go on to found the Blue Skies Trailer Park in Rancho Mirage, unique for its expensive trailer homes each with its own individual theme.

Farrell, for whom a street in Palm Springs is named after, would later be elected mayor. Farrell Drive is built on the path of an old narrow-gauge railroad right of way originally built to serve the proposed town of Palmdale. The town was never built and the railroad was abandoned after a few short years of operation. The ties were used to build one of the area's earliest residences and the Cornelia White House still stands today in downtown Palm Springs.

More than two hundred golf courses blanket the area, making it one of the world's premier golf destinations. The Merrill Lynch Skins Game is held in La Quinta each Thanksgiving and draws some of the biggest names in golf. The PGA has a major presence in La Quinta as well with the "PGA West" golf and residential complex. One of the host courses of the aforementioned Bob Hope Chrysler Classic, a PGA West fairway represents the area in Soarin' Over California, an IMAX-based attraction at Disney's California Adventure theme park. The area is also dotted with classy, Las Vegas-style casinos run by local Indian tribes as well as resort hotels and spas with natural mineral water wells, making it a prime vacation destination as well. The Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, considered to be one of the greatest engineering feats of the 20th Century takes visitors from the valley floor to the Mount San Jacinto mountain station 8516 feet (2595 m) above sea level.

Other celebrities

Elvis Presley honeymooned in Palm Springs in 1967 and was a frequent visitor as well; Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope and Dinah Shore were residents of the valley and were instrumental in the creation of three major golf tournaments, the Frank Sinatra Celebrity Golf Tournament, Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and the Nabisco LPGA respectively. All three have streets named in their honor as does President Gerald Ford, a longtime Rancho Mirage resident and benefactor of the substance abuse center that bears his wife's name, the Betty Ford Center on the campus of the Eisenhower Medical Center. The main road into Palm Springs International Airport, named simply "Airport Road," was renamed Kirk Douglas Way on October 17, 2004. Douglas, a major area benefactor, lived in the valley for more than fifty years and currently resides in Montecito. He is credited with spearheading the drive to modernize the area over those ensuing five decades.

More famous names

Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz were instrumental in forming the exclusive Thunderbird Heights tract in Rancho Mirage where President and Mrs. Ford call home. According to Palm Springs Life magazine, that same tract would loan its name to a new car in late 1954, the Ford Thunderbird. The magazine also cites that a favorite vacation spot for General Motors executives, Palm Desert's Eldorado Country Club, loaned its name to Cadillac's top model the year before. Local automotive history also states that designer Raymond Loewy penned the Studebaker Avanti in his Palm Springs home.

Together with William Frawley and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Ball and Arnaz helped finance construction of the Indian Wells Country Club. A mostly gated community, Indian Wells has the distinction of having the highest per capita income of any small town in the world while nearby Coachella, a short distance southeast on California State Highway 111 is the third poorest city in the nation, though that is rapidly changing as the area develops. A memorial to Eisenhower can be found on the front lawn of Indian Wells City Hall.

The president and the general

President John F. Kennedy was a frequent guest of Frank Sinatra's, and a plaque in one of the pews of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Palm Desert marks the spot where Kennedy would usually sit during Mass. That same area in Palm Desert once served as a training ground for General George Patton's Third Army troops and tank battalions; today, the site is home to the very upscale El Paseo shopping district. Patton also trained in a huge plot of desert stretching from Chiriaco Summit just off the eastern end of the valley northward almost to Amboy along U.S. Highway 66 in the Mojave Desert. Tank tracks from those maneuvers are still visible today in the open desert and a museum dedicated to Patton is located in Chiriaco Summit.

From recordings to restaurants to Congress

Sonny Bono ran a restaurant in downtown Palm Springs. Frustrated by the lack of cooperation he faced from the city council over a new sign for the restaurant, the entertainer took matters into his own hands and ran for mayor. He retained local conservative talk radio host Marshall Gilbert as his campaign manager in a successful bid that not only put Bono back in the public eye, but fueled his later campaign for a seat on the United States Congress, a position he held until his death in a skiing accident in 1998. His widow, Mary, filled the vacancy left by her husband and later campaigned successfully on her own. Both he and Frank Sinatra are buried at Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City.

Paradise found

The La Quinta Resort and Hotel, a series of bungalows built in the 1920s in what was then known as Marshall Cove is the oldest resort in the valley. Frank Capra wrote the script for Lost Horizon poolside at the La Quinta. Capra is buried in nearby Coachella. So fond was Walt Disney of his property at the Smoke Tree Ranch in Palm Springs that he had the ranch's brand embroidered on all of his neckties. (Bronze statues of Disney standing next to Mickey Mouse in each of the Disney theme parks clearly show the brand on Walt's tie.) The Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy was created by the California Legislature in 1990 to aid in the protection of the surrounding mountains.

In recent years, the area has become a mecca for fans of alternative rock. The Empire Polo Club in Indio hosts the outdoor Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival each May, drawing thousands of alternative music fans from across the country.

Notable companies based in the Coachella Valley

  • United States Filter Corporation headquarters, Palm Desert - manufacturers of industrial water filtration systems.
  • Guthy-Renker, Palm Desert and Thane International, La Quinta - the nation's leading producers of mail order infomercials.

External links

Reference

  • Coachella Valley's Golden Years, printed by the Coachella Valley Water District, 1978.


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