Snow Creek

The majestic Snow Creek alluvial fan and the dramatic North Face of Mount San Jacinto, with its towering seasonal waterfall, is the first sight to greet visitors exiting the I-10 Freeway at Highway 111. From sand dunes to alpine forest, this scenic wilderness, where verdant mountains and inland waterways meet the desert floor, is one of California's best mountain views. The Snow Creek area extends from Windy Point to Fingal's Finger at the western end of the San Jacinto Mountain range. It supports a varied and unique ecosystem with many threatened or endangered plant and animal species. The University of California's Oasis De Los Osos Preserve, Los Osos Falls, the Pacific Crest Trail, Vargas Palms Canyon and Snow Creek Falls, the second highest waterfall in the state are some of the highlights of the area.

Unique History

Snow Creek Canyon

Some of Snow Creek's most important features include evidence of historical Indian life at the the Snow Creek Rock Shelter, petroglyphs and bedrock mortars. Snow Creek was one of the migratory routes for the Cahuilla Indians and also a home base during the cooler months. The "Elephant" rock cave is thought to be a Shaman's cave, used for healing. The red, iron oxide markings on the interior of the cave are purportedly references to crop planting. Cottonwoods, desert willows, sourgrass, jojoba and brittlebush provided the rural setting native to the Cahuilla way of life. Snow Creek has an abundance of natural water provided by the snow melt and ground water. Trout was part of the Cahuilla diet and this was a popular fishing spot up until the 1960's, when the Desert Water Agency took possession and rerouted the water flow. In rainy years, happy raccoons eat the trout trapped in the rock pools in lower Snow Creek, along the eastern wall of Snow Canyon.

The first non-native settlers, arriving around 1810, were employees of the Wells Fargo Pony Express. Here, horses were exchanged, fed and watered, while also maintaining the carriages. In 1910 the artist, Steven Willard became a resident. In the 1920's a group of Sicilian farmers arrived with sheep and olive trees, hoping to establish a successful business. Although the extreme winds and temperatures caused their efforts to fail, the olive grove is still in existence and maintained by the residents of Snow Creek. Friends of Palm Springs Mountains is actively pursuing the purchase of 500 acres of privately owned land as preservation of open space.

Current Threats

Most of Snow Creek is under County jurisdiction. 1,200 privately owned acres, however, lie within Palm Springs. Because a large flood plain bisects this property, the land that can be developed is estimated to be 244 acres, currently zoned for one unit per acre. Thhe landowner has requested up-zoning the property to 2.5 units per acre to make building a bridge across the flood plain more economically feasible.

All photos credit: Tom Brewster Photography unless otherwise specified. Snow Creek photo is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution License v.1.0

Canyon stream