Borrego Sun - Since 1949

Visitor's View – 17 Palms Oasis


Last updated 3/14/2023 at 11:45am

There is something quite magical about discovering a palm oasis in the middle of a barren desert landscape.

Several unique palm groves are available to Anza-Borrego visitors and scattered about the sprawling 700,000-acre park, but if you are looking for an interesting day trip by vehicle to a native palm grove located deep in Borrego Badlands, pack a hearty picnic lunch, grab the camera and let's go explore 17 Palms Oasis.

Before dashing out in your Prius, it should be noted here that the nearly 4 miles off road to reach the oasis is for high clearance, all-wheel drive vehicles only. Loose sand and large rock fields make this necessary.

If you have more time, you can leave your car at the Arroyo Salada Campground on S-22 and enjoy hiking to the oasis along an easy path through a geological wonderland.

Whatever way you get there, the journey is worth it.

Tucked into the curdled landscape of the badlands, modern day adventurers will arrive at a tiny grove of native palms that have been recorded as a waypoint for desert travelers for more than 100 years.

J. Smeaton Chase in his 1916 book, "California Desert Trails," wrote about the joy of reaching this oasis by horseback during a summer journey from Palm Springs to Borrego Springs where daytime temperatures were near 120 degrees.

In those days there was surface water here that horses could drink, but the water was highly alkaline and not suitable for human consumption.

While there is no longer any surface water, there is no doubt just enough water below the surface to nourish the shallow roots of the native palms.

Explore the palm grove a bit, and on one of the northernmost trees you will find the desert mailbox. Wedged between the trunks is a wooden barrel filled with notes of those who have enjoyed a visit to 17 palms.

This modern mailbox honors a pioneering tradition started by travelers in the 1800's who left mail here with instructions that others passing through might forward it if traveling in the right direction.

As afternoon shadows grow, photographer's delight in taking beautiful landscapes of the palm oasis from the surrounding mudhills. The gouged slopes of Traveler's Peak and the distant Santa Rosa Mountains take on an even more rugged appearance as terrain is accentuated by the angular early morning and late afternoon sunlight.

Even more exciting is spending an evening at the oasis in warmer summer months.

On a dark sky night, the brilliant Milky Way fills the summer heavens and provides a stunning display, providing enough light to silhouette the palms.

On a full moon night, the desert landscape takes on a mystic quality, painting the buff-colored badlands in subtle hues of indigo, burnt brown and tarnished gold.

If you sit quietly in the warmth of a summer night, you may see bats or owls emerging for their daytime roosts in the protective skirts of the trees. The palms also provide shelter to desert rodents and reptiles.

Reaching 17 Palms only requires a few miles of off-road travel.

From Christmas Circle, head east on Palm Canyon Drive, also designated County Road S-22. This is also known as the Borrego Salton Seaway.

As you approach 16 miles, look for a dirt road on your right to Arroyo Salado Campground. There are restrooms here for that last pit stop before heading into the wilderness.

Following the road southeast through the campground, continue for 3.7 miles, keeping an eye out for a spur road that turns sharply off to your right. Follow this for a short distance to the parking area at 17 Palms.

Parking is just a few hundred yards from the palm grove which is clearly visible as you arrive.

Whether you stay just a few minutes, enjoy a picnic in the shade of the palms, or even an overnight beneath the blazing stars of the Milky Way, 17 palms will leave you with a lasting impression.

Here in the depths of the arid badlands is a small center of life that exists because there is water. This allows the palms to grow and provide habitat for many of the unique desert creatures who live here.

The stark beauty of this lush grove of palms tucked into the arid wilderness of the badlands is memorable.