Wild Washingtonia filifera in Arizona!

Palm Canyon from Hwy 95 between Quartzite and Yuma in the Kofa NWR

Several years ago we had the chance to stop at Palm Canyon in the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge. It is one of the few places where California Fan Palms (Washingtonia filifera) grow wild in Arizona!

Many of the oldest groves of California Fan Palms in the state are rumored to have been brought by stagecoach from here and planted in places like Castle Hot Springs and the Hassayampa River Preserves Palm Lake. The age of these groves would seem to support this hypothesis. We do not know what role Native Americans could have played in the spread of these palm trees. They certainly would have had many uses for palms and may have planted seeds in various locations – possibly including Palm Canyon.

There is a washboarded gravel road that leaves Highway 95 south of Quartzite heading east. The sign indicated “Palm Canyon”, but there is no distance given. It is not a far drive, but take your time – the road is usually rough. Once at the end you will find a nice parking area (no facilities) and a trail heading up the canyon. The area is frequented by Desert Bighorn Sheep, but we did not see any. Keep your eyes on the cliffs! The palms grow in deep ravines high up on the south wall of the canyon.

Here we spotted the first palms!We continued up the canyon and a little farther on spotted an even larger grove of palms.Here is a larger grove high up on the south canyon wall.We had a strong desire to get up to where the palms trees grow. Looking at the rock formations it seemed possible that there might be a trail... We found a footpath heading in the right direction!A closer look at the big grove.

Scrambling over rocks and pushing past brush we moved steadily uphill. We entered a large crack in the right side of the ravine and kept climbing. When we emerged at the top, we were at teh same level as the palm grove! Now, just to traverse over to it!

We were on the same level!

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 We moved carefully from boulder to boulder to get closer to the grove. The underbrush in the ravine was Catclaw (Acacia gregii) and Chuparosa (Justicia californica). There is undoubtedly water present all the time deep in the ravine and between the boulders.

See the palms farther up the canyon, already in shade?

The ravine is so narrow and tall that it provides shade for a good bit of the day, thus reducing the palms demand for water and enabling them to survive in this harsh setting.

Fire-scarred trunks on wild Washingtonia filifera

A fire passed through this grove in 1954 but most of the trees survived. Fronds sometimes are blown off the trees so the accumulation of old fronds is not as bad as some more sheltered locations. I would not mind so much being hired to trim these tree, but getting the fronds and debris down to the trailer would be a REAL chore!

There are other smaller groves of native California Fan Palms growing in other ravines farther up the canyon, but we didn’t have time to explore any more. Maybe next time!