Coachella Valley is a large valley land form in Southern California. The valley extends for approximately 45 miles (72 km) in Riverside County southeast from the San Bernardino Mountains to the saltwater Salton Sea, the largest lake in California. 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. In comparison to the "Inland Empire (IE)" (Riverside-San Bernardino area and the California desert), some people refer to the IE's sub-region Coachella Valley as the "Desert Empire" to differentiate it from the neighboring Imperial Valley. Geographers and geologists sometimes call the area, along with the Imperial Valley to the south, the "Cahuilla Basin" or the "Salton Trough".
Geographically, it is the agricultural and recreational desert valley in Southern California, United States, east of Riverside and San Bernardino. Populated by nearly 600,000 people, the valley is part of the 13th largest metropolitan area in the United States, the Inland Empire. The famous desert resort cities of Palm Springs and Palm Desert lie in the Coachella Valley. The Coachella Valley is the second largest sub-region in the Inland Empire metropolitan area, after the Greater San Bernardino Area. It may be due to the number of seasonal residents in the winter months may surpassed the number of permanent residents in the total Riverside area.
The area is surrounded on the southwest by the Santa Rosa Mountains, by the San Jacinto Mountains to the west, the Little San Bernardino Mountains to the east and San Gorgonio Mountain to the north. These mountains peak at around 11,000 feet (3,400 m) and tend to average between 5,000 to 7,000 feet (1,500 to 2,000 m). Elevations on the Valley floor range from 1600 ft above sea level at the north end of the Valley to 250 ft below sea level around Mecca. Sometimes a weather system can come through one of the narrow passes, or up from the Gulf of California as Hurricane Kathleen did in September 1976. In the summer months daytime temperatures range from 104 °F (40 °C) to 112 °F (44 °C) and nighttime lows from 75 °F (24 °C) to 86 °F (30 °C). During winter, the daytime temperatures range from 68 °F (20 °C) to 88 °F (31 °C) and corresponding nights range from 46 °F (8 °C) to 65 °F (18 °C) making it a popular winter resort destination. Due to its warm year-round climate the region's agricultural sector produces fruits such as mangoes, figs and dates.
Although geographically the Valley is the northwestern extension of the Sonoran 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 2006 annual report, the Coachella Valley Water District listed the year's total crop value at over $576 million or almost $12,000 per acre. 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 Joshua Tree National Park).
The San Andreas Fault traverses the Valley's east side. Because of this fault, the Valley has many hot springs. The Santa Rosa Mountains to the West are part of the Lake Elsinore Fault zone. The results of a prehistoric sturzstrom can be seen in Martinez Canyon. The Painted Canyons of Mecca feature smaller faults as well as Precambrian, Tertiary and Quaternary rock formations, unconformities, badlands and desert landforms. Seismic activity is what triggers earthquakes, a natural, but occasionally destructive phenomena in the Coachella Valley. Fault lines cause hot water springs or geysers to rise from the ground. These natural water sources made habitation and development possible in the otherwise inhospitable desert environment of the Coachella Valley. Major earthquakes have affected the Coachella Valley. For instance, the Landers Earthquake in 1992 caused some damage in the valley. An earthquake of local origin which caused considerable damage was the 1986 North Palm Springs earthquake, which registered at a magnitude of 6.0, injuring 29 people and destroying 51 homes.
There is some contention as to the origin of the name. Early maps show the area as "Conchilla," 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. Local lore explains the change in the name from Conchilla to Coachella as a mistake made by the map-makers contracted to transcribe the data supplied by the Southern Pacific Railroad's survey party. Rather than redraw the expensive maps, the railroad chose to instead begin calling the area by the misspelled name "Coachella" rather than its traditional name "Conchilla." Some believe that the name Coachella was simply made up, but that theory is rather unlikely. 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. Route 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, commerce and tourism to the rest of the country. So too did the coming of State Highway 111 in the early 1930s, 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 U.S. 99 in Indio, 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.
The Coachella Valley was popular among celebrities from Frank Sinatra to Dakota Fanning who came and continue to come to enjoy vacations and winter homes in the desert resort community. Also it became a major real estate destination in the 1980s and 1990s no longer limited to senior citizens, winter residents and retirees. Families with young children and young adults became interested in Palm Springs and surrounding communities for lower cost housing and apartment rents. The tourist attraction we know as Palm Springs has been exported worldwide, an increase of international visitors and now treated as a "year-round" community, the Coachella Valley is sometimes compared to Las Vegas, Nevada, Phoenix, Arizona or Santa Fe, New Mexico as part of the Southwest, as much it's a part of Southern California's most popular destinations (San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, and the rest of the Inland Empire Metropolitan Area). In a 2003 Condé Nast publication review, Palm Springs was ranked one of the top 10 global vacation destinations, and the smallest one in population.
The Coachella Valley History Museum and Cultural Center in Indio is devoted to the preservation and interpretation of Coachella Valley's historical artefacts.
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 (USDA) imported date palm shoots from Iraq and Egypt. Sixty-eight shoots were distributed across the Southwest U.S. in Las Cruces, New Mexico, Yuma, Arizona, Phoenix, Arizona, and several California cites: Indio, Pomona near Los Angeles, Tulare and National City near San Diego. 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. Date palms were grown from present-day Cathedral City to the Salton Sea, but most date groves were overtaken by development by the 1990s. Today, nearly all of the date groves are in the "East Valley" area south of Indio, near Coachella and east of La Quinta.
Other agricultural products cultivated in the Coachella Valley include fruits and vegetables, especially table grapes, citrus fruits such as lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit; onions and leeks; and peppers. The valley floor served to grow bounties of alfalfa, artichokes, avocados, beans, beets, cabbage, carrots, corn, cotton, cucumbers, dandelions (salad greens), eggplant, figs, grains (i.e. barley, oats, rye and wheat; plus rice fields kept wet or moist in the Salton Sea area), hops, kohlrabi, lettuce, mangoes, nectarines and peaches, persimmons, plums and prunes, pomegranate, potatoes, radishes, spinach, strawberries, sugar cane, tomatoes, a variety of herbs and spices, and other vegetable crops. The Coachella grapefruit originated in the region. The city of Coachella is the primary shipping point for agricultural goods. Domesticated grasses, flowers and trees are widely grown for warm-weather or desert climates, and sold for use in golf courses and landscape.
Only 10 percent of the Coachella Valley residents were born/raised in the area, according to the 2000 census, a much lower percentage than found in most parts of the U.S. Agriculture is a founding block of the majority of the "oldtimer" residents, whose parents and grandparents came to the area as farmers and laborers transformed the eastern parts of the valley from a hot sandy desert into a green fertile place with a year-round growing season. The Coachella Valley's agricultural development is due to irrigation: water was drawn from an underground aquifer created when the valley was under a fresh water lake in the last ice age (over 10,000 years ago); and from the All-American Canal, completed in the late 1940s, which brought large supplies of water from the Colorado River. Recent growth of fish farming or "aquaculture" in Mecca near the Salton Sea brings new promise to the local economy, especially to efforts to restore the ailing ecology of the large saltwater lake.
The San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm as viewed from the top of the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway in the San Jacinto Mountains to the south.
The valley's northwest entrance from the San Bernardino-Riverside along Interstate 10 is known as the San Gorgonio Pass and is the second windiest place in the country. 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. At the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, thousands 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.