AMTRAK ROUTE GUIDE #40a -- Los Angeles, California to El Paso, Texas
Part 3 - Palm Springs to Yuma
Ontario to Palm Springs
Yuma to Maricopa


106    PALM SPRINGS station, North Indian Canyon Drive.  Elevation approximately 687.  This is an unstaffed station which serves the Palm Springs area. Downtown Palm Springs is located approximately 7 miles south of the AMTRAK station. This is one of AMTRAK’s newer stations, and was built in 1999.  Prior to construction of this station, the Palm Springs area stop for AMTRAK’s Sunset Ltd was at Indio (see MP 128 below).  Note the large wind farm adjacent to the station.

         The resort town of Palm Springs was named after the native palm trees, but was originally known as Palmetto Springs, then later it was called Agua Caliente, after a hot spring in the area which was well known by the Coahuilla Indians, who originally inhabited the area.  In the 1900’s, Palm Springs was started to attract a wide variety of tourists, due to its average of 350 days per year of sunshine and its warm dry Mediterranean climate.  In the 1930’s, celebrities from Hollywood began coming to the area and building large secluded homes in the canyons near the city.  After World War II began, the airfield here was used for military purposes, and the El Mirador Hotel was bought by the U.S. Government from its original owner Warren Phinney, and it was converted to Torney General Hospital.  During the War, General Patton's Desert Training Center encompassed the entire Palm Springs region, with its headquarters in Camp Young at the Chiriaco Summit, and an equipment depot maintained by the 66th Ordnance in present day Palm Desert.

         After World War II, several new styles of architecture were introduced to the Palm Springs area, such as steel homes with prefabricated panels, homes which could be rotated to avoid the sun’s glare, and various designs of mostly glass houses.

         Today, tourism is a major factor in the city's economy, with 1.6 million visitors in 2011.  The city has over 130 hotels and resorts, numerous bed and breakfasts, over 100 restaurants and dining spots, and more than 100 golf courses.  The city is home of the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation, Knott’s Soak City Water Park, Moorten Botanical Garden, the Palm Springs Desert Museum, and the Palm Springs Tramway, which whisks guests to the top of San Jacinto Peak.  Also in town is the Cornelia White House, which was built of railroad ties in 1893 and used as a guest house for the town’s first hotel.  Palm Springs covers approximately 94 square miles, and is the largest city by area in Riverside County.  In addition, it has been a popular spring break location since the 1950’s.

          Garnet Hill, on the left (eastbound), is composed of Pliocene-aged sandstone, shale, and conglomerate.  Northeast of the railroad (left if eastbound) is the San Andreas Fault, which we will be following for several miles now.  Approximately 8 miles northwest of here, at the upper end of Coachella Valley, was the epicenter of the July 1986 M5.9 North Palm Springs earthquake.  Another branch of the San Andreas Fault is lcoat6ed just south of the railroad (right if eastbound).

110-111 Flat Top Mountain, on the left (eastbound), is largely composed of Quaternary-aged dune sand.

111-113 On the right (eastbound), the large built-up area is part of Cathedral City, a largely Latin (primarily Mexican) residential suburb of Palm Springs.  The city was named after nearby Cathedral Canyon, where, in 1858, Col. Henry Washington named the canyon for the resemblance of its jagged rock formations to the interior of a cathedral.  Cathedral City has the second largest population in the Coachella Valley. The city began as a housing subdivision in 1925, but was not incorporated until 1981.

         In the 1920’s, Cathedral City was known as a “safe” spot for bars during the prohibition era, since it was outside the city limits of Palm Springs, and in the 1930’s. it was known as a center for nightclubs, including the Dunes Club, which was opened by 2 members of of Detroit’s “Purple Gang.”  Cathedral City was the teenage home of actress Suzanne Somers, and a winter residence for actors Robert Duvall and Martin Landau in the 1960’s.  It was also the home of TV show host Monty Hall in the 1990’s.  Timothy Bradley, the former WBO welterweight champion, is also from Cathedral City.   Frank Sinatra's grave is located in Desert Memorial Park Cemetery, as are several other prominent figures.

116-117 Pass through Thousand Palms, named after its abundance of palm trees.  The local post office here, however, is called Edom, and was established in 1915 and named after an ancient Asian country. In 1939, the name of the community was changed to Thousand Palms.

          Thousand Palms is home of the Coachella Valley Covered Wagon Tours.

          The Indio Hills, visible on the south (right if eastbound), are composed of folded Mesozoic-aged (Jurassic through Cretaceous) granitic igneous and volcanic rocks.  The low range of sandy hills on the left are marked by a fault at the base of the hills.

121    Palm Valley Country Club is visible on the right here (eastbound).

124-125 Pass through Myoma Siding, named after a nearby Indian settlement in 1877.  The community south of the railroad (right if eastbound) is Bermuda Dunes, developed in 1953 by Ernie Dunlevie and Ray Ryan.  Note the small Bermuda Dunes Airport.  The community was named after the island of Bermuda, where Ray Ryan owned property.  Notice the abundance of sand dunes of Quaternary age adjacent to the railroad.

126    Cross the Coachella Canal, an agricultural and irrigation structure.  The canal was built in 1948.

126.5 Cross the Whitewater River, which has been engineered by man, and is part of the Coachella Canal.

          We are entering a large low area, much of which is below sea level, the Salton Trough Section of the Basin & Range Province, which we will be traversing until the Arizona border.  The Coachella Valley, through which we have been traveling, occupies the northern part of the Salton Trough.  It is believed that, at one time in the geologic past, the Gulf of California extended approximately 200 miles inland, almost to San Gorgonio Pass.  After the Colorado River Delta was created, several miles southeast of here, the delta actually separated the Salton Sea area from the Gulf of California as it grew.  More recent studies indicate that the ancient Gulf was faulted in numerous places sometime during the Tertiary Epoch, and the entire basin downdropped as a graben, which is surrounded by faults and higher mountain ranges.  Drainage in the Salton Trough is interior drainage, with most drainage being channeled into the Salton Sea (see MP 151 below).  Since Salton Sea was once part of the Gulf of California, the water in the sea (actually a large lake) is salty.

127-129 Pass through Indio, which was formerly the AMTRAK stop on the Sunset Ltd for the Palm Springs area, before the current station was built (see MP 106 above).  Indio was originally known as Indian Wells, after a nearby spring. In May 1876, the Southern Pacific Railroad line got to Indio, and the community was established as a halfway point between Yuma and Los Angeles for the railroad, where the locomotives could get watered and serviced.  Sometime prior to 1879, the name of the new community was changed to “Indio,” the Spanish word for “Indian.”  The town soon developed as an agricultural town, and produced onions, cotton, citrus, grapes, and dates.  Because of the abundance and success of dates in the area, the city became known as the “date capital of the world.” In 1907, the USDA’s Date Station was established here.

         Irrigation was developed here in the 1940’s to bring water to the crops in the dry desert valleys from the Colorado River to the east. Indio remained the “hub of the [Coachella] Valley in the early 20th Century, even though the nearby towns of Coachella and Thermal became larger in population.  Later in the Century, with the development of nearby Palm Springs, Indio had another setback.

         Near Indio is Chiriaco Summit, the site of General George S. Patton’s Desert Training Center.  The General Patton Memorial Museum is still located at that site.  Indio is the home of the International Date Festival, held each February, and also home of the Shields Date Gardens.  It is also the home of the International Tamale Festival, the Riverside County Fair, the Coachella Valley Museum, and the Coachella Valley Music & Art Festival.  Indio was the home of television producer Merv Griffin, as well as the home of NBA coach Stan Van Gundy.

132-133 Pass through Coachella, the easternmost town in the Coachella valley.  This settlement was originally known as either “Woodspur” or as “Cahuilla,” after the native Indians in the area.  In 1901, the citizens voted to change the name to Coachella, which may at that time have been a misspelling of the Spanish word “conchilla,” for the small white snail shells founds in the area.

          Coachella is situated almost 100 ft below sea level, and is largely an agricultural community.  It was incorporated in 1946, and is often known as the “Valley of Eternal Sunshine.” Due to its high percentage of Hispanic agricultural workers, it was a site of political activism in the 1960’s and 1970’s, led by United Farm Workers leader César Chávez.

          On the left (eastbound), the Mecca Hills are visible, and are composed of tightly folded Miocene- to Pliocene-aged sedimentary rocks.

135    Whitewater River is adjacent to the railroad on the left (eastbound).

135.5-136 Pass through the unincorporated community of Thermal, so named because of the generally hot climate in the area.  The town is almost 140 ft below sea level.  It was started in 1910 as a railroad camp for the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Just west of the railroad is the Jacqueline Cochran Regional Airport and Thermal Club, a privately-owned motor sports facility.  Thermal is primarily an agricultural town.

136.5 Cross Coachella Canal/Whitewater River.

141.5-142 Pass through the unincorporated community of Mecca.  Prior to 1896, the town was known as Walters.  It was changed to Mecca, after the Arabian city, when the desert was reclaimed by irrigation for the date culture.

148    On the right (eastbound) is our first look at the Salton Sea.

151    Pass through Mortmar, another unincorporated community. The community was named Mortmere by the railroad in the 1890’s, after the French words “mort” for “dead,” and “mere,” for “sea,” in reference to its location on the Salton Sea.

          After the Salton Sea was initially formed, it was a basin of internal drainage, with no outlets for any water which may flow into the sea.  In the 1850’s, Oliver M. Wozencraft, known as the “Father of the Imperial Valley,” had an idea to turn this dry hot desert with such fertile soil into a productive agricultural region through irrigation, and he proposed diverting water from the Colorado River to the interior desert for irrigation.  Wozencraft never built his irrigation system or attracted much interest to it; however, in 1896, after Wozencraft died, the California Development Company was organized by George Chaffey, Charles R. Rockwood, and Anthony H. Heber. and the irrigation of the Salton Sea Basin and Imperial Valley began, and by 1901, was successful.  By 1905, however, the flow of the Colorado River was low, and not as much water was getting into the Salton Basin.  Even though silting was becoming a problem, no diversion channels were built by either the United States or Mexico, and the Basin soon became flooded several times.  Since the Salton Sea is below sea level, it soon filled to its present depth, with evaporation being the only way left for water to escape the basin.  Since it is an interior basin, fed by countless agricultural pesticides and other chemicals over the years, its waters are very polluted. And, because of its original formation (see MP 126.5 above), it still maintains a  concentration of salt of near 30%, which is higher than the average salinity of the ocean.

          The Salton Sea is quite shallow, being less than 20 ft throughout.  Because of the arid climate, much evaporation takes place, and the concentration of salts becomes increasingly higher, as it continues to receive agricultural and other runoff, as well as ground water inflow.  Its major inlet is the Whitewater River, which we have been following.  The normal surface elevation of Salton Sea is 231ft below sea level.

151.5-152 On the right is North Shore (mapped as Desert Beach on accompanying topographic map), so named because of its location one the north shore of Salton Sea.  North Shore was started in 1958 when Ray Ryan and Trav Rogers purchased the land and began selling lots. This community was formerly the home of the North Shore Beach and Yacht Club, designed by Albert Frey, which opened in 1962. The Yacht Club shut down in 1984 as rising water levels in Salton Sea destroyed the jetty and dock here.  The site is now a community center.

152.5-153 Pass through Salton Sea State Recreation Area, which offers fishing, hunting, swimming, and camping.  In January, 2008, the Recreation Area was slated for closing in a deficit-reduction plan enacted by then California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger; however, the recreation area was not closed.

          We are now crossing the Colorado Desert portion of the Salton Trough, and the railroad is closely paralleling the San Andreas Fault on the left (eastbound).

156    At Salton Siding, the San Andreas Fault Scarp may be visible (if you look closely) at the base of the Miocene- to Pliocene-aged sandstone, shale, and siltstone which form the low hills on the left here (eastbound).

157.5 Pass through the ghost town of Ferrum, named for the Latin word for ”iron.” In 1948, Henry Kaiser built a railroad line here to haul iron ore from the nearby Eagle Mountains to his steel mill at Fontana (see MP 47 above).

158.5 Cross Salt Creek.

160    Pass through the ghost town of Durmid and enter IMPERIAL County, the last county in California through which we will be passing.  Imperial County was created in 1907 from San Diego County, and was the last county to be established in the State.  The Imperial Land Company was established by George Chaffey, Anthony H. Heber, and L.M. Holt, as a subsidiary of the California Land Company. The Imperial Land Company was an attempt to attract agriculture and settlement to the area.  In the 1930’s and 1940’s, the All American Canal (see MP 244 below) was constructed to bring water from the Colorado River to these dry interior desert lands for irrigation.  During the “dust bowl” days of the 1930’s and 1940’s, many “Okies” settled in the Imperial Valley.  The county seat of Imperial County is El Centro.

160.5 Note the well-known Durmid Café on the right (eastbound) here.  The Bat Cave Buttes, visible in the distance on the left, are composed of Miocene- to Pleistocene-aged sedimentary rocks.

165    Pass through the unincorporated community of Bertram. We are still 187 ft below sea level here.  Off to the northeast (left in distance if eastbound) are the Chocolate Mountains, which are composed of Precambrian-aged (more than 600 million years old) granitic igneous and metamorphic rocks, which have been intruded by much younger, Tertiary-aged, intrusive rocks such as andesite and dacite.

168    On the right (eastbound) is Bombay Beach, much of which has been inundated by rising lake levels in Salton Sea.  It is the lowest community in the United States, lying at an elevation of approximately 223 ft below sea level.  Bombay Beach is located at the southern end of the San Andreas Fault.

168.5 Pass through the unincorporated community of Pope.

170    Cross two unnamed streams here.

173.5 Pass through the unincorporated community of Frink. Chocolate Mountains are visible on the left (eastbound).

178    Pass through Wister, another unincorporated community. The Wister Waterfowl Management Area is located on both sides of the railroad here.

181.5 Pass through Mundo, yet another unincorporated area.  The community was named after the postmaster a Dr. Mundo, and the community was formerly known as Volcano or Volcano Springs. We are now beginning to bend away from the Salton Sea, but will be crossing the very productive agricultural Imperial Valley here for a few miles.

184.5-185.5 Pass through Niland, a contraction of the words “Nile land,” which was chosen by the Imperial Farm Lands Association in 1916, to in comparison to the dry, fertile Nile Valley in Egypt.  Niland was formerly known as Old Beach, then Imperial Junction, then Hobgood.

189    At the community of Flowing Wells, cross the Highline Canal, a major agricultural distributary channel in this part of the Imperial Valley.

190    At this point, we are again climbing to above sea level.

192   Pass through another unincorporated community, Iris.

193.5 Cross the Coachella Canal again, which we have been paralleling since the upper portion of the Coachella Valley, north of Palm Springs. The Coachella Canal carries water from the Colorado River to the interior of the Imperial and Coachella Valleys, via the All-American Canal.  The canal was started in the 1930’s, and finished in 1949. It is currently operated by the Coachella Valley Water District.

196.5 Pass through yet another unincorporated community, Tortuga, which is the Spanish word for “turtle” or “tortoise.” The Chocolate Mountains, visible to the north (left if eastbound) are composed of Precambrian-aged granitic igneous rocks intruded by much younger Tertiary-aged igneous intrusive and volcanic rocks.

         To the right (eastbound) can be seen the northern end of the Algodones Dunes, a large region of sand dunes (see MP202 below)

198   On the right sis a large hill composed of sand dunes.

202    Pass through the unincorporated community of Amos. We are now adjacent to the Algodones Sand Dunes on the right (eastbound).  The Algodones Dunes are one of the largest dune fields in the United States.  The origin of the sand which composes the dunes is likely the Colorado River, which is southeast of the dune field.  Several various types of dune landforms have developed in the Algodones Dunes, including longitudinal duns, transverse dunes, and barchan and megabarchan dunes.  Most of the sand in the Algodones Dunes is composed mostly of potassium feldspar. The linearity and constant width of the Algodones Dunes is likely controlled by the locations of several branches of the San Andreas Fault in the Imperial Valley.

          The Algodones Dunes are believed to be very similar to the types of sand dunes known on the planet Mars. 

          The name “Algodones” is that of a Yuman Indian Tribe who once dwelled in this area.  The dunes have been used as the scenic background for several motion pictures depicting the Sahara Desert.

207.5 Pass through Acolita, named after the Spanish word for “acolyte.”  The Algodones Dunes are quite prominent on the right (eastbound) here.

213    Pass through the unincorporated community of Mesquite (not shown on accompanying topographic maps).  The Algodones Dunes continue to be prominent on the right (eastbound).  Mesquite is named after the nearby Mesquite Mine, a gold mine operated by New Gold.  The Mesquite Regional Landfill, which was designed as a disposal site for Los Angeles trash, was also developed near here, but was never used.

216    Pass through Glamis and cross California Highway 78.  Glamis was named after the famous castle in Scotland featured in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Glamis has virtually no permanent structures aside from the "Glamis Store" and "Boardmanville Trading Post".  Both offer supplies; however, fuel is not available for some of the hundreds of thousands of recreational visitors each year (many of them ORV users) who pass through the Algodones Dunes and the associated Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area, located in the southern portion of the dune system.

220.5 Pass through Ruthven, yet another unincorporated community and former station on this former Southern Pacific Railroad line.

224   Pass through Clyde, formerly known as Drylyn, another unincorporated community.

229.5 Pass through Cactus, which was originally a railroad construction camp.  The Cargo Muchacho Mountains are now visible on the left (eastbound). “Cargo Muchacho” is Spanish for “loaded boy,” and the legend of the mountains is that in 1781, a man and his son, who were prospectors, came out of the mountains here “loaded” with gold.  There has previously been gold mining in this area, the most well known site being the now ghost town of Tumco, an acronym for “The United Mining Company.”  The gold was produced from Jurassic-aged gneiss and schist, known as the Tumco Formation.

         In addition to gold, the mineral kyanite has also been mined in the Cargo Muchacho Mountains.

234.5 Pass through the unincorporated community of Ogilby, formerly named Oglesby. The community was named after mine promoter E.R. Ogilby.  The Algodones Dunes are now further west from the railroad, but still prominent on the right (eastbound).  The Cargo Muchacho Mountains are visible on the left.  The Cargo Muchachos are composed of Mesozoic-aged granitic igneous rocks and metamorphic rocks, such as schist and gneiss.

236    North of the railroad (left if eastbound) are the Ogilby Hills, which are composed of Permian- to Tertiary-aged (70 to 280 million years old) igneous rocks such as granite, granodiorite, and quartz monzonite, with Tertiary-aged basaltic and rhyolitic volcanic intrusive rocks.

238    Pass through the appropriately-named unincorporated community of Dunes, now a ghost town.

241    On the right is Interstate 8, which extends from San Diego to a junction with Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, Arizona.

242    South of the railroad (right I eastbound), beyond the agricultural checking station, the prominent hill is called Pilot Knob, so named for its prominence as a landmark for river traffic on the nearby Colorado River. The hill is also known as Avie Quah-la-Altwa or Ha-bee-co-la-la.  It is basically a volcanic plug of Precambrian age, composed of igneous intrusive, volcanic, and metamorphic rocks.

243    On the right (eastbound), south of I-8, thee Quechan Casino Hotel is visible.

243.5 Pass through Araz Junction, and unincorporated community located within the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation.

244   Cross All-American Canal, the 80-mile long aqueduct which carries water from the Colorado River into the dry Imperial Valley via the Coachella Canal, East Highline Canal, Central Main Canal, and the Westside Main Canal.  These five main branches of the canal, along with a network of smaller canals, gradually reduce the flow of the All-American Canal until it ends at a small drop in the western Imperial Valley where it drains into the Westside Main Canal.  The canal is currently operated by the Imperial Irrigation District, and was first proposed in 1916, along with the Hoover Dam project.  The Canal was constructed during the 1930’s by the United States Bureau of Reclamation. The All-American Canal is the only water source for the Imperial Valley, through which we have been traveling.  Its name denotes the fact that the entire canal is located within the United States; the previous canal, the Alamo Canal, was located primarily in Mexico.

          The All-American Canal begins approximately 30 miles northeast of Yuma, Arizona, at the Imperial Dam on the Colorado River.  With over 500 human drowning deaths in the canal since 1997, it has been called "the Most Dangerous Body of Water in the U.S."

245    Pass through the site of the former town of Araz.

245-248 Pass through the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation, which was established in 1884 for the Quechan Indians.  Note the abundance of agricultural activity here.  From 1858 until 1861, Fort Yuma was located here, on the Butterfield Overland Mail Route.

248.5 On the right (eastbound) can be seen the community of Winterhaven, located across the Colorado River from Yuma, Arizona. The area which is now Winterhaven was owned by Don Diego Yeager, an early pioneer.  Reportedly the town got its name in 1916, when a group of women playing cards here chose the name since the outside temperature here was reportedly 120º in the shade.

         The town is surrounded by the Fort Yuma Indian Reservation, and is the home of the Fort Yuma Quechan Museum.

249   Cross Yuma Main Canal, which was part of the Yuma Project, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Project built to supply water for irrigation in Yuma County, Arizona, and Imperial County, California.  The project was constructed from 1902 to 1915.  The Yuma Main Canal was completed by 1912.

250    On the left (eastbound) is the site of Fort Yuma.  Only the Fort Yuma Indian School and the Saint Thomas Yuma Indian Mission now occupy the site.

          Cross the Colorado River and enter YUMA County, ARIZONA.  The Colorado is the most significant river in the Southwestern United States. It begins in the Rocky Mountains a little west of Denver, and enters the Gulf of California a few miles south of here.  The river is approximately 1450 miles long, and crosses several of the most varied landscapes in North America, including the high mountain and plateau country, the Desert Southwest, and several very picturesque and beautiful canyons, including the mightiest of them all, the Grand Canyon.

          Yuma County was one of the four original Arizona counties, created by the 1st Arizona Territorial Legislature in 1864.  The county was originally called Castle Dome.  It was named after the Yuma Indians, and the county seat is Yuma.

          On the left (eastbound) as we cross the Colorado River is the old Yuma Territorial Prison, which opened in 1865.  Between 1876 and 1909, the Prison housed more than 3000 prisoners, including 29 women, on charges ranging from murder to polygamy.  In 1909, the last prisoner left for the new Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence.  Between 1910 and 1914, the Yuma High School used the buildings at the site of the prison.  The Prison is now a State Historical Park.

250.5 YUMA station, 281 S. Gila Street.  Elevation approximately 139 ft.  Yuma is the county seat of Yuma County.  Following the establishment of Fort Yuma, in 1858, two towns sprang up one mile downriver from the Fort.  The town on the California side was called Jaeger City, named after the owner of Jaeger's Ferry that crossed the river there.  The other town was called Colorado City, a land speculation by Charles Poston and site of the custom house, which sprang up on the south side of the Colorado River in what is now Arizona, but at that time was just north of the border between Sonora, Mexico and California.  After the Gadsden Purchase it bordered on the Territory of New Mexico, that became the Territory of Arizona in 1863.  The Colorado City site at the time was duly registered in San Diego, demonstrating that both banks of the Colorado River just below its confluence with the Gila were recognized as being within the jurisdiction of California.

          After the California Gold Rush, during the 1870’s, the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River, which was much narrower than most Colorado River crossings, was the site of ferry crossings for the Southern Immigrant Trail.  In 1877, the bridge over the Colorado River was constructed by the Southern Pacific Railroad.  Prior to that time, the former Colorado City was a major steamboat stop for ships traveling up the Colorado River.  In 1864, the Yuma Quartermaster Depot was a major supply point for many settlements in the area.

         Yuma is the home of Yuma Crossing State Historic Park, Yuma Quartermaster Depot State Historic Park, the Yuma Territorial Prison State Historic Park (see MP 250 above), the Imperial National Wildlife Refuge, and the Sanguinetti House Museum and Gardens, which was the home of pioneer merchant E.F. Sanguinetti.  In addition, Yuma holds an annual Rodeo and County Fair.

         Between here and the Yuma Mountains, we will be crossing the Yuma Desert, a very dry valley which is sustained for agricultural use by irrigation from the Colorado River, except in its extreme southern part.

                                                                                               We are now crossing the Sonoran Desert subprovince of the Basin & Range physiographic province.  The Sonoran Desert is generally at a higher elevation than the Salton Trough section we have traversed in California.  In addition, the mountain ranges are somewhat lower and less distinctive, as most of the subprovince is characterized by intermountain basins and alluvial pediments.  The rocks in the cores of the Sonoran Desert mountain ranges are generally Precambrian in age.