Rocky Toyama  /  AP
In this photo provided by the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, tribal ranger Robert Hepburn, right, leads a group of visitors through Tahquitz Canyon up to Tahquitz Falls near Palm Springs, Calif.
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updated 6/10/2005 6:07:26 PM ET 2005-06-10T22:07:26

In April of 1969, rowdies leaving a rock concert here retreated to Tahquitz Canyon to continue the party, and stayed. Hippies, hermits and the homeless took up residence in the canyon's rock shelters.

Pictographs - ancient stick-figures drawn on rocks - were desecrated with spray paint and the canyon floor was littered with garbage.

The canyon, which belongs to the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians, was closed to the public after the tribe evicted the squatters. "No Trespassing" signs were put up; gates and fences were installed. But vagrants continued to come in. In 1997, the tribe kicked them out and decided to clean up. It took three years to clear the markings and litter.

In January of 2001, the canyon was opened for group hikes led by tribal rangers.

And on March 24, for the first time in a generation, the Cahuilla began permitting the general public in to Tahquitz Canyon for rugged, self-guided hikes.

Nancy Berlin, 56, of Glendora, visited the park this spring for the first time since 1969. "It was just disgusting," she said, remembering the mess she and her husband encountered on their previous visit. "We were really disappointed they had to close it."

But this time, the graffiti and vandalism appear to have been fully eradicated. "So far, so good," said head tribal ranger Rocky Toyama.

The canyon runs several miles into the San Jacinto Mountains, not far from the San Andreas Fault. Its picturesque, 60-foot-high Tahquitz Falls are particularly spectacular this year, thanks to a rainy winter.

The canyon's name is rooted in Cahuilla lore. Tahquitz was a legendary Indian shaman who was banished to the canyon when he used his powers selfishly. The tribe believes that his spirit lives within the canyon walls and that it can be seen as a green comet sweeping across the sky. According to the story, Tahquitz is still searching for the souls of those who venture too near his lair.

The canyon is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its Indian history. But it's also a significant site for movie history buffs. Frank Capra's 1937 movie "Lost Horizon," which starred Ronald Colman and Jane Wyatt, was filmed at Tahquitz Falls. The anchor bolts for the hauling system used to lift a maiden's horse to the upper pool are still visible.

The guided hikes last about 2 1/2 hours and depart from the new visitors' center, which was built with profits from the tribe's Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs. To beat the blistering Coachella Valley heat, make reservations for the 8 a.m. tour and get there at 7:30 a.m. That's also the best time to spot wildlife like endangered bighorn sheep and a small bluish-black bird called the phainopepla.

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Rangers like Robert Hepburn relate the medicinal uses of such native plants as creosote bush, brittlebush and ephedra, also called Mormon tea.

Three varieties of rattlesnakes are found in the area. Hikers should wear long pants and sleeves and high-top walking shoes, and bring sunscreen and water. Rules include a ban on alcoholic beverages; no swimming under the falls; and no climbing rocks or trees. Hikers are also asked to stay on the trails.

Visitors can see the restored pictographs as well as rocks used in ancient times to prepare food. Although the spring wildflowers are mostly gone now, mesquite and lavender are still in bloom.

The visitor center will lend you a walking stick. And if you like it, you can purchase a brand new one for $20.

If You Go:

TAHQUITZ CANYON: 500 W. Mesquite, just west of Palm Canyon Drive in downtown Palm Springs; www.tahquitzcanyon.com or (760) 416-7044. Open 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission: Adults $12.50, children $6. There is no additional cost for the 2 1/2-hour guided hikes, which depart at 8 a.m., 10 a.m., noon and 2 p.m.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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