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Society and Culture in Palm Springs, Death Valley and the California Desert

Things to do / Travel Guide

The California Desert region is quintessentially “Californian” and reflects much of the diversity of the rest of the state. The region is mostly made up of Latin American and Caucasian residents, with each of these ethnic groups composing around 30%-40% of the population. African Americans are the next-largest ethnic group of residents, averaging around 10% of the region's overall population, followed by smaller communities of Asian Americans and Native Americans.

Much of the northern half of the region lies in what is often called the “Inland Empire” by native Californians and it is a predominantly rural and agricultural area. Palm Springs is home to the region's wealthiest population and boasts a very high number of retirees and “out-of-towner” residents who own second or third houses in the area. Notably, Palm Springs has also one of the largest per capita homosexual communities in the United States.

Unquestionably, the major industry of the region is tourism, especially in Palm Springs (within the greater Coachella Valley), Big Bear Lake, and around Death Valley National Park and the other desert parks. The flocks of tourists who visit in the cooler months of the year (either for the desert's sun and relative warmth or for Big Bear Lake's snow and winter activities) provide a vital source of income. This is especially true for smaller towns like Barstow, which subsist almost entirely off the business of tourists and commuters passing through the region. The agricultural sector is also large, producing onions, wheat, cantaloupe, and other desert mainstays like dates from palm trees.

The California Desert is home to a large population of retirees and wealthy “out-of-towners” who have their second or third home in the region. Thus, even in the larger cities, like Palm Springs and San Bernardino, a small-town feeling prevails. The local lifestyle is much more laid-back and slow-paced then in the nearby southern California region.
The local population is quite diverse, particularly in the region's larger cities, with large Asian American and Latin American segments, a large community of gay and lesbian residents, and an eclectic mix of retirees and younger arrivals.

The vibe in Palm Springs is influenced by its status as one of America's classic resort cities. Throughout the year, visitors from around the country and points far beyond come to take in the desert air and the fine resorts. At the bars, restaurants, and other local attractions, expect to see people from all over, contributing to a diverse and lively local atmosphere. Big Bear Lake also fits this description, but on a smaller scale. Indeed, while it's a relatively small town, the popular skiing city is full of out-of-towners as well as seasonal residents, making the place come alive.

The major industry of the area is tourism, especially in Palm Springs and around Death Valley National Park. The flocks of tourists who come in the cooler months from fall to spring (anytime but summer) provide a vital source of income for the region's towns, a few of which were “built by tourism,” and many of which (Barstow for example) subsist almost entirely off the business of tourists and commuters passing through. Thus, many of the region's residents are employed in the tourism and services sectors.

Agriculture also plays a major role in the region's economy, and quite a few residents are employed in this sector, too. Across the irrigated desert ranges of the region crops like onions, wheat, and cantaloupes are harvested right next to more familiar desert mainstays like date palms. In certain expanses of the desert and especially in areas of the region further north, livestock, mainly cattle and sheep are a major part of the economy.