Hiker finds mysterious mountain lights above Palm Springs

December 11th, 2013 | by Liz Kelly Nelson | Comments

>> Updates below: A Bureau of Land Management official says the lights could be removed if they turn out to be placed on federal land. Palm Springs City Manager David Ready says the city would probably let them be… for now.

The case of the holiday lights that appeared earlier this week on a mountainside above downtown Palm Springs is a little less mysterious this morning.

A hiker located what turned out to be a solar-powered light fixture on a Wednesday morning jaunt up the North Lykken Trail above Palm Springs.

Palm Springs resident Florian Boyd, who happens to be a former Desert Sun employee, found the light about a quarter mile off the trail, straight up the steep mountain at the end of Ramon Rd. He said it took him about 45 minutes to reach the light after starting out on the trail at about 9 a.m.

Another view of one of the lights brightening up the San Jacinto mountains for the holiday season. (Photo courtesy Florian Boyd)

Another view of one of the lights brightening up the San Jacinto mountains for the holiday season. (Photo courtesy Florian Boyd)

“They are those little yard solar lights modified with a color LED just stuck on with two-sided tape,” said Boyd Wednesday morning when we reached him on his cell phone during his hike back down the trail. “It looks like it’s pointed straight at the Marilyn statue so you can see them really well from downtown.”

Boyd said he’d spotted the lights Monday evening and became intrigued after reading the different theories posted online about their source — especially from some who were convinced the lights were actually lasers being pointed at the mountainside from somewhere in the city.

“It’s just little solar powered LED like you can buy at RadioShack or something,” he said. “A lot more work than lasers. Someone had to climb up there.”

Some intrigue still remains, though. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the stunt — which has been universally welcomed as a pretty awesome bit of holiday cheer. Boyd said no identifiers were attached to the light he found, just the cryptic (or not so much) number “3″ written in marker on the side of one of the solar cells.

“Whoever it is, kudos to them in giving a boost to our imagination and community dialogue,” commented Denise Ortuno Neil in Facebook’s Palm Springs Neighborhood Group. “They really lit us up in more ways than one!”

“It will be fun to see how long they last,” said Boyd. “I’d imagine they’ll start coming unstuck.”

Could be, but per The Washington Post, LED holiday lights can have a lifetime of 40 to 50 years.

But, if it turns out the lights are placed on federal land, they may be removed, no matter how welcoming the response from locals and tourists.

“If they were on Federal lands we would not allow the installation without prior approval,” said Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument manager Jim Foote on Wednesday afternoon.

“We’d have to address it on a case by case basis and make a determination. Sometimes when people do put things of this nature up there, it’s considered a trespass issue and is handled under the trespass rules.”

“These things can be progressive,” added Foote, noting that the Bureau of Land Management has removed unauthorized installations before, like a cross on a ridge above La Quinta Cove. “Someone could say 10 are nice so why not  100 or 1,000?” At some point you cross a line that becomes almost arbitrary.”

“It detracts from the naturalness of the area and as soon as you start bringing in things like lights, it could lead to something else,” added Foote.

But there’s still some debate about exactly what land the lights are on.

Palm Springs City Manager David Ready said he’s not sure, but they seem to be above city limits, which only goes up 1,500 feet.

If the lights are within Palm Springs, though, there are no plans to take them down. If they’re up there a year from now, they’ll consider it.

“What code enforcement am I going to send up there to look for them?” Ready asked.

Folks at City Hall have been looking at them and are amused, he said.

“Maybe it’s the next Marilyn, the lights on the mountain.”

Anyone with information leading to the story behind the lights, contact me at liz.nelson@thedesertsun.com.

A picture of the lights as seen from downtown Monday evening:

Lights on the mountain visible from downtown Palm Springs. (Brian Indrelunas/ The Desert Sun)

Lights on the mountain visible from downtown Palm Springs. (Brian Indrelunas/ The Desert Sun)

Video from a night hike in search of the lights:

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