California Fan Palms, being the only palm native to the western United States, are a pleasure to see in their natural habitat. Most often, this is a canyon near flowing water or with water close to the surface. Sometimes, as is the case with Seventeen Palm Oasis, a seep just below the surface, provides enough water in an otherwise incredibly dry and inhospitable location, for these desert icons to flourish and create an American version of the Date Palm Oasis often associated with Middle Eastern Deserts.
This is not so much a hike, as a place to visit, sit, relax and be alone while taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the desert. In winter and early Spring, there will probably be others nearby or in and out, but once the heat builds in, solitude should be the rule. My advice is to budget at least 2 hours to relax and enjoy the area, but a quick in and out does work, too. I also suggest evening, arriving 90 minutes before sunset, to enjoy the oasis in a pleasant light and as the desert cools off. The smell of the cooling desert soils on a day near 100 is really interesting.
Seventeen Palms may have only had that many in the past, when desert travelers used it as a water source and message drop station, but I counted at least 25, and stopped. It appears healthy, which is assuring. Water still appears only a foot or so below the surface, and a person or animal has dug a small hole accessing it. It is probably severely mineral laden and likely alkaline, so a sign warns against consumption. A collection of rush plants near the seep, as well as salt crusts around the palms also hint at the water below. Otherwise, being located in the heart of the Borrego Badlands, this is a harsh and sterile location.
Access is the only real challenge, and you will need high clearance. There is loose sand and gravel, so while you might try to do this without AWD or 4WD, don't blame me if you get stuck. I also suggest a map, even the crude free one from the visitor center, to give an indication of the roads out here.
A short distance up the main Arroyo Salado will bring you to another right turn. It is about 500 feet up the wash, and it takes you out of the sand and gravel up on to the badlands sediments. Take this 2 track west for maybe 1/4 of a mile, and you can clearly see Five Palms Oasis above the desert hills. This is an interesting visit, as well.
Check out the Official Route and Triplogs.
WARNING! Hiking and outdoor related sports can be dangerous. Be responsible and prepare for the trip. Study the area you are entering and plan accordingly. Dress for the current and unexpected weather changes. Take plenty of water. Never go alone. Make an itinerary with your plan(s), route(s), destination(s) and expected return time. Give your itinerary to trusted family and/or friends.