No, it's not a social media dating site. The China Ranch Date Farm actually grows, harvests and sells dates. We learned about the farm during our recent visit to the Springs Preserve and decided it would make a good day trip from Las Vegas. Located in Tecopa, California, it's a 90-mile drive along the Old Spanish Trail Highway, the old trade route between Santa Fe, NM and Los Angeles, CA. Once out of Las Vegas, we traveled through the aptly named Red Rock Canyon and over the Mountain Springs Summit (alt. 5502') and felt our ears pop. The mountaintops were snow-covered and picturesque. Snow is always more picturesque at a distance and when it doesn't require shoveling.
As we ventured further into the Mojave Desert, the landscape changed significantly. Joshua trees, sage, scrub and cacti took over the land. Houses and towns are few and far between in this area. We watched the temperature plummet from near 70F in the city to the mid-40s in the high desert. We crossed the state line into California quite unceremoniously.
We arrived at the road to China Ranch Date Farm and it seemed an unlikely place for a date palm orchard. The last two miles was a winding, steep, gravel road through surreal sandstone cliffs. Erosion has created windows on the cliff tops.
Old gypsum mine shaft entrances were plentiful and fenced off to keep curious visitors at bay.
The date palms came into sight quite unexpectedly … a huge orchard of them. Dates hung invitingly as we wandered around and between the luxuriant palms. Bird song was everywhere. We observed two coyotes on the prowl, but they disappeared once they spied us.
So … a little date trivia. The date palm, native to northern Africa and the Middle East, first came to the US in the 1890s. They thrived in the deserts of Nevada, California and Arizona and currently, “the USA date industry produces more than 60 million pounds of fruit annually. Iraq is the world's largest producer of dates.”
Now, what about the name: China Ranch Date Farm? Well, it appears that a Chinese borax mine worker (Ah Foo ??) came to the area some time in the mid-late 1800s. He developed the water source, planted fruits and veggies and raised cattle to supply the local miners. The locals predictably called it Chinaman's Ranch. Along came a guy named Morrison c. 1900 who ran off the Chinese fellow at gunpoint and claimed the developed land as his own. The land has had many owners since and has been used for several different purposes. In 1970, the Brown-Sorrells family purchased the land and it remains in the families today.
After a stroll through the orchard, we visited the gift shop from which enticing smells were emanating.
Freshly baked date bread, date muffins and cookies were on offer and several varieties of dates were available for sampling. Karen tried several and reported them all delicious. It was, however, the rather unusual date milkshake that finally lured all three of us in. Different and delicious, but filling and very, very sweet.
We sat outside the gift shop at a picnic table on a small outdoor patio. Anna's hummingbirds hovered above us as we sipped our milkshakes and appreciated the warm sunshine.
The surrounding area was definitely photo-worthy.
There are several hiking paths and trails along the Amargosa River, but we were not prepared for a long hike, so instead we visited the ranch's “Modest Museum”. Actually, “modest” was probably too complimentary of the tiny 2-room ramshackle cabin which contained more cobwebs and spiders than photos or memorabilia. The “tour” didn't take long, but did provide a laugh or two.
All in all, we found the day trip to China Ranch Date Farm to be a pleasant diversion. Next time, we'll be prepared for a little hiking ... to walk off the date milkshakes.