China Ranch

(This post has been languishing in my draft queue for many weeks. It all took place early December 2012. Hopefully no less interesting. )

I never seemed to have gotten many visuals up from my visit to the Amargosa Valley and to China Ranch so mabye now is a good time. I learned of China Ranch when I happened ot mention my love of dates (specifically fresh dates which I am having a hard time finding in Los Angeles) to my son who’s a near expert on the local territory. He pointed me south and east of Death Valley, where I was encamped, into the Amargosa that runs along the California and Nevada borders. This took the better part of a day but was well worth the trip.

The route to the Ranch traverses through Shoshone, CA and then Tecopa, home to some hot springs, both commercially exploited and naturally available, as well as through a gorgeous desert landscape that was displaying its late fall colors. I’m beginning to beleive that this is the absolute best time to be in the desert but I’m reserving my opinion until I get to see one in bloom this coming spring. Perhaps it will be a tie.

I stopped in Shoshone long enough to get directions from a sheriff’s deputy who was standing next to the Shoshone Museum and visitor’s center and to grab a couple of pictures of that august establishment. When I left the town I zigged at the fork instead of zagging and found out 30 miles later that I’d taken the wrong turn. Things like this used to upset me. But it was beautiful scenery, a bright and sunny day and these days I spell ‘schedule’ with a very small ‘s’. The only shortcoming was that at this time of year the light is not available for long and I had just cut some of what I would need out of the picture.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect at China Ranch. First off I was thinking of it in terms of a, well, of a ranch. Livestock, Ranch implements. Fields. And maybe a cowpoke here or there. Typical eastern imaginings of western terrain. But I couldn’t reconcile all that with dates. I couldn’t imagine them being poked or corralled or rounded up. And to tell you the truth I wasn’t sure just how dates made the journey from God’s lips to the Whole Foods Market. People my age are supposed to know these things right? Do you believe it is only recently that I learned that blueberries grow on bushes? (That was a very tough lesson but also another story.) Maybe it’s that I had never thought about it before. But I had also never thought about the source of dates either. Trees? Bushes? Vines? Roots? Not a clue.

It wasn’t until about ten years ago on a business trip to Abu Dhabi that I made a serious first encounter with a date. My hotel room was stocked with them and no sooner had I finished the supply they’d be replenished. They were unbelievably fresh, melt in your mouth delicious. A real treat. The only thing I remember about that trip, despite having sold quite a bit of product. I had been on a quest for similarly fresh dates ever since but the closest I came was the Reston Harris Teeter’s offering of Mejools. But in Los Angeles? Nothing.

I drove through Tecopa, up the China Ranch Road and past Cynthia’s Desert Hostel arriving finally at a steep decline that snaked its way down into the creek wash that contains China Ranch proper. No cattle. No Cowpokes. No horses (in sight) even but date palms scattered all over. Dates, you see, grow on palm trees. But you knew that, right?

I found that not only could I buy dates here but that I could buy them from seven different strains (brands? lines? What?). I could also buy date bread and date butter and maybe date wine – I didn’t inquire – and I didn’t even have to drive out here each week because the good folk at CR ship. I bought my mejools and some date bread for Mitzi and some pumpkin butter and then chatted a bit with the owner. She was familiar with Charles’ Green Tortoise Adventure Travel. All you have to say out here is Big Green Bus (not to be confused with this Big Green Bus) and everyone is familiar with it. They don’t know what it is but they’ve seen it somewhere. GT gets around. I also learned that the Ranch covers a lot of acreage and that trails of varying difficulty have been cut through it. So I took off to see some of the rest of the place. The watershed that runs through the wash and supplies the ranch with its life blood also feeds hundreds of cottonwood and mesquite trees. The former were in full fall bloom. It was an incongrous sight all this arid area awash in leafy color. A veritable oasis. But it was certainly a sight worth seeing.

Along the walk I ran into Cynthia of Cynthia;s Desert Lodging and we chatted about her business. She noticed my camera gear and wondered if I might have time to drop by and capture a few images for her web site overhaul. But was running short of light and had a long way to go ti get back to my camp at Furnace Creek. So I declined. Being an amateur has its benefits. As you can see though I managed a few shots of the ranch. Well, of things around the ranch.

And also of the surrounding area.

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3 responses to “China Ranch

    • As an easterner I grew up in terrain similar to that in which you live. My first exposure to this sort of environment was in the high desert of northern Mexico on a very long road trip to Central America. I’ve been drawn to it ever since. From where I am living in LA – which lacking water from the Eastern Sierra would itself be a desert – I can be among the cactus and critters in under two hours. Death Valley is only six hours off. This entire western region is both visually and emotionally compelling. I’m hard-pressed to see how I will ever leave it until I arrive at my final address in the University Cemetery in Charlottesville. You can Google all that 😊.

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      • Believe me, I already have. I remember waking on a sleeper train, opening the blinds to sunlight as I had never seen it, sand and cacti..and that was only southern Spain. It got me then. Death Valley I want to see, one day. I can see why you would not want to leave except feet first 🙂

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