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Make a date to visit ranch

China Ranch Date Farm makes an easy cool-season getaway for a day of treats and hiking in a place the entire family will enjoy.

This lush oasis, in a secluded canyon near Tecopa, California, is not a spa or a resort but a working ranch that welcomes day visitors to hike the trails, see its date palms and experience the beauty of this sanctuary in the desert.

China Ranch lies about 100 miles west of Boulder City, an easy drive. Its elevation is 1,237 feet, so it might be a couple of degrees warmer than Boulder City.

While much of the history of the ranch before 1900 remains hazy, it was originally called Chinaman Ranch because a Chinese man named Quon Sing or Ah Foo settled here after working in the Death Valley borax mines. He raised livestock, farmed and made a living selling food to local mining camps.

Apparently, about 1900 he was run off at gunpoint by a shady character named Morrison, who wanted this lush oasis to himself. After this the property changed hands and had various owners. At one time or another it was used as a fig farm, hog farm, cattle ranch and alfalfa farm. The first date-palm grove was planted in the 1920s by Vonola Modine, daughter of local Death Valley area pioneer R.J. Fairbanks. After a series of different owners, the Brown Family purchased the property in 1970 and have operated the place ever since.

With date palms, some trees are male and only produce pollen, but the females work hard; one tree can produce 100-300 pounds of fruit per season. The harvest season usually lasts from September through December, as different varieties ripen at different times to become soft and sweet.

After checking out the date groves, be sure to check out some of the trails at the ranch. There are six main trails that vary from a few hundred yards to several miles. The Creek Trail is fun and easy and is an especially good one for small children. The trail follows a section of China Ranch Creek, which is flanked by water-loving plants including screwbean and honey mesquite, seep willow, Gooding willow and Fremont cottonwoods. There are interpretive signs along the way and picnic tables. Children can try to spot a frog or crayfish or even catch a glimpse of the Nevada speckled dace, a rare native fish.

Quite a lot of wildlife frequents the ranch, including gray foxes, kit foxes, bobcats, coyotes, jackrabbits and cottontails. This is a great place for birding as well; more than 225 species have been recorded here.

If you have time and energy to take a more strenuous trail, try the 2½-mile Mesa Trail. The trail has an elevation gain of about 500 feet and has some steep drop-offs, so it’s not recommended for children. It starts near the parking area and heads steeply up to the ridge where you get a great view down to the ranch and the date palm groves. This bird’s-eye view of the ranch really makes you appreciate what a rare treasure this oasis is in the desert.

After hiking, you might want to head to the gift shop and treat yourself to one of its world-famous date shakes. For most people this will be the visit’s tasty highlight. Furthermore, they sell date-based snacks appropriate for gifts or snacking on the way home, and even provide the occasional free sample to tempt customers. The ranch sells date samplers with 2-4 varieties, honey, date syrup, date-nut bread and cookies. You can order products online as well. Priority shipping and handling are included.

For landscaping they also sell date palms in all sizes and you can even choose the trees you want straight from the field.

The ranch is open for business 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas. To adhere to social distancing, the gift shop only allows six people in it at a time. Wear a mask and social distance when on the property.

For more information on China Ranch or to make a private shopping reservation, call 760-852-4415 or visit www.chinaranch.com.

Many of Deborah Wall’s columns have been compiled into books about hiking in the Southwest. She is also the author of “Great Hikes, a Cerca Country Guide” and a co-author of the book “Access For All, Seeing the Southwest With Limited Mobility.” Wall can be reached at Deborabus@aol.com.

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