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Go for a hike, enjoy date treats at Tecopa’s China Ranch

Updated November 23, 2020 - 11:31 am

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 85 miles west of Las Vegas, an easy drive. Its elevation is 1,237 feet, so it might be a couple of degrees warmer than Las Vegas.

Hazy history

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 had various owners. At one time or another, it was used as a fig farm, hog farm, cattle ranch and alfalfa farm.

The first grove of date palms was planted in the 1920s by Vonola Modine, daughter of Death Valley-area pioneer R.J. Fairbanks.

After a series of different owners, the Brown family purchased the property in 1970 and has operated the place ever since.

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

Network of trails

After checking out the date groves, be sure to traverse some of the trails at the ranch. The six main trails 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, Goodding’s willow and Fremont cottonwoods. There are interpretive signs along the way and picnic tables. Children can try to spot a frog or crawfish 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, bobcats, coyotes, jackrabbits and cottontails. This is a great place for birding as well; more than 225 species have been recorded here.

A more strenuous trek is the 2½-mile Mesa Trail. It has an elevation gain of about 500 feet and has some steep drop-offs, so it’s not recommended for children. The trail starts near the parking area and heads steeply up to the ridge, where you get a bird’s-eye view down to the ranch and date palm groves.

Treats and trees

After hiking you might want to head inside 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. The shop also sells date-based snacks appropriate for gifts or snacking on the way home and even provides the occasional free sample to tempt customers. The ranch sells date samplers with two to four varieties, honey, date syrup, date/nut bread and cookies. You can order products at chinaranch.com, with priority shipping and handling included.

Date palms in all sizes are available for landscaping; patrons can choose the trees straight from the field.

The ranch is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas. To adhere to social distancing, the gift shop allows just six people in at a time. Wear a mask and stay at least 6 feet from other people while on the property.

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

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