China Ranch Date Farm-Tecopa, CA
Feb 26, 2014
|Since arriving in Pahrump, we’ve been intending to drive about 34 miles from Pahrump, NV to Tecopa, CA to visit a date growing farm. China Ranch Date farm is way out in the middle of nowhere, as is the settlement of Tecopa. Today we decided to do the 114 mile loop drive south from Pahrump, west across to CA to Tecopa, north to Shoshone, CA, east over the small mountain range back to Pahrump.
In the late 1890s a Chinese man named Ah Foo left employment at one of the nearby borax mines, and settled at the bottom of a steep canyon along a natural spring. For about a decade Ah Foo had a small farm along the stream where he grew vegetables and livestock to sell to the local miners.
This entire area had once been part of a large lake which covered most of western Nevada and parts of what is now the Death Valley area. When the water from the lake drained rather suddenly, smooth mud hills were left behind. Later the area was mined for borax and gypsum and other ores.
The historic Old Spanish Trail goes through this area, and later the Tonopah & Tidewater railroad also passed through the area. Getting down to the bottom of the canyon, through the gypsum mud hills, which look like moonscape, was interesting geologically. Between 1915 and 1918, the Gypsum Queen Mine was working in this exact location. The mines produced about 100,000 tons of gypsum during that short period. The ore was shipped to Los Angeles on the Tonopah & Tidewater Railroad. It was used in the manufacture of plaster. There are even remnants of the ore cars used in the mines, and of the RR track ties used on the hillside for run-away train cars…which was one of the reasons the mining in the area was halted – because of run-away trains which unsuccessfully tried to take the ore back up and out of the canyon. These particular mines were closed in 1918 after 2 men were killed in one of the mines due to a cave in.
Finally, as the winding dirt road nears the bottom, the canyon opens up and an oasis of green date palm trees of many varieties appears.
The folks who started the date farm arrived in 1990. An “Anglo” man and his Hawaiian “Chinese” wife are the owners of the family run farm. Inside the gift shop are many types of dates to sample, date breads, muffins and cookies, and other non-related but gift shop type fair. Date milkshakes are a must-buy to be enjoyed next to the patio fountain with birds, cactus and friendly tourists.
We walked alongside the little stream, through a very mixed riparian glade full of desert mesquite trees, willows and palms, spying little dace (I learned that’s the name for the local minnows) in the water. Then we walked along the road looking at the variety of different date palms they have planted in the orchard. They sold maybe 15 different types of “home grown” dates in the gift shop. Along the orchard road, at least 8 tree types were labeled with signs telling the native land of each variety (mostly Iraq, some from Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria, and some California, Coachella Valley hybrids).
We learned that the most prolific producer and most commonly sold, “store-bought” date, is the Deglet Noor. We taste-tested it, along with others, in the gift shop, but it wasn’t until we walked through the orchard and read the signs that I realized the Deglet Noor is the type Sunkist Foods markets and which I enjoy at my house. The Deglet Noor is a very dry and tough date, which makes it easy to pick and pack off to the packaging plants. But once it gets to the packaging plants, it is humidified by slow steaming it, which makes each date soft, supple and shiny…just like the ones in my Sunkist bag. Yum!
There is even a type of date called Barhi, from Iraq which produces soft, light colored fruit which can even be eaten before they are fully ripe. This un-ripe state is called the Khalal stage, which occurs in early August. They are crunchy and sweet like small apples, and are highly sought after by the China Ranch Date farms’ Middle-Eastern customers. I was told to call in an order for Khalal in late July, early August, to have some sent via mail. (All of their products are available via mail order.)
We finished our loop trip by stopping for burgers at The Crowbar Café & Saloon in Shoshone. We did a quick look around at Shoshone, and will return there to hike the bird refuge trails, go through the museum and take a closer look at the “cabins” dug out of the mud hills. But for the next few days, since a storm is coming in, we’ll stay close to “home” on the lake with all the birds. Maybe I’ll even make myself work at catching up my other, fuller, blog (Terri’s Tidings) with travel events from the past.
PS If, like me, your interest has been peeked in how date trees are propagated (not using seedlings but using offshoot “pups”) and the fruit pollinated (by hand), which are both unusual compared to most fruit trees, you’ll enjoy the following “slide show” produced by Dateland Farms in Arizona. http://www.dateland.com/Tutorial.html