Within the barren Mojave Desert, near Tecopa, Calif., China Ranch Date Farm is a surprising haven of greenery. “Hidden Oasis” reads the big yellow sign on Old Spanish Trail Highway. Undeniably, China Ranch is a true desert oasis.
Soon after leaving Old Spanish Trail Highway, as you round the last curve on Furnace Creek Road, the road abruptly ends. You have arrived at an extraordinary haven in the Mojave Desert on the edge of the arid Death Valley.
At China Ranch Date Farm, date palms are not only grown, they thrive.
The ranch is the largest producer of dates in the United States. Imagine visiting a remote area where you can purchase delicious, freshly made date milkshakes or buy fresh-out-of-the-oven date-nut bread.Like apples, dates come in many different varieties. A single tree can bear as much as 300 pounds of fruit a year and can live 100 years or more.
Date palms have been cultivated for their sugary fruit since about 6000 B.C. A tree started from seed takes an average of seven years before producing fruit. One male tree can pollinate up to 50 female trees. Their pollen is usually carried by wind or insects, but commercial grower’s hand-pollinate their groves to assure an annual crop.
Hiking and bird watching at China Ranch are not only welcomed, they are encouraged.
Hikers will discover hidden surprises along the moderate climbing trails. Picture a spot where the desert becomes a marshland, and a small, rustling river cascades to become a waterfall. In this barren desert, a river runs year-round, despite scorching desert temperatures. This waterway ranks among few rivers in the world that flow below sea level.
Nearby Death Valley is the driest, hottest and lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. Its name is derived for being the site of grim adversity during the early gold rush years. For this reason, the ranch’s marshland is a vital stop for migratory birds. More than 225 different bird species have been identified in the marshes here.
Visitors commonly ask how the ranch got its name.
The story goes that in the mid-1800s, a young man arrived from China to work in the borax mines. After working the mines for several years, he purchased some acreage and developed an irrigation system that would allow him to channel water to the fruits and vegetables he planted. When the man harvested his crops, he marketed them to the nearby mining camps and his place became known as “Chinaman’s Ranch.”