China Ranch - Date Farm - Summary Page

{Click on an image to enlarge, then use the back button to return to this page}
(Fig. 01)
Tecopa-China Ranch-2
(Fig. 02)
Directions: Located southeast of Death Valley, China Ranch is approximately 77 miles from Las Vegas. Take Interstate 15 South to highway 160. Go west (toward Pahrump) to Tecopa Highway. Go west on Tecopa Highway (which becomes Old Spanish Trail Highway in California) to Furnace Creek Road (Fig 02), and turn left. Follow the signs to China Ranch. Go about another 3 miles and turn right onto China Ranch Road and follow it to the end.
Area History: About 12 million years BP, the area in and around China Ranch was a landlocked basin, much like one of today's dry lakes. For the next three million years it was intermittently dry then filled, catching the run-off and sediment from the surrounding mountains. Over the eons more than one thousand vertical feet of sediment collected in the basin. Other forces of nature were at work on the more ancient China Ranch lake bed. Minor uplifting occurred in some areas, while other portions of the sediment settled and dropped. Sometime between 1 million and a half million years ago nearby Lake Tecopa, which was the terminus of the Amargosa River, was breached. The resulting flow carved the dramatic Amargosa Canyon 1 mile to the south, and steepened the drainage from the China Ranch area. This in turn accelerated the erosion, carving this canyon and creating the spectacular topography you can now see around you.
     It is believed that early hunters and gatherers were roaming the edges of Lake Manly (located north in Death Valley) by 10,000 B.C. The discovery of bone chips indicate that they hunted large game, probably deer or big horn sheep. Shell beads indicate that they had contact with groups along the Pacific coast. The Shoshone and Paiute Indians migrated into the great basin sometime after 1000 A.D. These Nomadic hunters and gatherers used the various resources of the canyon for food and shelter. Because they needed to be mobile, they traveled in small groups of a few families with few physical possessions. The village at Tecopa Hot Springs, known as Yaga, was the largest settlement in the area and had about 70 inhabitants when it was visited by New Mexican horse trader Antonio Armijo in the spring of 1830. Armijo's visit is the first known recorded visit by a European to this immediate area. He established what came to be known as the Old Spanish Trail, which was the route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to the Spanish settlements in California. It followed a winding route from water hole to water hole across the desert, and so was known as the "longest, crookedest, most arduous trail in the west."  John Fremont traveled on the Spanish Trail in the spring of 1843, on his way east after heading a reconnaissance expedition to California. On April 29 he passed the confluence of China Ranch Creek and the Amargosa River, about 1 mile to the south.
     From 1830 until 1849 the main customers on the trail were a ragtag group of American, Mexican, Canadian and Indian horse raiders known collectively by their victims as Los Chaguanosos. The large and fertile ranchos of California had an abundant supply of horses and mules, but in Santa Fe and points east a scarcity of animals drove the prices extremely high, a fact that did not go unnoticed. The raiders would steal all the animals they could find from the Spanish Ranchos in California, and then drive them as fast as possible into the desert and east along the Spanish Trail. The horses were eventually driven to Santa Fe and some on to the Missouri River, where they fetched premium prices. It is said that one raid made and estimated 100,000 dollars from the sale of the surviving animals, making it an attractive venture for others. A decline in fur prices and the lure of big profits to be made drew many of America's most famous mountain men into the horse "trading" business along the Old Spanish Trail. Among these were Jim Beckwourth, Pegleg Smith, Bill Williams, Walkara the Ute raider, and Dick Owens, for whom the Owens Valley is named. The gold rush in 1849 created a ready market for horses in California, and effectively ended the horse stealing business along the trail.
China Ranch History (1): China Ranch (Fig. 01) is a family owned and operated small farm on a lush piece of greenery amidst the forbidding Mojave Desert near Southern Death Valley. Old journals note that during the fall and winters of 1849 and 1850, dozens of parties of 49'ers used the Old Spanish Trail to reach the gold fields of California. Although this route took them far to the south of the gold country, it was warm enough not to present the risk of freezing to death, as the story of the Donner party was already well known. Beyond this, very little is known about the activities or people at China Ranch from 1850 until the turn of the century. According to available sources, a Chinese man named either Quon Sing or Ah Foo came to this canyon after many years of work in the Death Valley borax mines. He developed the water, planted fruits and vegetables, and raised meat for the local mining camps. It became known as Chinaman's Ranch.
     Sometime in 1900, a man named Morrison appeared, and, as the story goes, he ran the Chinese farmer off at gun point and claimed the Ranch for his own. Morrison eventually sold out, but the name had stuck. Since then the canyon has had many owners and worn many different faces, including a fig farm, cattle ranch, hog farm, alfalfa farm, and others. The date grove was planted from seed in the early 1920's by Vonola Modine, youngest daughter of Death valley area pioneer RJ Fairbanks. Approximately half of the trees are male and produce only pollen. The females bear in the fall, yielding from 100 to 300 pounds of dates in a season. In 1970, the property was purchased by Charles Brown Jr. and Bernice Sorrells, the son and daughter of area pioneer and long time State Senator Charles Brown of Shoshone. It remains in these families today.
     The adobe ranch house (Fig. 01) was completed in 1991 after 5 years of work. It is built from over 18,000 hand made adobe bricks, manufactured from native materials found at the ranch. It has four bedrooms, three bathrooms, and encompasses about 4500 square feet. It is reinforced, completely up to building code standards, and did not suffer any damage during the string of earthquakes in June of 1992. In addition to its cultivated date palms, the grounds of the ranch contain towering cottonwoods and willows along a wandering stream. Due to the abundance of water, the area is filled with abundant wildlife. Surrounded by mines, the ranch's’ rich history includes its proximity to the Old Spanish Trail and the historic Tonopah & Tidewater railroad. The Old Spanish Trail, which passes through the heart of the area, has been recognized as a national historic trail. There is pending congressional legislation to make the twenty-two mile section of the Amargosa River a national wildlife refuge and scenic river designation.

02/28/2018 Trip Notes: Today Bob Croke, Harvey Smith, Ron Ziance and I came out to the China Date Ranch for a day of hiking and some fresh baked date bread. Once we reached the ranch, because Ron had never been here before, we decided to re-hike two areas that the rest of us had hiked on previous visits; the Slot Canyon Trail and a portion of the Ranch View Trail. For detailed descriptions for each of these hikes, pictures, and hiking descriptions, click the following link for more ... China Ranch/Date Farm -Trip Notes for 02/28/2018.
05/20/2015 Trip Notes: I made my second visit to this ranch with my friend Jim Herring. On this visit I spent more time exploring some of the property's old gypsum mines and hiking the Cliffs Trail. As with almost any visitor to this place, we just had to have some of their famous date nut bread and a cool date shake. These items alone are worth the trip. Click the following link for more information and pictures of our hike and a history of the gypsum mines ... China Ranch - Date Farm - Trip Notes for 05/20/2015.
02/10/2015 Trip Notes: Today Harvey Smith, Bob Croke, Bake Smith and I arrived a little after 8:30 and found that the gift shop, bakery and information center did not open until 9:00. While waiting for it to open we decided to walk the short Creek Trail (Fig. 03) located behind the gift shop.
Ranch View Hike-2
(Fig. 03)
Creek Trail: This short trail (Figs. 04-06), roughly 200 yards long, starts out behind the gift shop and ends at the crossover road. It follows what is known as the China Ranch Creek through thick native vegetation. Some of the trees and plants are labeled with interpretive identification signs. Its stream contains frogs, crayfish, and speckled dace, a rare native fish. The only thing was noticed was some small speckled dance. From here we turned left onto the “crossover road” and back to China Ranch Road. Before heading back to the Gift Shop, we stopped at the museum (Fig. 07).
(Fig. 04)
(Fig. 05)
(Fig. 06)
Rustic Museum: Located in an old, well worn building (Fig. 07), this small museum included exhibits and artifacts from early Indian sites and archeological digs, and photographs of the pioneer families that were here in the early 1900's. I found it not to be very well maintained. One really interesting item was a wall map of the United States that showed all of the Indian Tribes that were at one time, scattered throughout the country (Figs. 08 & 09). After returning to the Gift Shop and obtaining some information on the various hikes that surround the ranch, we decide to start out by hiking the Ranch View Trail.
(Fig. 07)
(Fig. 08)
(Fig. 09)
Ranch View Trail: From the gift shop, take the cross over road and then head north up the canyon past the date groves (Figs. 10 & 11). This two mile round trip trail starts out rather easy as it runs past all of the ranches' date groves. Following a large above ground pipeline up hill for about a mile, you come to a reservoir, fed by the Willow Spring. It supplies all of the irrigation for the date groves. At the reservoir (Fig. 12), the trails turns right and heads west down the flood levee until it reaches some small hills directly in front of you. Suddenly it begins a climb up a steep section that takes you up onto the spine of the hill in the center of (Fig. 13). The trail that runs this ridge-line is quite narrow. At this point we split up, and while Bob and Blake headed back the way we had come, Harvey and I then hiked this trail to the top of the ridge line and back to the ranch (Figs. 14 & 15). In addition to the loose gravel footing, the wind was blowing quite hard, which at times made it seem just a little scary in some places. Overall, this trail had an elevation gain, and then loss, of about four hundred feet. The views of the area and the ranch below made for a rewarding hike (Fig. 01). We followed the ridge all the way to its end, which led us down into the middle of a date grove that we then crossed to get back to the gift shop. Once we got back to the gift shop, we met back up with Blake and Bob (Fig. 16) and snacked on some freshly baked datenut bread that was absolutely delicious. After placing an order for several loafs of datenut bread to take home, we decided to hike the Slot Canyon Trail.
(Fig. 10)
(Fig. 11)
EFP-China Ranch Resevoir
(Fig. 12)
(Fig. 13)
(Fig. 14)
(Fig. 15)
(Fig. 16)
Slot Canyon Hike-2
(Fig. 17)
Slot Canyon Trail: Walking straight down the canyon from the gift shop, this four mile round trip hike (Fig. 17) had an elevation drop and then gain of about 350 feet over its course. About a third of the way out we found two old cars that made for some fun pictures (Figs. 18 thru 21). When the trail forks, bear to the right and continue past the historical assay office and saloon building (Figs. 22-24). The view in (Fig. 25) is looking back to the trailhead. Figure 26. is of the Cliffs Trail, east of the Slot Canyon Trail. Continuing on you eventually come to the top of a mesa that overlooks the old Acme Siding (Figs. 27 & 28), an ore loading site and stop on the Tonopah and Tidewater railroad from 1905 until 1938. From here we followed the cairn-marked trail to the right down off the Mesa, and walked the bed of the Tonopah and Tidewater railroad (Fig. 29) until it reached a bridge that was now washed out (Fig. 30). Rather than continuing on, down to the Amargosa river, which looked completely dry, we decided to begin the hike back to the ranch. The collage in (Fig. 31) is a grouping of shots taken around the ranch.
(Fig. 18)
(Fig. 19)
(Fig. 20)
(Fig. 21)
(Fig. 22)
(Fig. 23)
(Fig. 24)
EFP-Slot Canyon Trail
(Fig. 25)
EFP-The Cliffs Trail
(Fig. 26)
(Fig. 27)
(Fig. 28)
(Fig. 29)
(Fig. 30)
2015 China Date Ranch
(Fig. 31)
All total, we hiked more than six miles and there were still three more hikes that we didn't have time to do; the 2.5 mile Mesa Trail, the 2 mile Cliffs Trail, and the 1.5 mile Badlands Trail. Can't wait to go back for more hiking and some more date bread right out of the oven.

References: (1) The China Ranch Date Farm website {History of China Ranch} []

Note: Every attempt is made to provide accurate information, but occasionally depictions are inaccurate by error of mapping, navigation or cataloging. The information on this site is provided without any warranty, express or implied, and is for informational and historical purposes only.