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Date Garden

Started: 2020-03-01 16:33:13

Submitted: 2020-03-01 21:03:34

Visibility: World-readable

19th February 2020: In which the intrepid narrator

After two days of adventurous day trips in and around the Coachella Valley, I thought we could use a vacation from our vacation, so we went to the Snake Bite Pool at our resort. This pool featured a zero-depth-entry side, which Julian appreciated; and a Jumbotron tuned to ESPN, which Calvin appreciated.

Snake Bite Pool
Snake Bite Pool

I swam a little, to remind myself that I could in fact swim competently (if not very well), then spent most of the time sitting on the chairs on the side of the pool.

Calvin and Julian in the Snake Bite Pool
Calvin and Julian in the Snake Bite Pool

After lunch we drove to Shields Date Garden in Indio. (The date garden is, it turns out, in the bottom-right corner of the picture of the Coachella Valley I took while flying into Palm Springs last month.)

Shields Date Garden
Shields Date Garden

Shields Date Garden is on California state highway 111, built as the main route between Los Angeles and Indio, and onward through the Imperial Valley down the east shore of the Salton Sea, before I-10 diverted the long-haul traffic through the valley. In the 1920s tourists from Los Angeles stopped at date farms like this, the product of efforts by agricultural authorities to develop date crops in the hot-and-dry valley. Dates are still a big cash crop in the Coachella Valley, but Shields is one of the last remaining date-focused tourist stops.

Dates for sale at Shields Date Garden
Dates for sale at Shields Date Garden

Inside we found a shop the size of a convenience store packed with date products: gift boxes with multiple kinds of dates, bulk dates in small packages, date sugar, date crystals, date jam.

Date sugar for sale at Shields Date Garden
Date sugar for sale at Shields Date Garden

One of the main attractions in the shop was the video The Romance & Sex Life of the Date (link to the video on YouTube), a short documentary telling the story of the Shields Date Garden. The title references the slide show that the eponymous Mr. Shields gave about the date -- including the interesting detail that the date palm must be pollinated by hand. This involves date farmers climbing to the top of the palms on rickety ladders to pick the male flowers and pollinate, by hand, all of the female flowers on other trees.

Calvin contemplates a date shake
Calvin contemplates a date shake

After the short movie we got date shakes -- milkshakes with date sugar -- and stepped out onto the shaded patio to eat the the milkshakes in the late afternoon. They tasted sweet, only vaguely of date -- and the twenty-ounce size was more than any one of us could eat at once.

Julian eats a date shake
Julian eats a date shake

Our final stop was to walk through the date gardens itself. A path wound through the date palms, giving us a closer look at the trees, and gave us the opportunity to get a sense of the scale of the date palms, even though we were walking through the manicured garden part of the farm, not the fully-operational orchard on the other side of the fence.

Julian and Calvin run through Shields Date Garden
Julian and Calvin run through Shields Date Garden

This garden had recently (within the last several years) been the recipient of a bunch of statues based on the biblical story of Jesus, and the path led through these statues in order, between the towering date palms and citrus and other trees planted in the garden.

Jesus calling the disciples at Shields Date Garden
Jesus calling the disciples at Shields Date Garden

Here we could see the ladders attached to the date palms, waiting for farm workers to climb to the top of the tree to fertilize and harvest the dates. (I didn't see any obvious safety equipment attached to the ladders: I would expect an ascender to attach to a harness to stop any falls while climbing the tree, but it wasn't obvious where that was in the ladders we saw.)

Date palms in Shields Date Garden
Date palms in Shields Date Garden

The late-afternoon sunlight filtered through the trees, giving the garden the feeling of an oasis in the desert, a calm quiet place set apart from the noise and bustle of the highway.

Pond and fountain at Shields Date Garden
Pond and fountain at Shields Date Garden

At the far side of the gardens I looked through the fence to see the date palms under cultivation, planted in regular rows, with young trees planted in the gaps to replace the older trees.

Date palms under cultivation at Shields Date Garden
Date palms under cultivation at Shields Date Garden

We left the garden as the sun set over Mount San Jacinto in the west, pleased to have visited the garden oasis in the middle of the desert.

Pool and fountain at Shields Date Garden under the setting sun
Pool and fountain at Shields Date Garden under the setting sun

For more photos from Shields Date Garden, see Photos on 2020-02-19.

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