Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Oasis Date Gardens in Cochella Valley = cool, tasty desert short stop

Oasis Date Gardens in Thermal, Calif.  (Julianne G. Crane)
If you are a Snowbird migrating through the arid regions of the Coachella Valley in southern California, you can't help but be lured by the "Ice Cold Date Shakes Just Ahead" signs that dot the highways around Palm Springs, Indio and Desert Hot Springs.

Shady picnic area (Julianne G. Crane
On one hot day, as we were traveling along CA. 111 in Thermal, we pulled into the Oasis Date Gardens parking lot.

In addition to an inviting shady picnic area outside, the cool inside offers a Ranch Store, Sampling area, Cafe and a small theater that shows a video on how dates are grown. There is an antique farm implement display where visitors can guess their use from days gone past.

If you are there at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. stay for the educational talk. 

We discovered that California dates have grown in the desert oasis of the Coachella Valley for more than a century. "A place where date palms flourish in high summer temperatures and low humidity with minimal rainfall during the summer and fall."

We were also happy to learn that Oasis Date Gardens has been certified organic since 2000. The owners "not only believe that it is important to grow a beautiful varietal date, but also one that is rich in flavor. We believe the best way to ensure that our dates reach their full sweetness and flavor is to use natural fertilizers and let the tree ripen the date to the fullest extent possible," according to the company's literature.

Jimmy Smith sampling dates. (Julianne G. Crane)
"Consequently, Oasis Date Gardens has adopted an organic farming approach to growing and processing their dates. In plain simple terms this means that all fertilizers are natural, such as using composted chicken litter or cover crops to enhance the nutrients of the soil rather than chemical fertilizers. Also no chemicals or pesticides are used in the gardens. Only natural elements approved under the guidelines established by the National Organic Standard."

During our visit to the store we sampled many tasty organic varieties of locally-grown dates.

We next stepped over to the cafe (between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m.) to check out the date cakes, cookies, bread and pies baked fresh daily. The menu includes salads and deli sandwiches (between $7 and $8). Above all, you must try their famous date shake for $4.

(Julianne G. Crane)

If you go:

Oasis Date Gardens
59-111 Grapefruit Blvd.
Thermal, CA 92274
(800) 827-8017
Store Hours: Daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

-- Julianne G. Crane

To read more RV Lifestyle articles by Julianne G. Crane go to

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Belt sander races dust up Fulton, Texas

Inspecting belt sanders before race. (Julianne G. Crane)
Prior to the beginning of the recent South Texas Belt Sander Race Association sanctioned Saturday afternoon races, hundreds of spectators milled around the 75-foot track behind the Legends Saloon in Fulton, Texas.

Cars, RVs, motorcycles and bicycles started packing the parking lot and side streets shortly after noon. Mostly Winter Texans filled the colorful bleachers, drank beer and rooted for every sander that managed to kick up a cloud of sawdust in the double-elimination races. The sun was out, a festive feel was in the air and everyone was there to have fun watching belt sanders drag races.

For the uninitiated, there are two classes of belt sanders: Stock and Modified.

First of all, however, all sanders must run on 120v power, use an unmodified factory-manufactured sanding belt (grit is driver's choice), be equipped with track guides and wheelie bars or 'outrigging' (to keep sanders centered in the 12-inch wide track), and be no more than 24 inches in length.

The "stock" class sander, says Tommie Giambernard of the South Texas BSRA, "is essentially fresh out of the box. You can make them pretty with a good paint job, but that's all."

'The belt sanders are off and racing.' (Julianne G. Crane)
The "modified" class, on the other hand, has no limits. Racers can do anything to them, as long as they stay within the general requirements (see above). Some racers have been known to spend several thousand dollars modifying the engines to go as fast as 20,000 RPMs. (The average off-the-shelf belt sander runs 1725-3450 RPMs.)

John Hillstrom, an RVer from Puyallup, Wash., wasn't doing anything fancy. "I'm just here to enjoy myself." This is his first season and he is running in the stock category. "I spent a total of $160," he said, "$80 for the sander, $20 for an extended warranty, $20 for sandpaper, $20 for outriggers and $20 for paint."

Legends Saloon (Julianne G. Crane)
If you go:
Legends Saloon
3720 N. Hwy. 35
Fulton, Texas
When: 1st and 3rd Saturday at 2 p.m., Oct.-March

Cost: Free

For more information:
South Texas Belt Sander Race Association

Orginally posted in February 2011, this article was updated with current information on Feb. 21, 2015. To read more about the RV Lifestyle click on

-- Julianne G. Crane

Photo: Top: Spectators inspecting the couple dozen belt sanders lined up near the raceway's starting point. Middle: (l) Tommie Giambernard's stock belt sander noses out John Hillstrom’s entry at a Saturday afternoon race.  Bottom: Sign outside Legends Saloon in Fulton, Texas. (Julianne G. Crane)