Every so often you stumble across one of those pleasant surprises that make your day. The Oasis Date Gardens at Thermal, California was one of those.
I was on my way early one morning to the Salton Sea from Indio when I started seeing signs along the road. For about a half mile or so they were spaced out about every hundred yards — ‘try our homemade date products’… ‘check out our gift boxes’.. ‘sample our organic Medjool dates’… ‘try our world famous date shakes at Oasis Date Gardens’, and a few others. Kind of tacky I thought, kind of like those tourist traps you used to see, and maybe still do, touting mystery caves and reptile gardens and the like. But my curiosity was piqued — I knew I had to try one of those date shakes on my way back.
Now I’m not big on sweets. They tend to get my blood sugar yo-yoing, but if I eat something solid first I can occasionally have some, so after poking around Salton Sea for awhile I pulled in to the picnic area for some lunch before heading back. I passed the signs from the other direction and stopped at the date gardens fully expecting it to be like a gaudy, glorified convenience store. But not so…
Inside it was very nicely done. There were the usual cards and collectibles and literature on the history of date growing in the Coachella Valley. Toward the back was a room with assorted date breads and pastries, gift boxes and date candies they make there. In the middle of the main room was a big table with sample platters of the various varieties of dates grown there. I tried several but needed to leave room for dessert.
Off to the side is their cafe where they serve deli sandwiches and fresh salads, and of course the world famous date shake. Having already fortified myself with sandwiches and fresh dates I was ready so I got in line.
I had to wait a bit — they’re quite popular — but I finally got mine and went outside to sit in the shade of a date palm to enjoy it. These aren’t thin and runny like a regular shake. They’re thick. You can stand the spoon upright in the middle, hold it upside down, and nothing will move. I know — I tried it. They’re that thick. I scooped a spoonful into my mouth, and after that frozen pain between my eyeballs subsided, I slowed down to enjoy it. And enjoy it I did. It was about the finest treat I’ve ever had. I finished the whole thing and staggered off for a cup of coffee to counteract the sugar high before heading back down the road, and went on my merry way.
I looked back at the signs in my mirror as I drove away. Tacky? Yes they’re tacky. But they’re pretty effective too — they got me in there. And I’m glad they did.