March 21, 2017

Photo Essay: The Healing Powers of Highland Springs

If you happened to find yourself at the Highland Springs Ranch & Inn in Cherry Valley, CA (about 30 miles east of the City of Riverside, in Riverside County), it probably would be for one of three things: olives, lavender, or sheep.

Or, if you're lucky, you can experience all three at once.

The town of Cherry Valley is still incredibly rural, considering its proximity to the 10 Freeway. But its history of cherry-picking (reportedly the first to debut the popular "U-Pick" during a shortage of farmhands) has given way to these new crops (and to the apples that send people through Cherry Valley on their way north to Oak Glen).

It was the Olive Festival that first brought me to Highland Springs, where I perused the goods in the cottages known as the Organic Galleries...

...and skulked around the tiny, time warp cabins—some vacant, some occupied, and all clearly with lots of stories to tell.

The so-called ranch and inn at Highland Springs were built on the former San Gorgonio Rancho, a cattle ranch that was owned by the San Gabriel Mission and that shares its name with the highest peak in Southern California.

In the 1920s, the property was known as "Highland Springs Resort"—a health-minded wellness resort that drew the likes of Albert EinsteinErnest HemingwayBob Hope, and Roy Rogers to stay for vegetarian meals, juice fasts, and colonics.

Eventually, it attracted people who were so bad off, it earned the nickname "The Last Resort."

But decades before that, it was a stagecoach stop known as "Smith Station"...

...and it attracted the likes of Wyatt Earp (and some lawless robbers and murderers, too), on their way eastward to Arizona.

And centuries before that, the "Grand Oak"—a 1100-year-old coastal live oak tree—was just a sapling, with no white man in sight.

Today, the historic structures that haven't burned down have been restored...

...though the pool, jacuzzi, and bathhouse remain closed...


Today, the focus at Highland Springs is less on recreation, rehabilitation, rest, and repose...

...though the tennis courts await a fresh serve...

...and the basketball hoop could use a good dunk.

Tucked away beyond the manicured lawns and amidst the groves of trees are whimsical and enchanted faux bois bridges, railings, and benches... well as fountains, wishing wells, and figurines that have somehow survived the ranch's preservation and modernization efforts.

Highland Springs is now home to 123 Farm, which nurtures, harvests, and distills from the organic lavender fields and olive tree groves...

...and herds organically-raised sheep.

The flock roams a 70-acre pasture, mingling with free-range chickens and roosters, safely protected from coyotes and such by a Great Pyrenees named Bear.

With rising spring temperatures, this is the time of the year that too-fluffy fleece can make the sheep uncomfortably hot...

...and so begins the ritual of shearing, not only to shed their winter coats but to provide wool for spinning into yarn and felting.

Sheep have a tendency towards parasite infections, so to stay healthy without use of veterinary drugs, they eat olive leaves—which happen to be naturally antimicrobial, antiviral, and anti-parasitic.

Of course, this is a working farm that's left its resort days of vegetarianism in the past, so it uses the milk from the ewes to make soap and cheese; and it uses the rams as studs to make babies, until such time that they're sent "on vacation" to be made into dinner at the onsite restaurant, The Grand Oak Steakhouse (which also serves organic eggs from the farm as well as lavender-infused olive oil vinaigrette and other house-made delights).

For all its whimsy, this place has some serious historical layers to explore, as well as quiet areas to escape and make a wish.

Maybe it's the vast expanse of agricultural acreage, or maybe it's the clean desert air under a clear desert sky, but Highland Springs feels magical and—though it has abandoned such purpose—healing.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Healing Powers of Zzyzx
Plunging My Hand into a Field of Terror at the Lavender Farm
Photo Essay: Graber Olive House
Photo Essay: A Historic Oasis in the Valley of the Oaks

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