After a three-year hiatus, La Casa del Zorro in Borrego Springs is now open again and under San Diego management.
La Casa is a San Diego-area gem.
There are luxury motel-type rooms nearby, a fine swimming pool and other family fun sites. There is also a bar and a fine-dining restaurant.
If you prefer privacy, there are “casitas,” little houses of varying numbers of bedrooms and most with their own pool or Jacuzzi.
As old-time San Diegans know, James Copley, the late publisher of the San Diego Union-Tribune, followed up his purchase of the still-spry Borrego Sun with various investments in the local real estate.
He loved the area so much that in 1960 he purchased what was then “The Desert Lodge,” which had already had a colorful past as a ranch house, growing resort, military housing facility during World War II and a resort again. The war upgraded the access roads to their current somewhat curvy standards.
After Copley died, his widow, Helen, and later their son, David, kept the property in the family name until 2007.
Subsequent investors failed in an attempt to merge La Casa with the nearby Rams Hill resort. Now the gorgeous Rams Hill Golf Course is dry and unused. Nearby property owners must be hopeful that current efforts to revive Rams Hill are going to work.
The battle in Borrego is, as ever, over water.
When you drop down into Borrego Valley, it looks very much like a large bowl created by a ring of mountains.
Historically, the runoff from those mountains accumulated in an aquifer of unknown dimensions or current inventory.
Bringing back the Rams Hill Course will take water.
The old-line agricultural interests are rightly concerned with not only keeping a source of water but also one that is of reasonable price and quality. Residents of nearby little communities are also naturally anxious about their water supplies.
The only one who says he knows what is going on in the basin is a retired volunteer who reports that he is reading the various well gauges. He claims that the water levels are falling and the quality worsening.
That is not good news for the hopes of Rams Hill adherents.
At season’s change, Borrego Springs is lovely. On a recent family weekend there to celebrate several birthdays, we enjoyed perfect weather.
There is however, something remarkable and new there: dozens of huge, steel statues by Ricardo Breceda, representing animals that supposedly trod Borrego Valley before the duffers.
The statues, with their rusted surfaces, represent all manner of wild critters: dragons, giant tortoises, saber-toothed cats, ground sloths and more.
The statues are in various fields south of Christmas Circle on private property, but there are no “no-trespassing” signs anywhere.
The property owner is content if you drive onto his vast holdings and visit the huge life-sized statues up close and personal.
But how did they all get there?
The concept of the statues is the culmination of events that led Breceda to become what his biographers call an “accidental artist.”
The thumbnail story is this: Breceda is a Mexican who was making a living by importing various goods such as boots and hats from Mexico to the United States.
He doggedly sold them at every opportunity at fairs, rodeos, roadside stands and through word of mouth.
In one transaction, he took a welding machine in exchange for boots. He was trying it out when his middle-school-age daughter asked him to use it to craft for her a dinosaur to share at school.
By a quirk of fate, he spotted two men he later went into business with, near his home with one of their trademark dinosaurs to be delivered to a neighbor.
Because Breceda could not afford to buy a dinosaur himself, he offered to let the men live on his property and build statues instead of commuting to Mexico.
As they built his daughter’s dinosaur, Breceda found he had a new love, art.
While keeping up with his other businesses, Breceda not only learned the art of selling the steel statues, but also how to make them himself and which models would sell best.
Later, he rented a lot in Perris, Riverside County, to accommodate the growing volume of construction and sales. The lot was in view of state Route 215, which goes through town, so that millions saw the beasts while driving by.
One of those commuters was Dennis Avery, inventor and founder of the ubiquitous Avery Labels.
Avery repeatedly drove the route to visit his son at the University of Redlands.
He fell in love with Breceda’s style and products.
Once drawn into Breceda’s sculpting technique, he had his own ideas about what should be constructed.
His ideas became reality and they in turn were placed in and around Borrego Springs on property owned by the late Avery, many within sight of Casa del Zorro for our enjoyment.
Take a drive. Take the kids. Stay the night. You won’t be sorry.
Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.