DESERT JEWEL: LA CASA DEL ZORRO RESORT SHINES ANEW

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By Miriam Raftery

October 22, 2015 (Borrego Springs) – Treasure hunters have long been drawn to the Anza-Borrego Desert, seeking gold and precious gemstones. But the real treasure to be found today is La Casa del Zorro Resort, restored to its former splendor with a hospitality that welcomes all—a sparkling oasis amid the desert sands.

Whether you’re heading out for this weekend’s 50th anniversary Borrego Days Desert Festival and parade, or seeking an off-season adventure in summer, spring or fall, La Casa del Zorro provides a delightful haven year-round.

The resort had been shuttered for several years, after David Copley, heir to his late parents’ newspaper fortune, sold off the property to cold-hearted investors who promptly fired the long-term staff, banned local residents from enjoying the facility, and hiked up prices in hopes of enticing wealthy investors who could purchase real estate in the vicinity.  The venture failed and when the resort shut down, the entire Borrego Springs economy suffered.

Originally built in 1936 by San Diego hotel manager Noel Crickmer and dubbed Desert Lodge, the resort had its heyday under the ownership of James Copley, owner of the Copley Press and San Diego Union-Tribune, among other major newspapers.  Copley purchased the property in 1960 and renamed it La Casa Del Zorro (the fox’s home).   

Copley expanded the facility into a luxurious resort, adding casitas (some with private pools), restaurants, tennis courts, a gym, full-service spa with new “staying healthy” menu and other amenities.  Along with his wife, Helen, Copley hosted the rich and powerful at the resort, including Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, as well as Hollywood stars.  You can still see memorabilia from that era, including a flag and signed letter from President Nixon, in the original adobe foyer off a comfortable library lounge.

The famous Fox Den Bar, with its whimsical murals, upscale Butterfield Dining Room (now open for the winter season) and Rose Garden Terrace have long delighted guests, serving up delicious fare.  View dining details here.

Copley also built a sumptuous estate home called “Happy Days,” his hideaway with Helen that today serves as a corporate retreat for those seeking the ultimate desert getaway complete with sunken living room, wood-burning fireplace, a blend of upscale and rustic elements, cozy bedrooms,  and private pool.

 Today, the resort is back in capable hands, this time headed up by San Diego development and real estate moguls Casey Brown and Jack McGrory.  They promptly hired back Patrick Sampson, the resort’s former manager, who embarked on a search to track down long-time staffers and bring them home.

Sampson, with his British accent and many colorful stories from the past, is an impeccable hotelier who takes pride in making all guests feel welcome.  A tour with Sampson is a step back in time as he shares tales of visitors who have come back time and time again to celebrate anniversaries and other cherished occasions.

My husband and I visited in the heat of summer, yet even with scorching summer days, the resort’s facilities offered cool respite in comfortable rooms complete with four-poster beds, vaulted wood ceilings, and balconies. You can while away time by day swimming or savor a soothing massage with an array of options to soothe body, mind and spirit.  For the winter months, wood-burning fireplaces in most rooms offer cozy respite to ward off a chill in the air.

 A gym offers full work-out facilities for the athletically minded, or enjoy lighted tennis courts, a yoga studio, horseshoes, ping-pong , board games, shuffleboard, pools, spas, or other activities.

You can also take an early morning or evening stroll along pathways meandering through the grounds’ many fountains and native landscaping—as well as whimsical signs and sculptures. The facility is fabulous for families and you can also bring your pets – even most large dogs are allowed, at designated casitas. 

After dark, you can enjoy live musical entertainment poolside while savoring sunset dinner specials such as beef burgundy or chicken enchiladas at a poolside cantina, depending on the night.  In winter, the elegant Butterfield Room offers a fine dining option, named for the Butterfield Stagecoach that once carried passengers across these desert sands.

The resort also has event space for groups from 10 up to 350, including a conference and business center with break-out board rooms. Nearby Ram’s Hill Golf course offers a beautiful setting and challenging course.

While in town, be sure to visit the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which has a visitor center and numerous trails as well as unusual terrain including the Borrego badlands and narrow slot canyons.  In spring you can seek out the fabled fields of desert wildflowers abloom.   Also worth a stop is the Anza Borrego Foundation’s nature center and gift store in town, where you can pick up souvenirs such as hand-carved walking sticks with bighorn (Borrego) heads, pottery, books, gifts and more, also visiting a botanical garden with desert plants out back.

Next door is a studio that offers works by local artists as well as metal sculptures by Ricardo Breceda, whose  amazing sculptures of dinosaurs, horses and ancient desert denizens rise up from the desert floor at Galleta meadows, where the late owner commissioned the artist to create these spectacular works.

Stargazing is another popular activity.  We signed up for a stargazing tour as well as a class offered by famed night-sky photographer Dennis Mammana.  Watch for the Leonid meteor showers visible in November. 

The Anza Borrego Foundation also offers a wealth of activities from single to multiple day excursions, plus education on topics ranging from paleontology to archaeology.

You can also sign up for adventurous tours through California Overland Adventures—and consider a stop at  Julian on your way home, a historic gold-mining mountain town that has many festivals year-round. Check out Julian’s activities at the Julian Chamber’s website.

Borrego Springs also hosts a variety of special events ranging from art shows to a film festival as well as the upcoming holiday homes tour and a holiday festival centered around aptly named Christmas Circle. Check out the Borrego Springs Chamber of Commerce website for current activities and attractions.

La Casa del Zorro is a tranquil place to escape the pressures of civilization without giving up life’s luxuries—a place to rejuvenate, rest and relax in a place filled with history tracing back to the ancient Kumeyaay Indians and the Spanish expedition led by Juan Bautista de Anza, for whom the Anza-Borrego desert is named.  

During your desert getaway, you’re apt to spot a variety of birds, from roadrunners to cactus wrens, and perhaps hear the howl of a coyote.  If you’re very fortunate, you may even glimpse one of the elusive bighorn sheep or desert foxes that give the town and the resort their names.