Being an aging Desert Rat myself, I am drawn to the story of Nina Paul Shumway. She came to the Coachella Valley with her parents, brother & first husband in June 1909, where her father started a date ranch and eventually became president of the Coachella Valley Date Growers Assn. She wrote about her life in the desert valley in Your Desert and Mine (I cherish my mother’s autographed first edition).

But, even confirmed Desert Rats yearn for cooler weather when the temps top 120F (48.9C) in the summer. She and her husband, Percy Stephen (Steve) Shumway* had long explored the Santa Rosa Mountains and in 1932, discovered Section 25,Township 6 south, Range 5 east of the San Bernardino Meridian; they subsequently were advised by the Land Office in Los Angeles, that a grazing Homestead of 640 acres** could be claimed, under the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916.*** They had to wait months for the application papers to be sent from Montana. To qualify, they had to increase the value of the land by at least $1.25/acre, and at least half of that had to be done within 3 years; they also had to establish residence on the land, which Nina fulfilled by staying there for 7 months out of the year, while Steve worked in the Coachella Valley and traveled to the homestead as often as he could (usually twice a week).

The house, with it’s screened porch is the building on the left

Named “The Tors” by the Shumways, the rocky section was not a place for cultivation of crops, required under earlier homestead acts. Cattle belonging to neighbors did forage on the land.

Starting with her staying in a dugout/tent combination, Nina and Steve built a home in the rocky landscape. The original room of the house is on the left and became the kitchen.
They collected the sandstone slabs for the floor of the main room from the Salton Basin in the eastern Coachella Valley where it merges with Imperial Valley, and 2-5″ stone slabs for the fireplace from the Eagle Mountains east of the Coachella Valley where Steve’s brother Earl was prospecting.

I have seen photos of the Shumways at the fireplace; on the mantel they had several Cahuilla pots they had found, and which were ultimately given to the Desert Museum (today the Palm Springs Art Museum).

On the 13th of July, 1938, the last grazing homestead patent in California was issued to them, signed by Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sadly, in 1945, after a “beautiful day entertaining guests on the mountain,” Steve Shumway passed away from a massive heart attack.

By 1946, Nina was able to furnish “The Tors” the way she thought appropriate, including 2 bed-couches, 2 four-foot love seats and a large chair, all made by Selden Belden in Idyllwild of local pine. The chair above was bought by my parents around 1950-1952 from Pinecraft in Idyllwild (Selden Belden). From the passage in Mountain of Discovery, where she describes furnishing The Tors and the photos of the main room in her book, her furniture was this same design. She chose brown/while cow hide upholstery for the loveseats and a solid color hide for the chair. Due to a fire at our ranch house, ours chairs needed to be reupholstered (due to soot damage), but the yellow is the original color, so I imagine her chair may have had yellow too.

Nina eventually had a house built in Palm Desert and spent part of the year there, and part at “The Tors.” By 1963, she was ready to move on, spending 10 years in Tucson, Arizona, and another 10 years in Palm Desert, passing away in 1984 at the age of 95.

Irene Rich, a silent screen actress and her daughter, Frances Rich, actress and sculptor, had purchased the “The Tors,” renamed it Shumway Ranch, and preserved the house built by the Shumways. Before her death in 2007, Frances Rich donated the Ranch to the Living Desert in Palm Desert. I went on a tour of the property once while the Living Desert owned it; a caretaker lived on the property and the Shumway house was empty.

Overlooking the Coachella Valley
The Salton Sea can be seen on the right

Not able to feasibly integrate a program on the ranch with their zoo on the valley floor, in 2014, the Living Desert contacted the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy (CVMC), offering to sell the ranch. From January 2007 to the present, I have been the Calif. State Senate Appointee to the Governing Board of CVMC**** and, I am happy to say after a lot of negotiating, on June 26, 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife took title to the ranch. In September the Department transferred jurisdiction over approximately 10 acres with the historic Shumway buildings to CVMC.

Conservancy operations and funding are limited by State statute, so while it retains title to the 10 acres, it is not really suited to open and operate the property, especially the structures, to the public. An operating/lease agreement has been signed with a separate non-profit organization,,***** created by community members with the hope they can open it despite the challenges of providing public restrooms, parking, fire fighting access, etc.

June 13, 2021, Highway 74, near the turn off to Shumway Ranch, photo courtesy of the San Bernardino National Forest, US Forest Service.

Ironically, on June 13, when I started putting together this article, a wildfire broke out about 3 miles from the Ranch. It burned 341acres and was fully extinguished June 21st, after destroying 2 houses and damaging 3 in nearby Pinyon Crest. Thanks to the valiant efforts of the fire fighters in an intense heatwave, the Ranch was not touched.

This blog is based on Nina Paul Shumway’s book, Mountain of Discovery (1992) and her article, Hard Rock Homesteaders (Desert Magazine, Sept. 1939); and my lifetime in the region

*or Steven; I have seen both spellings, but it is STEPHEN on his gravestone

** 640 acres is one square mile; 259 hectare. The ranch is now part of the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto National Monument, and is adjacent the San Bernardino National Forest.

*** To be eligible to be a homestead the US Secretary of the Interior had to decide that the lands were “chiefly valuable for grazing and raising forage crops, do not contain merchantable timber, are not susceptible of irrigation from any known source of water supply, and are of such character that six hundred and forty acres are reasonably required for the support of a family.” Sec. 2 of the Stock-Raising Homestead Act of 1916.

****Property bought with a grant from the CVMC, or directly by the Conservancy, is subject to a deed restriction placing it in conservation in perpetuity. The total sale was $1.565 million from a combination of government agencies.

*****Although sympathetic to their goals, I am not affiliated with

The First Salton Sea

Prehistorically, the Gulf of California extended north through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys; over time geologic shifts and water borne silt changed the topography of the land near the Mexican Border, cutting it off from the Gulf to create the Salton Sink. Subsequently, the Colorado River would change course, on and off creating a vast inland sea, now called Ancient Lake Cahuilla. Around 1580, the last vast lake evaporated.

Tufa deposits mark the shoreline of Ancient Lake Cahuilla, Coachella Valley

Before construction of Laguna Dam in the early twentieth century, the Colorado was still an active river, draining much of the Western US. Springing from watershed high in the snowy Rockies, the “Red River” raced southward and downward, carving the Grand Canyon and other marvelous canyons as it dashed on to the Sea of Cortez. As it approached the Gulf of California, the landscape changed, leaving behind the rock canyons and allowing the river to meander, creating an alluvial delta with the material carried downstream. Captain J. H. Mellon, who operated steamboats on the Lower Colorado, estimated the silt extended the delta fan into the Gulf by more than 6 miles over the course of the 40 years prior to 1905. (H.T. Cory, The Imperial Valley and The Salton Sink, Part IV, (John J. Newbegin, 1915), a reprint of Irrigation and River Control in the Colorado River Delta, from Vol. LXXVI, Transactions American Society of Engineers, p. 1214.)

Smaller overflows of the Colorado River banks continued into the nineteenth century, down the New and Alamo River channels, flowing into the Salton Basin and duly evaporating.

The winter of 1890/91 was the wettest since readings began being kept in 1850. In February, 1891, a number of breaks in the west bank of the Colorado allowed water to spill over into the delta and the New River channel. In June, when Spring runoff brought high water again, more water spilled into the streams running north into the Salton Trough reaching Salton, site of the New Liverpool Salt Works.

From The Californian: Illustrated Magazine, Vol. I, No. 1 October 1891.

The sea was approximately 40 miles long and 10 miles wide, but only 4 feet deep. (B. A. Cecil-Stephens, “The Colorado Desert and its Recent Flooding,” Journal of the American Geographical Society of New York, Vol. 23 (1891), pp. 367-377)

In July 1891, the New York Times printed remarks by John Wesley Powell, Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, that even if the lake were filled to the level of the river, it would evaporate at the rate of approximately 6 feet per year.

In 1892, a wood engraving (based on the Cecil-Stephens map) was published in La Nouvelle Géographie universelle, la terre et les hommes, 19 vol. (1875-94), text by Elisee Reclus. The Cartographer was Charles Perron (vol 16, pg 575). A hand-colored copy of the engraving is shown here.

The first Salton Sea did indeed evaporate due to the extreme heat and lack of sufficient incoming water sources. The situation was totally different following the 1905/07 flooding, as the entire river was diverted into the trough creating the lake, and runoff from agriculture in the Imperial Valley provided a new source of water to replenish that lost to evaporation.

For information on the 1905/07 flooding that created the current Salton Sea, my blog page Creation of the Salton Sea has a preview of a book I’ve written.

La Quinta, California

Someone decided to add some holiday cheer to the agaves in the median on Calle Sinaloa!
Originally the La Quinta Hotel, which opened Dec. 29, 1926.
The Resort is very proud that Frank Capra stayed there & every year turns it into “BedfordFalls” for the holidays. However, the citrus tree in the background makes it clear this is the California desert.
The Resort tree 2019.

Have Happy & Healthy Holidays!

More Coachella

City Hall

Coachella City Hall, circa 1949. You can see the edge of the Fire Station on the right
City Hall at the Holidays 2019

The City was incorporated in December 1946 and the City Hall was dedicated in October 1949. Over the years, it not only housed the City government, but also the post office, police department, justice court, and the public library. Today, City Council Chambers and administration occupy the entire building.

Fire Station

City of Coachella

Photo from an early 1940s Chamber of Commerce pamphlet (no copyright notice)
Renovated fire station, now used by the City, December 2019

The Fire Station was built on land donated by the Coachella Land & Water Co. to Riverside County, circa 1905, when the town was being platted. When the City was incorporated in 1946, one of its first actions was to ask the County to donate the land to the new City. Next door to the site of the Fire Station, the new City Hall was built; to the north of City Hall and the Fire Station, approximately half of the parcel continued to be used as a park and is today Veterans’ Memorial Park.

Union Pacific Big Boy

Yesterday is already history, but for some of us, it will be the day the BIG BOY came to Indio.

Needless to say, the crowds ranged from toddlers to the elderly, all here to see one of the largest steam locomotives ever built.

Originally delivered to the Union Pacific in December 1941, Engine No. 4014 has been fully restored and touring the country as part of the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Meeting of the Rails at Promontory Point in 1869. More information on the Big Boy can be found at

North Shore Beach and Yacht Club

Salton Sea, Calif.

Designed by Swiss-born Modernist architect Albert Frey,* the Yacht Club is an architectural gem sitting in a pretty desolate location, the northeastern shore of the Salton Sea, across Highway 111 and the Southern Pacific tracks from the unincorporated community of North Shore. Built in 1959, the marina was used to dock boats, in an era when the Sea had more visitors per year than Yosemite.

A postcard of the Club circa 1959, taken from a boat on the Sea, reissued by the now closed Salton Sea Museum (no copyright notice)

With the jetty long gone and the Yacht Club abandoned and vandalized, in 2009, Riverside County restored the building. For about a year the Salton Sea Museum operated from the building, with over 7000 visitors signing in. Sadly the museum closed, and the facility is now primarily used as a community center by Desert Recreational District. BUT at least it is being used and maintained!

Now the “new” problem is the dropping Sea water level, leaving the inlet to the marina cut off from the Sea. Last month the Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy** voted to approve a grant, which along with funds from the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Natural Resources Agency, would enable the Salton Sea Authority to rehabilitate the inlet and marina. If you go to Google Maps satellite image of the area, you can see a tiny, compromised inlet from the Sea to the marina. However, last Sunday I went down to take photos and stood “in the inlet,” on dry beach to take the photo below.

I should be standing in water! Or, on a boat.
From the deck looking toward the Sea

Last Spring Desert X brought more visitors to the area to see the outdoor art installations around the Coachella Valley, including the Salton Sea. It reminds me a little of Marfa Texas, in that a gem of art, is sitting in an out of the way location.

Looking east toward the highway and the train tracks

Next week the Salton Sea Summit will convene at UCR Palm Desert campus; let us hope this will bring needed attention and solutions.

*Albert Frey’s architecture is Desert Modernism, centered on Palm Springs; his work includes the Palm Springs Tramway Valley Station and the Tramway Gas Station, now used an a Visitor’s Center on the entry into the City, as well as City Hall, etc.

** I am the State Senate appointee and current Chairwoman

Coachella Valley Trading Post

I only have a dim memory of this building from my childhood; as I recall, it was ramshackle by that time.

However, in its day, the Trading Post had been important. In April 1927, an article in the Los Angeles Times described an auto tour of the Coachella Valley to see the wild flowers and included a reference to a “fine new swimming pool” at the Coachella Valley Trading Post.

In his reminiscences to Katherine Ainsworth (The Man Who Captured Sunshine, 1978), artist John Hilton told her of picking up some good hints from Charles Safford, a graduate of the Chicago Institute of Art. “Stafford [sic]* lived and worked at the old Coachella Trading Post. He and I decorated the walls with our scenes. We were mighty proud of those pictures, but during World War II, the place became a U.S.O. center and the soldiers used our painting as dart boards.” (Ainsworth , page 99).

An undated postcard with no copyright symbol/notice; I believe this shot dates from the 1930s

I remember seeing a photograph of soldiers posed on the front porch of the Trading Post. During World War II, there were US newspaper articles, across the country, that Mrs. Edward. G. Robinson had organized bus trips for girls from Beverly Hills to travel to the Trading Post to dance with the service men; it cost them $5 and they had to take an oath not to drink alcohol or to leave the premises of the Trading Post during the visit. These trips were even made in August when approximately 2500 Army men would come to dance with the 200 girls, who slept on army cots after the dance; on Sunday they went swimming in the pool before returning to L.A. At least one soldier is reported to have jumped in the pool fully clothed!

I hope to find more history of the building; if you have anything to add, please let me know; thanks.

  • Should be Charles Safford.


In 1883, George Durbrow and investors incorporated the New Liverpool Salt Company at Salton, on the Southern Pacific main line, south of Mecca, CA. (see correction posted Aug. 27, 2021)

Salt was deposited on approximately 1000 acres of dry sea bed (ancient Lake Cahuilla) by seepage from salt springs in the foothills. Although called a mine, the salt works actually resembled a harvest operation, needing only to cut salt from the field, crush it, bag it, and send it by narrow gauge rail to the nearby railway station at Salton.
The quality, quantity, and uniqueness of its gathering led to it being featured in an 1899 issue of Strand Magazine and a 1901 issue of the National Geographic Magazine.

salt plow published in “A Common Crystal” by John R. Watkins, Strand Magazine 1899

In “The Saline Deposits of California,” California State Mining Bureau, Bulletin No. 24 (1902), Gilbert E. Bailey, described the operation:
“The sight at the salt works is an interesting one, for thousands of tons are piled up like huge snow drifts,…Indians operate cable plows, harvesting over 700 tons of pure salt per day. A portable railroad conveys the salt to the works.

The [crystal] lake is constantly being supplied by numerous springs in the adjacent foothills, which flow into the basin and quickly evaporate, leaving deposits of very pure salt that vary from 10 to 20 inches in thickness.”

In February 1891, the Colorado overflowed its banks, into the Mexican delta, leaving water standing in low areas. The following June, it overflowed again, reaching the standing water; the resulting flood from the commingled waters reached the Salton Basin, creating a lake approximately 30 miles long and 10 miles wide, but only 5 feet deep. Being shallow, it evaporated, leaving the Salt Works intact.

However, in 1905-1907, when the Colorado River overwhelmed the California Development Co. intakes for the Imperial Canal, the diverted water flooded the Salton Basin creating the Salton Sea. First the salt field was submerged, then the salt plant, and then the town of Salton and the rail lines.

salt works
Salt Works at Salton, Summer 1905. USGS photo