Warner Springs
Warner Springs has operated under the flag of three different sovereign nations -- Spain, Mexico and the United States. In 1844, the Mexican government awarded Juan Jose Warner (a New England Yankee formerly known as John Warner) a land grant for the Rancho San Jose del Valle. People have been partying and behaving badly in the Warner Adobe (now the Cantina) ever since. The murals in the bar tell the story of a wilder time. The Cantina is a bona fide PCT treasure, featured in the National Geographic PCT book.

In a world of pre-fabricated, uniformly predictable vacation experiences and fake rustic charm, Warner Springs Ranch (31652 Hwy. 79, 760 782-4200) stands out as the real deal. It began as a trading post that quickly became a key resupply depot for long-distance travelers. It was, among other incarnations, a stop on the Butterfield stagecoach route. The oldest parts of the ranch are included in the national register of historic buildings. Walking from the pool to the bar you might pass John Fremont's house and Kit Carson's house.

The resort opened in the 1920s, marketed as a health retreat and a slice of Old California culture, something that was all the rage at that time. As a weekend retreat, the resort played a bit part in Hollywood's Golden Age. Clark Gable, John Wayne and Charlie Chaplin were regular visitors. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote part of "The Great Gatsby" while holed up in one of the resort's 250 casitas.

The recent history of the resort is no Hollywood story. The operation's financial foundation was a set of fractional ownerships, something akin to timeshares or club memberships. In 2012, the resort and golf club filed for bankruptcy and abruptly shut down. There was brief talk that the resort was going to be acquired by the Pala Band of Mission Indians. (The Mission tribe counts the springs as part of its ancestral home.) A lawsuit by some of the owners of the individual casita units killed that deal. Pacific Hospitality Group, a San Diego hotel development company, bought the property. Years went by with vague promises to re-open. This was nothing short of a disaster for the PCT community, which had counted on the resort for decades.

Here's where things stood at the end of 2017, according to the resort's operations manager: There were very limited services available and vague timelines for getting others back online. Twenty-two of the 250 haciendas were available for booking. (Rates at Warner Springs before the shutdown were traditionally very low. The haciendas always represented a great value and I hope that will continue to be the case going forward.) The modest restaurant at the golf course clubhouse was serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. The main lodge restaurant and the Cantina remained closed and it sounded as if there was no firm timetable for reopening them. Don't expect the hot springs-fed main pool to be open.

The new regime has an abysmal record for meeting its self-imposed deadlines. It's incumbent on hikers to keep checking the Web site for updates. In early 2018 nobody was answering the phone, so the Web site might be your only clue. Most of the text on the site is promotional material -- speculative statements that fall well short of actual facts or firm dates. The parent corporation's own Web page calls Warner Springs "in redevelopment." While the official word was 22 of the casitas were up and running, as of the middle of January 2018 the resort's front desk phone recording (with no way to reach a live person) said nothing about any lodging being back online. Consider yourself warned. (Or, consider yourself Warner'd.)

I have great memories of Warner Springs and I hope to make some new ones. Unfortunately for the time being most everything remains in a state of suspended animation. Note that during this shutdown, local residents have stepped forward with a hiker support operation running out of the community center close to the first trail cross of the loop road.

For now, Warner Springs Ranch may not be a good place for a full zero. I would try to verify every claim the company makes before showing up there. A brief detour into town to pick up a package at the post office plus lunch at the golf course grill still makes perfect sense. Warner Springs does not have a grocery store. You could not resupply out of the gas station's mini-mart. If the troubling status quo drags on past 2018 I feel like I should send them a get-well card. Warner Springs and the previous management were committed supporters of the PCT community.

Warner Springs map

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