Why Aren’t There Apples in Apple Valley?

It seems funny, a high desert area in Southern California that’s mostly sand and creosote bushes named Apple Valley, when there’s not an apple tree in sight.  It took me a while to trace down why this is.

Settlers found the dry, high desert climate with cold winters amicable to apple growing in the 1920’s, and pumped groundwater for irrigating.  These orchards are why the waters of Lake Arrowhead were never diverted to the other side of the mountains down to San Bernardino, as the farmers filed suit and wanted the water for their orchards.  The courts agreed, and Lake Arrowhead was used for recreation instead and the drainage maintained down its natural course to the desert.

By the late 1920’s there were thousands of acres planted in apple trees, and life seemed good.  But there was climate change even then, and the 1930’s turned cold and wet, with huge dumps of snow in the mountains.  The normally dry and warm desert climate turned cold and damp and Oak Root Fungus took hold, wiping out many apple trees.  Up in Barton Flats Richard Stetson testified of his battles with the fungus, and applied a mixture of lime and sulfur poured around the roots.  The lime can above was found on the ranch, confirming this account.

During the depression the cost of power to pump groundwater became prohibitive to the farmers, and by the late 1930’s the desert climate dealt hail, frost, and blazing heat that finished the orchards off.  Competition from Washington State growers kept any from coming back.  During the years of 1941 and 1942, firewood from the orchards was the only crop going to market in Los Angeles. 

With no groundwater within reach of the apple tree’s roots, it was a quick death for any tree bereft of irrigation.  The desert floor reverted back to sand, with not a trace of the thriving orchards once planted there.  But the name of the valley stuck, and maybe some day I can convince some folks there to plant some apple trees in Apple Valley.  Its seems a natural fit.



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