Driving through the desert between Yuma and Phoenix on Interstate 8, just north of the border with Mexico, travelers pass Dateland, Arizona, population 416 (2010). From the 1920s, the Dateland was a water stop for trains, when steam engines had to get water every five or ten miles. Its location makes it a perfect stopping point, and people have been doing so ever since. The restaurant/cafe has been there since the beginning. Traveling this stretch of road in sometimes triple-digit heat without air conditioning must have been torture!
In the 40s, airstrips were built for training B-25 Bombers, and some of the associated buildings may later have been used as part of an Italian internment camp. The military still uses the area for periodic training missions. A historical marker tells a bit more about this part of the area’s past. Dateland was originally on old Highway 80, but moved a block or so when the new Interstate was built. The spot includes a cafe, gift shop, gas station, RV Park and, of course, the 9-acre date grove.
Whether it’s a family tradition going back generations, or you’re a new traveler along this route, Dateland is always a fun stop. The environment is an excellent one for growing dates, historically one of the oldest cultivated fruits. Here they cultivate eight different varieties. The specialty is the delicate Medjool, historically reserved for royalty. This is the variety used in the “World Famous Date Shakes.” The cultivation process is quite complicated and labor intensive. You can learn all the details on a visit, or on the Date Tutorial on their website.
Besides being yummy, dates are low in fat and sodium, contain no cholesterol, and are high in fiber and magnesium and rich in iron! The shop has all of the varieties for sale, in addition to date and cactus sweets, souvenirs and books. The cafe offers date shakes (along with cactus and several other varieties) as well as ice cream and other snacks. There’s also a bakery with homemade date pies, date cookies, date muffins, date squares, and date bread! You can even pick up a whole date tree at Dateland, if you’re thinking of staring your own grove.
Dateland Travel Center
Interstate 8 Milepost 67, Dateland Arizona 85333
Phone: (928) 454-2772
Hours: 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Monday to Saturday, and 9:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. Sunday.