It was just over 15 years ago that Pechanga Casino opened its doors. Spring 2018 will see the opening of a new guest tower and expansive, luxurious pool facility making Pechanga an equally opulent, and far more convenient alternative to Las Vegas.
By: Cuyler Gibbons
The exact date is lost far back in the mists of time, but in the neighborhood of 1,500 to 2,000 years ago, a tiny acorn settled into fertile creek-side soil at the foot of the Temescal Mountains. Today, that acorn has grown up to become perhaps the oldest, and largest naturally growing coastal oak in North America. It is also the spiritual heart of the Pechanga people.
The Pechanga Great Oak stands nearly 100 feet tall, its trunk over 20 feet around. Its ancient limbs extend outward, finally resting on the ground. In reality, hundreds of years of soil deposited as a result of flooding from the nearby creek have raised the ground level, burying some 10 feet of trunk, while rising to meet the wide ranging branches, and thereby assisting in supporting the tree’s immense mass. The circumference of the “drip line,” the outside perimeter of the tree’s canopy is fully three football fields around. Standing beneath the wide expanse of its massive limbs, the spiritual presence of the tree is palpable. Of course, I’ve come out here to Temecula to gamble a bit and eat a lot, and to check out the new construction rising below the arid hills…but this seemingly incongruous interlude is proving a delightful and inspiring respite.
Gambling and spirituality may seem like strange bedfellows, but for the Pechanga people, they go hand in hand. For 15 years, the Pechanga casino has been a crown jewel in the California Native American gaming portfolio, while the tribe has worked to maintain its cultural identity and spiritual connection to the land. This included a long struggle to reclaim the reservation adjacent land from which the Great Oak springs. For many years, the Oak had been under the protection of Earl Stanley Gardner, on land owned by the famous and prolific author of the Perry Mason series of novels. In 2001, the tribe was able to purchase the land from the former owners and finally bring the Oak under the tribe’s protection.
In fact, this commitment to environmental stewardship extends from the Great Oak to all the trees of the Temecula Valley. Adjacent to the casino is a stunning, championship golf course designed by Arthur Woods/Steve Forrest Associates, known as The Journey, that winds up and down the Temecula mountainside, through chaparral just south of the casino. The original course routing called for the destruction of some 1,200 native oaks. Ceding, however, to vehement objections from the tribal council, a new plan was submitted, that, rather than destroying over 1,000 mature trees, required only that 80 trees be moved to new locations. A process that resulted in the death of only a single native oak.
While revenue from the casino, golf course and spa facility have allowed massive improvements in the lives and lifestyles of the Pechanga tribal people, and are a source of appropriate pride among the tribe, Paul Macarro, Pechanga Cultural Co-Ordinator, and the tribal member who introduced us to the Great Oak, made it abundantly clear that he and the members he represents take equal pride in the ability their newfound resources have provided to continue with and to improve on their stewardship of the natural environment occupied by the tribe and their facilities.
Already with a 188,000 square foot gambling floor, 154 table games and a 700 seat state of the art bingo facility, Pechanga offers the most expansive gambling facility in California. The new facilities include a 550 room hotel wing, more than one-third of which will be suites, a 17 room, two story luxury spa facility, two new restaurants, and a four acre resort style pool complex with five hydrotherapy pools, in addition to lagoon and family friendly pool areas and an immense, tubular water-slide. And importantly, in continued solidarity with the Pechanga’s nature first ethos, the new development has been designed around CalGreen building standards, California’s first green building code, featuring along with numerous environmental irrigation and lighting efficiencies, and a 60,000 square foot “green roof” supporting abundant natural foliage. With a shared commitment to the natural environment and the development of world-class destination facilities you can think of the Pechanga Resort and Casino as a top of the line dining, recreation and gambling destination with a built in karmic account adjuster! With the coming opening of the new guest tower and pool facility not only will your karma be safe, you will enjoy a truly AAA resort experience.