- Photo Courtesy Of Cuyama Buckhorn
- HATS OFF The Cuyama Buckhorn Roadside Resort's rooms strike a balance between traditional ranch aesthetics and modern, sleek furnishings.
The Cuyama Buckhorn Roadside Resort, newly renovated with Wild West motifs and plenty of mid-century modern flair, is what brought me to New Cuyama for the first time on a recent road trip, and that aesthetic will certainly bring me back in the future. But the 24-hour trip ended up being more than just lounging poolside with sangria (though there was plenty of that, too). I also got to know a community co-existing with the drought, leaning into economic resilience, and finding balance between past and present.
Before checking in to the Buckhorn, my first stop was at Cuyama Homegrown, a small farm operated and owned by married couple Meg Brown and Jean Gaillard. They've got veggies, an orchard, chickens, herbs, and more. What Meg and Jean don't eat themselves is sold to local Cuyamans.
In addition to farming, Jean is a farrier (a specialist in equine hoof care), does a little blacksmithing, and serves as the local horse dentist. In a town of fewer than 1,000 residents, people tend to have more than one occupation here.
"The guy who fixes our well, he drives the bus also," Meg said.
- Photo By Malea Martin
- SMALL BUT MIGHTY New Cuyama has gained a hundred or so additional residents since this sign was made, but the point stands: This place is tiny.
Meg and Jean said they take pride in the farm's water-wise approach, a practice in both sustainability and necessity. As we toured the farm mid-morning in close to 95 degree heat, Meg said, "We've never had it this dry, this hot."
Drought is something Cuyama Homegrown has become accustomed to. Juniper trees sprinkle the property, but they used to be more abundant.
"We have a lot, but we lost at least 50 percent of our junipers in the last five-year dry spell," Meg said. "It was milder than what we had this year."
Rainfall varies a lot throughout the region, Meg told me. In this part of the valley, "it's the most water deficit in the basin, in terms of groundwater, and the least amount of rainfall."
Meg and Jean both focus on what they call resilient farming.
"So, diversification of crops: one fails, but another one does better," Meg said. "We got a grant from USDA, from the conservation services, and set up a couple tanks. When it rains, they collect lots of water. The idea was to plant native species ... try to build it back up."
Cuyama Homegrown works in close partnership with the Buckhorn, selling the resort restaurant its seasonal crops that inspire entire dishes on the menu. Grilled Cuyama Homegrown corn rubbed with cilantro-pistachio pesto and queso fresco is on the special menu later that night, when I'm dining at the Buckhorn. I've never thought to pair pesto with corn—or to make pesto with cilantro and pistachios—but it ended up being one of the best cobs I've ever sunk my teeth into. The salty, nutty pesto balanced perfectly with the sweet yellow corn.
- Photos By Malea Martin
- TAKE A SIP At a Condor's Hope Vineyard wine tasting, the 2020 Pedro Ximénez is my personal favorite.
After Cuyama Homegrown, I head to Condor's Hope Vineyard, another small and sustainable operation off Highway 166, about a 20-minute drive from the heart of New Cuyama. The vineyard uses dry-farming techniques to grow its grapes—with the drought ever-present, each grape plant in the vineyard gets a minimal water drip line, encouraging the plants' roots to grow down, not out.
After wine tasting at Condor's Hope, I was ready for some poolside lounging. As I walk into the Buckhorn's pool area, I notice the cheery yellow and white striped towels for the taking before I head to a lounge chair shaded by large umbrellas where I can either swim or suntan while taking in the 100-degree heat. Expansive desert views meet the eyes at one end of the pool, and grand mountains line the other.
- Photos By Malea Martin
- FOSTERING RESILIENCE Blue Sky Center co-Executive Director Em Johnson takes us on a tour of the nonprofit's expansive property, home to a number of local small businesses.
With plans to return to the pool later that evening, I set out on my last itinerary item of the day: visiting the Blue Sky Center, about a 10-minute walk from the hotel.
I meet with Em Johnson, one of the center's two executive directors. Johnson carries out the Blue Sky Center mission by connecting local entrepreneurs with the nonprofit's many resources, and in doing so, she has her hands in a little bit of everything. To name one, she helps brew Cuyama Beverage Company's High Desert Meads, a Blue Sky Center initiative that makes mead from local ingredients which supports farmers and creates a delicious product.
"Cuyama has all this press on us right now with being one of the most critically overdrafted water basins in the state of California," Johnson said as we walked around the nonprofit's property, where a number of local craftspeople work and create. "As entrepreneurs, we see all the assets and strengths that do exist here, and choose resilience over crisis. I've lived here for six years now, and I've seen this community go through a lot—and survive."
As I head back to my room at the Buckhorn hotel and reflect on the day, it strikes me that every person I've spoken with had nothing but positive things to say about the roadside retreat. From the small farmers who have owned their land for 20 years, to the sustainable, water-conscious winery, to the economic development-focused nonprofit—everyone I met told me about how the people behind the Buckhorn didn't just come into the community, but got to know the residents first. The hotel sells locals' products, partners with them on events, and shows up to hear what they have to say.
It's a beautiful kind of symbiosis that I didn't expect, and one that I know will bring me back for years to come. Δ
Staff Writer Malea Martin is planning her next desert getaway. Reach her at email@example.com.