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Dry Idea


Most people would have looked at these 67 acres in the California desert—covered with dilapidated sheds, crumbling Styrofoam and an abandoned, 5,000-gallon ethanol still—and seen one giant mess. Architect Stuart Resor C’64 saw an opportunity.
    Last summer he bought the Borrego Springs property, site of a failed solar-energy farm, for $30,000 (one tenth of its original price) and is planning to turn the site into an RV park, campground and “desert-discovery and adventure center,” tentatively named “Desert Star Ranch.”

California Dreaming: Stuart Resor C’64 wants to turn an abandoned solar-energy farm into a campground and desert-discovery center.

    In the early 1980s United Energy Corporation built what it claimed would be the world’s largest solar-generating plant on the property, attracting several thousand investors seeking a legal tax shelter. But according to Resor, “It never produced one watt of electricity for the public benefit.” The federal government went after the company in the mid-1980s, alleging a Ponzi scheme in which the money that was doled out came from other investors rather than the sale of electricity.
    Resor, who has been camping in the Borrego Springs desert for more than three decades, decided he could use his experience in hotel and resort design to transform the leftover eyesore, which was last occupied in 1987 as a tilapia fish farm, supplying sushi restaurants. “I had always pictured doing a kind of learning classroom-type campground,” he says, “so people could really come back [from their vacations] with a new knowledge about the desert, from the really cool [stargazing opportunities] to the wildlife to the paleontological history.”
    At his dream campground, which he hopes to have operating within three years, Resor envisions a swimming pool, palm trees and vintage trailers, two of which will be devoted to the themes of his favorite musicians, Elvis and the Beach Boys. He hopes to eventually add an ornamental cactus nursery and a wildlife preserve, as well as a desert-science, paleontology and astronomy center.
    “Part of the idea is to [take] stuff other people don’t want and put it to good use,” Resor explains. For instance, “nurserymen in the desert are constantly digging up and throwing away cactus.” Resor plans to use these castoffs to start his own cactus-growing operation that will sell to customers worldwide. He also would like to create a wildlife preserve on the property to educate people about the “huge network of animals, from bobcats to mountain lions,” that live in the desert. “Right now when a mountain lion gets in trouble, they kill it.”
    Resor, who maintains an architecture practice in Cardiff, California, has spent another $30,000 on property cleanup and repairs, but that’s much less than might have been necessary. He put an ad in the paper to get rid of most of the usable pieces of Styrofoam to homeowners who want to insulate their garages. He took apart the old sheds and saved the lumber for future construction.
    Other leftovers, like the ethanol still—which was supposed to be used in the solar-energy operation—Resor plans to leave intact to preserve some of the site’s storied past. It’s too bad the solar farm was a sham, he says. “It seemed like a good place to use the more than abundant sunshine to make electricity. It still is a good place for that, but I’m not capitalized to do this.”

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