|Leave your misconceptions of tee-pees and feathered hats at home because the only place you'll see those items are on display in a shop. As a true oasis in the middle of nowhere, Pechanga Hotel and Casino offers more than just a weekend getaway. It's hidden among the endless hills of dry brush in a rural town by the name of Temecula, in southern California, known for its vineyards. (Click photos to book The Pechanga Hotel and Casino.)
Upon entering the hotel, I passed by copper-colored statues of the Pechanga band of Luiseño Indians. The characters portrayed are participating in rituals common in their culture. One of the statues is caught frozen in time; he's artistically drawing some sort of tribal message on a rock near a waterfall.
Continuing inward, I walked along a covered illusionary bridge surrounded by flowing water. The pleasant trickle prepared my ears for the clinking of the many slot machines. The automatic doors opened and immediately I was sucked into the exciting world of entertainment. On my right was the entrance to the Pechanga's 90,000 square foot casino, but deciding to save money I went to the front desk to check in.
I learned that the 14-floor hotel boasts 522 spacious rooms. I was fortunate enough to be housed in a one-bedroom suite on the 12th floor, one level below the rooftop lounge. After inserting my magnetic keycard, I entered the room, surprised to find the suite seemed more like a luxurious apartment in uptown New York.
Immediately on my right was the wet bar and kitchen area. I noticed a refrigerator near the wet bar, packed with all sorts of goodies; from Snickers candy bars, to soda and beer, this thing was stocked. There also was a snack tray placed above the refrigerator filled with even more snacks. Of course there is a charge for each of the items, but being curious I decided to take out one of the beers.
To my surprise, a small digital display asked me to make my selection, but then informed me that one beer was being charged to my room as I picked it up. Right after that began a countdown from 30, which was the amount of seconds I had until the transaction was official. Quickly I put the beer back in its place. The menu stopped counting down and read "item replaced." Interestingly enough, there also were sensors on the snack tray and candy bars. After reading further instructions, I learned I could lock the refrigerator with a personal code so no one could have snacks and drinks billed to my room.
Now intrigued by what other types of fancy gadgets I would find in this room, I walked to the living room. Opposite a nicely decorated couch and end tables was a television with a few remote-control looking devices. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that there was a wireless keyboard, Nintendo 64 controller and TV remote. The next 30 minutes or so were spent playing with all the options on the television. I learned how to order movies, any of nine Nintendo games and even how to check out of the room through the television when I was ready. After sending an e-mail to a friend of mine through the television, I continued my exploration.
On the kitchen table was a dish of Italian candies that were extremely tasty. I popped one in my mouth while opening the curtains to reveal my view out the window. Being 12 floors up, I had an amazing bird's eye view of absolutely nothing. I was staring directly over a parking lot at the side of a large hill. I didn't expect to see much though given that the surroundings weren't terribly exciting. I decided to keep the curtains closed so I could pretend I was in Las Vegas.
I opened a wood-framed smoky-glass door to reveal a king-sized bed. I promptly dropped my things and from about five feet away launched onto the bed. About fifteen bounces later, I checked out the bathroom. It connected full circle back to the living room. There was a sauna-like shower with marble countertops and complimentary toiletries.
Feeling comfortable in my new weekend abode, I read through a packet of information regarding the history of the Pechanga Hotel & Resort. The Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians anticipated that the casino would greatly support the tribe and its land. I learned how the subtle design incorporates Luiseño culture, and that brown and green earth tones reflect the quiet hillsides that shape the Temecula area. Then it was time to gamble.
After a painful $4.00 ATM charge, I withdrew some money and headed to the tables. I had a spot of bad luck so I withdrew and meandered my way around the casino until I found what curiously looked like a virtual blackjack machine that quite freakishly resembled something out of the movie Virtuosity, There was a large flat screen monitor and a regulation-sized blackjack table. Instead of green felt where the cards would be was another flat screen monitor. It was horizontally mounted so that digitally simulated cards could be thrown and flipped over to the players by the virtual dealer.
The oddest thing about the game, aside from the large Sega logo at the top of the monitor, was that as the virtual dealer spoke to each player, he or she looked a little to the side each time it was the next player's turn. It gave the illusion that this character was looking at you when it was your turn to hit or stand. I also noticed that the characters were quite attractive, somewhat misleading from the real world dealers in the casino. Oddly enough, I seemed to have better luck on the virtual blackjack machine than the real thing.
I decided to take my cash-out ticket to the cashier to get my money and some food. The ticket was annoying because you had to go to the cashier in between going from a machine to a table. But on the other hand, Pechanga is an exception to the law of no gambling in the state of California, so I won't complain.
I chose to eat at a place by the name of Blazing Noodles, one of the seven restaurants in the hotel. I started with some fried wontons and a Tai tea for an appetizer. The fried wontons were a tasty cream cheese-filled, deep fried treat. They came with a sweet and sour dipping sauce that impressively completed the perfect appetizer. The Tai tea was excellent as well. It was a special blend of Tai tea topped with half and half creamer. That made for a cool refreshment to wash down my wontons. It sort of sent me reminiscing about those creamy Dreamsicle Popsicle things I used to have as a kid.
Mary, my waitress was amazing; I've never had such friendly service. She informed and recommended the Crispy Duck. That's exactly what I ordered, Crispy Duck with Honey Sauce. It consisted of one-half roasted duck with stir fried mixed vegetables. It came with a square bowl of rice and a small dish of sweet and sour sauce. I felt a little guilty thinking about how cute and furry ducks are, but realized it's not fair to discriminate on cuteness and took a bite. The duck was a little on the fatty side, but the taste was so amazing I ate the fat anyway. The vegetables and rice gave me a chance to cleanse my pallate between bites so each one was as mouth watering as the first. It somewhat resembled the texture of chicken, but then again, what doesn't?
At that point Mary went ahead and brought me a sample of Tai coffee compliments of the house. It also had half and half mixed in and resembled a Starbuck's Frapaccino. It was chilled and again quite refreshing. Now completely stuffed, Mary insisted I try some dessert - a Macadamia Nut Cinnamon cake. It came dividing a vanilla sauce on one side and a mango sauce on the other side. At this point I was forcing the food down. It still was tasty though, quite similar to a typical supermarket coffee cake.
Exhausted from my feast, I went up to the rooftop lounge to relax. It wasn't very crowded for a Saturday night. It didn't matter though because I was thoroughly entertained by the live piano music. Taking a walk around the lounge, there were quite a few empty rooms. I can imagine it packed with people, but questioned why it wasn't on a weekend.
I discovered a door next to some disco lights and mirrors on the wall. Victimized by my curiosity once again, I opened it and walked in. I had found a secret room. The mirrors from the other side of the wall were windows from in here. In other words, I could look out and see what everyone was doing. There also was an entire theatre surround sound system connected to a switch on the wall. Perhaps this was a private lounge for high rollers. Or maybe in this room the secret Pechanga mafia meets to discuss business.
But how did all of this get here? Tribes like the Pechanga Indians have a government of their own, exempt from many of the laws issued by the state it resides in. They support themselves by inventing successful businesses without losing sight of their cultural roots.
Stereotypical portrayals of cowboys and indians covered in dusty hats and feathers are long gone, but the memories of such times are far from forgotten. Instead, This Band of Luiseño Indians are reminded of their brothers and sisters through a living symbol, a remnant of life whose lack of eyes do not limit it from the blood and tears shed during its existence.
They call it The Great Oak, a 1,500-year old oak tree that reflects the hardships and successes of the tribe on many levels. Standing almost 100 feet tall, its thick branches twist and reach out from its massive trunk. Like tired arms stretched out for decades, it is a living symbol of strength, perseverance, and fortitude.
The Great Oak plays an important role in the history of the tribe. Oaks like this one were used as a source of shelter while acorns provided the tribe with a viable food source; wiwish, porridge made from the acorn that offered sustenance to their ancestors.
Much like the Pechanga people, the oak has weathered constant challenge and change. This area has been home for both for hundreds of years, and both will continue to stand strong.
Much like the seasonal downpours that supply life for The Great Oak, the Pechanga Hotel and Casino provides consistent monetary support for the Luiseño Indians. This allows them to provide a diverse economic base for the Pechanga Tribe, bringing viable business opportunities to keep the tribe moving forward. It supports growth, promotes culture, and ultimately strengthens the roots of all the Luiseño Indians in Temecula to ensure their survival for another thousand years.
The next couple of days I ventured over to the Temecula International Film Festival. I watched many independent films during the day and into the evening. Still, I had a fun relaxing environment to come back to, and an air-conditioned room that you could hang meat in.
By Josh Edelson, San Diego Jetsetters Magazine Correspondent.