A Weekend at Thunder Valley Casino & Resort

I slept with Smokey Robinson. Now that I have your attention, allow me to clarify: Actually, I slept NEAR Smokey Robinson. What a difference a preposition makes. During a recent weekend at the Thunder Valley Casino & Resort in Lincoln, California, Smokey and I had rooms on the same floor, at the same time. He was there to perform at the outdoor amphitheater as a featured artist in their very popular Summer Concert Series that has created thunderous business for the resort; I was there to relax and see an ABBA tribute concert with my daughters at a smaller venue inside the casino called Pano Hall. While I fantasized the whole weekend about running into Smokey in the elevator and staring into those startling green eyes, it never happened. Oh, the tears of a clown. In California, there are 64 casinos run by 57 tribes, and 109 tribes total in this golden state. I happen to live in an area that has three casinos within a reasonable driving distance. Lucky me. Not all these Indian gaming facilities, however, come complete with hotels and spas. Thunder Valley is an exceptional exception. Owned and operated by The United Auburn Indian Community (UAIC), Thunder Valley started as a gaming and entertainment facility in 2003, and then in 2010, the tribe added a AAA Four-Diamond-rated, 17-story hotel and spa, creating excitement in and around this small Northern California town -- as well as 600 new jobs in Placer County. C.J. Graham, Thunder Valley’s General Manager, says they were simply giving customers what they were asking for. “Ever since the casino opened in 2003, our guests have been asking us when we were going to build a hotel.” Graham says the hotel has boosted business significantly, attracting more guests from out of town. “They’re able to stay late and not have to worry about driving home.” UAIC Tribal Chairman David Keyser says the resort has been good for his people, opening up many opportunities for them. “It made it possible for us to provide healthcare, build a tribal school to educate our young tribal members, and make many other improvements in the overall quality of life.” Without question, Thunder Valley has become a first-class resort. But up until recently, there was one missing piece to the total resort experience – a golf course. Not anymore. Earlier this year, UAIC tribal members bought Whitney Oaks Golf Club in Rocklin for $3.95 million, a short 6.3 miles from the resort property. Tribal Chairman Keyser explains the motivation behind the big Whitney Oaks purchase. “It was a great opportunity for us to acquire and preserve one of the finest golf courses in the region.” There is also xcellent food, an amazing spa and rose petals on pillows. Take it from a tourist, the UAIC are visionaries. The tribe really knows how to create an unforgettable resort experience. One word perfectly describes the Spa at Thunder Valley: impressive! This 12,000-square foot facility covers all the bases in the pampering business, including a full menu of body massages and facials, manicures, pedicures and waxing. Customers are treated to plush robes, sandals, private lockers with new-age, James-Bond-like locks, a fully appointed vanity area and a meditative waiting room with hot tea, fruit-infused water, raw almonds and macaroons. It is truly a feast for the eyes, body and spirit.

What’s more, Thunder Valley has a number of dining options, including a steakhouse, diner, food court and buffet. We opted to eat at Red Lantern, a traditional Cantonese restaurant where diners select their own live fish and crab from the fish tank, cooked perfectly to their liking. Red Lantern is also known for its homemade barbecue duck and pork, slow-roasted all day long. It’s exquisite cuisine, prepared by highly trained chefs who really love what they do. But it’s the little touches that catapult a great resort to an over-the-top experience. When we returned to our room after our delicious dinner, we found complimentary slippers waiting to coddle our tired feet and a trail of fresh rose petals leading to decadent Belgian chocolates atop our pillows. Smokey Robinson who? About the United Auburn Indian Community Thunder Valley Casino & Resort is owned and operated by the United Auburn Indian Community, a reorganized band of Miwok and Maidu Indians whose 40-acre reservation is known as the Auburn Indian Rancheria. According to their website, there are approximately 170 enrolled members of the UAIC, and about 52 live on the reservation. The unique history of this tribe involves a complicated dance with the BIA and federal government through the Indian Reorganization and Rancheria Acts. You can read about UAIC’s struggles and triumphs in restoring the tribe’s federal recognition in 1994 in great detail on their website at auburnrancheria.com.Lynn Armitage is a freelance writer and enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin. Catch her column, “Notes From A Single Mom,” on this website weekly.