July 9, 2012
You have to drive the north coast of Kauai—Hawaii’s Garden Island—past Kilaueu Falls, the condominium metropolis of Princeville and funky old Hanalei to find Taylor Camp. Once you get to Ha’ena State Park, where the Na Pali Cliffs guard the island’s impregnable west coast, park the car and thrash through the jungle to Limahuli Stream, which debouches from the mountains on a gorgeous beach.
A band of young people came to the same place in 1969, most of them refugees from strife-ridden college campuses and Vietnam War protests. They drifted in from all over the mainland, looking to turn down the volume at the end of the blaring 1960s and pitched tents in a North Shore park, playing beach volleyball in the buff and smoking marijuana, activities that ultimately got them evicted.
Enter Howard Taylor, brother of movie star Elizabeth, who bailed them out of jail and invited them to settle on a beachfront property he owned that had just been condemned by the state. His kindness was also an act of revenge because the state would have to deal with the squatters before they could turn the place into a public park. “It’s your land and they’re now your hippies,” he told officials. After joining the campers for Christmas dinner in 1972 with his celebrated sister, Taylor left them to their own devices.
For the next five years the hippie haven that came to be called Taylor Camp aggravated locals, who had no idea how to cope with their first exposure to the mainland counterculture. At the time, the pineapple and sugar cane industries were faltering and Kauai was enveloped in a sweet dream state, its population dwindling, its beaches still the domain of local surfers.
Semi-permanent treehouses made of scavenged wood and plastic replaced tents at Taylor Camp; a garden was planted, shaped like a mandala; residents started a co-op, built communal toilets, showers and the Church of the Brotherhood of the Paradise Children, where discussion ranged from Kierkegaard to the Tantras; couples swapped partners, babies were born, wild parties and homegrown pot attracted newcomers.
The story is told in a documentary film, Taylor Camp: Living the ’60s Dream, produced by John Wehrheim, who lived nearby in the early 1970s. The lavishly illustrated, accompanying book describes the seven-acre encampment, inhabited by about 100 people in its heyday as something different from a commune. “It had no guru…no written ordinances. It wasn’t a democracy. A spirit that brought forth order without rules guided the community,” Wehrheim wrote in the introduction.
The film is an even more vivid evocation, thanks to interviews of people who lived there, now aging baby boomers with jobs and families who seem no worse for the experience. In fact, most look back on their Taylor Camp days as the best time of their lives, though a seamier undercurrent can be felt in descriptions of the community’s post-halcyon years when hard drugs and rowdy transients arrived.
Many of the mellow, early settlers moved on, though it took the state until 1977 to close the camp down. By then the ’60s were over and Kauai was on the verge of a real estate boom that brought developments like Princeville.
For people who recall flower children with nostalgic fondness, Wehrheim’s book and film are all that remain to tell the story of a serendipitous time and place where a footnote to the history of the 1960s was written. Of course, it would be even better to go back to the North Shore of Kauai, to follow Limahuli Stream to the beach and to lie in the sand, remembering the way we were.
May 30, 2012
Whenever my brother John tells me he’s planning a trip, right away I start angling to go along because he likes places no one else would think of, usually backpacking destinations in the great outdoors. It doesn’t hurt that he has the necessary gear and skills. I doubt I’d know how to pitch a tent or light a camp stove if it weren’t for John. When we pack up in the morning, he stands over me like a Marine, making sure I shake out the ground cloth before I fold it up.
In the car on the way we don’t need the radio; we pass the time arguing, usually at high volume.
I drive the highways, then he takes over on dirt roads, bombing over sand traps and potholes while I shriek. He hates things to go smoothly; when they threaten to he puts an edge on the adventure by telling me we might be low on gas or lost, a stratagem that made me insist on turning back halfway to the isolated Maze District of Canyonlands National Park. Both of us vividly remember the episode, forever defining us as travelers: I’m the wuss, he’s the nut.
But that’s another story. This one’s about the best trip we ever took, to Fish and Owl Creeks in the badlands of southeastern Utah. How John found out about the 16-mile loop trail on BLM land descending about 1,500 feet into a pair of narrow canyons that scrawl across an otherwise empty space on the map I do not know. He’s got a secret file folder full of such expeditions, I guess.
We reached the trail head about 50 miles north of Mexican Hat with afternoon shadows lengthening over the plateau, known as Cedar Mesa. That’s mesa, not butte; if you don’t know the difference between the two, you’re too much of a greenhorn to tackle Fish and Owl, which should not be attempted by inexperienced hikers, according to a map we got from the BLM. The trail is rough and hard to follow, marked chiefly by cairns; water is intermittent; and if something bad happens, help is not at hand.
For all these reasons, I advocated camping on top that night and starting out the next morning. But John overruled me, herding me into Owl Creek like a goat boy. We had to scramble down big boulders—me mostly on my tush—before reaching the bottom of the canyon, which narrows as it descends. Occasionally, I took my eyes off the trail long enough to appreciate the view at our shoulders of precariously stacked hoodoos and Cedar Mesa sandstone cliffs. Meanwhile, John was ever on the lookout for Anasazi rock art and cliff dwellings said to be hidden on benches above the creek.
By the time we finally stopped and set up camp, I was feeling surprisingly comfortable in the wilderness. John made freeze-dried lasagna for dinner and invited me to drink as much bottled water as I liked, thereby lightening the load; no problem when we ran out, he said, because—yum, yum—he’d use his purifier to treat the brackish water we found in sloughs.
I slept tight that night, blinking my eyes open to see a dark sky full of stars when I rolled over in my bag.
The next day’s hike took us deeper into Fish and finally to its confluence with Owl, where we turned downstream. Owl had stretches of running water, small hanging gardens and sandy shoulders where the path was easy to follow. I was ambling along when I realized my brother had stopped, bending over the trail where he’d found a mountain lion track.
Or were things just going along too smoothly for John? I bet on that.
We doubled back at one point, in search of a natural arch described on the map, but never found it. A mile or so short of the exit back onto the mesa, by which we’d close the loop, we found a second campsite, ringed by cottonwood trees, close to a flowing section of the creek. I took a dip, dried off in the sun, and figured I’d found paradise in a crack below Cedar Mesa.
More freeze-dried comestibles for dinner, another night in the bag, followed by a very stiff climb out of the canyon, John showing me where to step. For the last bit he took my backpack so I could manage the climb out, then handed it up to me when I got on top.
We were resting before finishing the last lap back to where we’d parked when a car drove up. A man and woman got out, preparing to start the loop hike the other way round, from Owl to Fish. Only, they didn’t have a map. So we gave them ours, crumpled and splotched, but no less welcome, told them about our beautiful second night campsite and exchanged addresses, promising—as travelers often do when they cross paths in outlandish places—to later exchange notes on our adventures.
I forgot all about it, though I could have told them how I made John drive 100 miles out of the way that day to clean up in a public swimming pool and buy groceries in the town of Blanding before car-camping that night at Natural Bridges National Monument, where John made sure I knew the difference between a natural bridge and an arch.
We went on from there to the infamous Maze and to a family reunion in the Colorado Rockies, where I celebrated my 40th birthday by climbing 14,259-foot Long’s Peak. So by the time I got home several weeks later those were the stories I told about the trip.
A couple of months passed and then I got a letter with a Boston return address from the couple John and I met at the lip of Owl Creek, enclosing the map we lent them and telling a tale that made my skin creep.
They found our cottonwood campsite and settled in, then woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of screaming, hair-raisingly high-pitched and so close at hand they’d have sworn someone was being tortured just outside the tent.
Only one creature makes a noise like that: a mountain lion.
It went on for 30 minutes, at least, while they huddled inside, scared out of their wits. Then it stopped, though they didn’t go out until morning, when they found tracks right outside the tent. Each print was as big as a hand, with pad and four claws clearly marked.
I’d never want to come that close to a mountain lion, though I admit I’m a little envious it happened to them, not us. Never mind. I’ve appropriated the story; it’s mine now, too, because I’ve been to Fish and Owl. Travelers tales are like that. Free to pass around.
May 23, 2012
Hold on. Before you buy a new Audi, Fiat or BMW, take a look at a Volvo. Never mind the style and engineering. They’re giving away vacations.
Sound like one of those annoying TV ads? Hyperbolic. Too good to be true. Appended by fine print that makes the deal a loser.
In this case the offer is as sound as a Volvo, made to safely handle the ice and snow of the homeland.
The carmaker’s Overseas Delivery Program is for people who buy Volvos directly from the factory in Gothenburg, Sweden, where Volvos have been produced since 1927. Along with free shipping of the vehicle to a U.S. dealer, purchasers get two round-trip plane tickets to Sweden on Scandinavian Airlines and a one-night stay at a hotel in Gothenburg, giving them time to tour the Volvo Museum, where visitors learn that the brand’s name means “I roll” in Latin and that since 2010 it’s been owned by Geely Automotive, headquartered—where else?—in China. Gothenburg also has a city museum with Sweden’s only surviving Viking ship and some of the freshest seafood in Europe.
Once you get your car, which comes with European vehicle registration and insurance, you’re free to hit the road along the west coast of Sweden with its fishing villages, traditional folkways and scattering of islands. There’s Marstrand, guarded by 17th-century Carlsten Fortress, black dolomite-fringed Gullholmen and wild Hallo, where people who can tolerate cold water swim and snorkel.
Or you can head south over the Oresund Bridge to Denmark, the gateway to mainland Europe, driving the autobahn to Berlin, back roads in France, even over the Alps to Italy. Great destinations, all of them, especially in a new car. If you return the vehicle when you’re done to the Volvo factory in Gothenburg, shipping back to the U.S. is free, though a fee is charged from Amsterdam, Paris, Madrid and other drop-off points across the continent.
When I heard about the plan, I couldn’t figure out why the company would make such a generous offer. But it turns out to be a good deal for Volvo, too. “Our Overseas Delivery customers are among the best ambassadors we have for the brand,” U.S. manager Anders Robertson told me. Moreover, it saves the company money by not tying up capital while a car sits on the lot waiting for purchasers.
Too bad I’m not in the market for a car. But I may go window-shopping at a Volvo dealership, where I’ll ask a few questions about standard features before taking a seat behind the wheel, not for a test drive, but to fantasize about a trip to Europe.
May 21, 2012
The construction of Guédelon about 100 miles southeast of Paris has already been underway for 15 years, yet workers are proud about how long it’s taking. That’s because you don’t build a medieval castle in a day using 13th-century techniques only.
The project, begun in 1997, is the brainchild—or, as it was said at the time, the idée folle—of Michel Guyot, an architectural historian who restored the nearby Château de St.-Fargeau. In the process he discovered the remains of a castle that predated the elegant 17th manor. Fascinated by the building they suggested, he decided to recreate it in the forest a dozen miles from St.-Fargeau, enlisting experts who studied illuminated manuscripts, stained-glass windows and extant medieval structures to devise a fully authentic design.
With Guédelon now on the rise, no one’s calling Guyot crazy and the point of the exercise grows ever more apparent. Like one of those illustrated children’s books by David Macaulay—”Cathedral,” “Castle,“ “City,“ “Pyramid”—it is aimed at answering a question everyone asks when visiting remarkable edifices from the Middle Ages: How did workers do it without trucks, bulldozers and power tools?
At Guédelon a team of three dozen workers has to quarry and shape stone, build pulley and treadmill-driven cranes, make rope, tile and mortar, chop wood for beams and move them by horse cart to raise the stronghold, explaining the snail’s pace of the project. Routinely visited by experts to make sure no corners are cut, Guédelon is an open-air laboratory for architectural historians. For adult visitors the pleasure and interest are in the process, while children encounter it as a dream come true, far more real than any Magic Kingdom castle.
I found Guédelon, nestled in the old oak woods of Burgundy, by chance a few years ago, pulled into the parking lot with lots of room for school buses and signed on for the tour. First off, we stopped in a clearing where models tell the story of the evolution of castle architecture from fortified farmhouses to stone strongholds with towers, moats, internal courtyards and curtain walls that grew up in the 13th century to protect the borders of the growing French kingdom. Guédelon was conceived as the dwelling of a middle-ranking feudal lord, modest in scale and embellishment.
In the medieval village around the perimeter we saw basket, dye and tile-makers, shingle-cutters, blacksmiths and stables for work animals. Nearby the forest gives way to an on-site quarry at the threshold of a hollowed-out dish of ground where stones mined with pickaxes and chisels are taking the shape of a castle. A fixed bridge crosses the dry moat to a courtyard ringed by buildings, including a vaulted great hall, kitchen, storerooms and chapel now more than half-finished. This year work is focusing on fireplaces in the lord’s chamber and the western retaining wall, along with the north antechamber’s paving stones and murals.
We climbed narrow staircases, crossed roofless rooms and stopped to chat with workers wearing safety glasses and hard hats, a few of the concessions mandated by construction work in modern times. All the while, I wondered whether Guédelon will be half as impressive when it is finished as it is now. No worry, it won’t be ready for the lord to move in until 2023.
May 2, 2012
When a storm dumped eight inches of snow on Rome this winter, I pored over photographs of the coated Colosseum, Forum and Piazza San Pietro, thrilled to reports of Romans shoveling streets with wooden spatulas, and above all wished I’d been there to see it. My friends in Rome reported frustration over coping with the deluge, and while there were no fatalities, the storm snarled traffic and stunned a city that thinks it only rains in winter. It made me remember the old story about how the site for Rome’s Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore was chosen when the Virgin Mary appeared to Pope Liberius on the night of August 4, 352, telling him to build a church where a patch of snow appeared the following morning. Santa Maria della Neve, as the basilica was originally called, duly rose on the Esquiline Hill, ever after the scene of an August 5 pontifical Mass celebrating the miracle.
Snow when you least expect it—divine apparitions notwithstanding—always seems a miracle to me, even when it wreaks havoc for travelers. My brother and I once went back-roading in northern Baja’s Parque Nacional Sierra de San Pedro Mártir. Stuck in a four-wheel drive vehicle on a rutted track leading toward 10,157-foot Picacho del Diablo, we set up camp, hoping to hike out for help the next morning. It had been a beautiful, sunny day, warm enough for shirt sleeves, but that night it snowed, leaving the two of us to shiver in front of a feisty little campfire until morning.
We’d forgotten a simple truth of geography and meteorology: the higher the elevation, the more likelihood there is of snow, in any season. It doesn’t take a genius to know that, but I forgot again on a trip to the Canary Islands, where I’d gone seeking sunshine while living in Europe a few winters ago—not an outlandish plan given that the Spanish archipelago is 100 miles off the coast of Africa at about the same latitude as the Sahara Desert.
My plane landed late at night on the main island of Tenerife, where I rented a little tin can of an economy-class car and set off for the Parador de las Cañadas del Teide on the flank of 12,200-foot Mount Teide, a 40-mile drive from the airport.
Up I went on a switchbacking road through lush forests of Canary Island pines that eventually yielded to ground-hugging broom and juniper, crossing razor-back ridges lined by steep precipices that offered heart-stopping views of lighted towns on the coast below.
Then it started to snow, at first softly and prettily. Alone on the road, I counted my blessings to be there to see it. But the dusting thickened and soon I was driving through whiteout conditions. I couldn’t believe it, but kept creeping along, eyes straining, fists glued to the wheel as the windshield wipers fought vainly against the onslaught and the car skidded. When another vehicle finally came by, headed down the mountain, I pulled over, flagged it down and hopped in the back seat, abandoning the rental to a snow bank and myself to the kindness of strangers. My saviors were a young man and woman who gave me a drink of good Spanish red wine to calm my nerves and ultimately deposited me in a hotel on the coast. I awoke the next morning to balmy blue skies, wondering if I’d only dreamed of snow. But the rental agency told me I was lucky to have made it down the mountain because the Teide road was closed, meaning I had to wait another day to reclaim the car in a tow truck.
Memory, which has some of the same white-washing propensities as snow, has resolved the nightmarish events of that night into an amazing adventure. I still tend to forget that winter is a frequent visitor at high elevations. And finding myself in snow when I least expect it will always seem to me the same kind of miracle that told a fourth-century pope where to build the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.