Planning big parties out in the boondocks
Most of us sample the wild in small groups, leaving larger-scale
sorties to organizations with professional expertise. The thought of
staging a major event in one of those places referred to as “the
great outdoors’ or, less kindly, “the middle of nowhere’
might lead a lot of people to ask: what’s wrong with a back yard
or a rented hall?
Nothing, really. But an atmosphere of outdoor adventure can turn a
special occasion into an extraordinary one.
Some such occasions we’ve looked in on include a 100-person
crab feed on an island in San Francisco Bay, a traditional Thanksgiving
feast for two large families in Death Valley, a family reunion of 25
relatives 9,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada, and an 80-guest wedding at
a mountain hot springs. Each was a rip-roaring success.
There’s no denying such gatherings require lots of advance
planning and some extra work. But the results can live on for years in
scrapbooks and memories.
When making plans for tatherings at a park or recreation area, call
ahead about camping and picnicking arrangements. Reservations or
permits may be required for group facilities.
Crab party on San Francisco Bay
It’s now tradition with the Robert Trefry family of Sunnyvale,
California, to invite a big gang to celebrate Dungeness crab season
(November 13 through June 30) at Angel Island State Park in San
Francisco Bay. Guests come to the park on regularly scheduled ferries
departing from San Francisco and Tiburon. The Trefrys use their own
boat to bring supplies ahead.
“It’s not much work,’ says Mr. Trefry. “Other
than purchasing supplies, the only advance preparation is making the
lemonbutter mayonnaise and popping corn. We buy cooked crabs whole and
uncleaned. We used to clean them all at home–a lot of work–but now we
bring them to Angel Island and everyone cleans his own.’
Thanksgiving in Death Valley
The Pulskamp and Bellue families of Bakersfield, California,
decided to combine their considerable forces (they have 17 children
between them) for an outdoor Thanksgiving. The site they selected was a
5-hour drive away: Death Valley National Monument.
Cooking began two days ahead. Dishes like oyster-stuffed cherry
tomatoes and ginger-topped ceviche were festive, yet designed to be
packed in ice–300 pounds of it–and driven across the desert.
Some traditional dishes were cooked in untraditional ways. The
36-pound turkey was skewered on a homemade spit of steel pipe, then
roasted over a campfire.
Labor was divided as much as possible: the children, for example,
were responsible for most of the desserts.
Both families learned a few lessons about transporting a large meal
and a large group 300 miles. Advises Nacy Bellue, “Before the
caravan takes off, drivers should communicate regarding signals for rest
stops, speed limits, and the final destination.’ Unpacking posed
some problems. “People were asking “Where’s my
ladle?’, “Who has the cups?’ Color-coded dots on the
boxes would have been handy.’
Her final hint is for groups with lots of younger children:
“Meditate a moment on food service and the lineup of eager
picnickers, and arrange your tables accordingly. Set up a table of
easily created appetizers for kids to attack, as they do, like dive
bombers. Then grownups can relax without worrying about the
now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t problem of a single table of
Family reunion in the Sierra
If you had been standing beside a certain trail in the Sierra
Nevada in August 1983, you’d have been passed by a group of
backpackers–some grandparents and some babes in arms–stirring dust on
their way uphill. You might have thought they constituted a hiking club
on its monthly outing, except that many of them shared a strong family
The Dupre family, 25 strong, had been scattered across America by
jobs and marriages. They had tried to defeat these distances by holding
family reunions, usually at someone’s house. But this year they
were reuniting far from anyone’s living room. “We wanted to
get together in a space that didn’t belong to any one person. We
wanted relationships to have a chance to go beyond the old roles that
come with the old territories.’
In June, four family members scouted likely Sierra trails, keeping
in mind age ranges and hiking abilities (there would be one expectant
mother and two babies), then obtaining the necessary permits when the
site was selected. Someone else rented equipment for those who lacked
it: tents, sleeping bags, stoves, and a van large enough to transport it
all. Participants were sent a list of recommended clothing and gear.
A menu was planned, and reunioners were asked for insulated jugs,
containers, and coolers to transport and store its components. Near-camp
sources were found for firewood and ice.
The family converged in one member’s Bay Area home on a Friday
evening, where they spent the night. Saturday morning, an advance party
drove to the trailhead and hiked up the trail to prepare camp: four
lakeshore sites. The rest of the reunion group hiked up on Sunday, to
begin four days of high-country outdoor pleasure.
Mishaps? No more than you’d get at an ordinary family
reunion: one sprained ankle, one set of car keys locked in a trunk.
Wedding in the wilderness
The invitation began: “Please join us and our families and
friends in the celebration of our marriage . . .’ But its last
line was “Mono Hot Springs, California.’ An appended note
explained, “Mono Hot Springs is not convenient to anything. We
suggest that you make a three- or four-day vacation out of it.’
Wanting to hold their wedding someplace unique, Julie Ferderber and
Jim Thomas began scouting possible locations in March. They chose Mono
Hot Springs at the 6,560-foot elevation in Sierra National Forest,
northeast of Fresno. A September date was set because this part of the
Sierra is usually uncrowded, sunny, and warm in early autumn; still,
there was the chance a thunderstorm might interrupt the vows.
Guests were sent a “Mono Hot Springs Wedding Guide,’
which included maps, weather and recreation information, and an
equipment check list.
To encourage guests to arrive the night before the ceremony, an
opening barbecue was planned. (Like all other meals during the
three-day event, it was catered by the resort.) Some guests were to
camp outside, while others were to stay in cabins. “That was
shaky,’ admits Jim Thomas. “We didn’t want to confirm the
cabins without knowing how many people would show up, but we had
Would guests back out at the last minute? That worry proved
groundless. On Saturday, 65 adults and 15 children watched the couple
exchange wedding vows under a cobalt blue Sierra sky.
Photo: Six-car Thanksgiving caravan winds its way to Death Valley
for big spit-roasted turkey dinner (right) shared by two Bakersfield
families. Overnight tent camping puts off the long drive home
Photo: Crab fans wave claws at Angel Island State Park party.
Host’s boat brought cooked crabs, bibs, bread, and wine to island;
guests came on regular ferry
Photo: Bride wore white, trees wore green at forest wedding. Guests
enjoyed the cake as well as the hiking