The road to Happy Camp was filled with twists and turns, and the Honda was filled with kvetching. After our experience in Willow Creek, there was definitely an anti-climactic cloud hanging over us as we forged onward up Highway 96.
I had never been to Happy Camp, and having packed fairly light, was a little anxious that we hadn’t stopped in Hoopa to stock up on some groceries. But as we pulled into the parking lot of the market and stepped inside, my fears were easily put to rest. Everything we could possibly need was there on the shelves.
The town was actually much prettier than I had expected. We found a campground called Curly Jack where we would spend a couple nights with some guitar-playing rafters, set up camp and then headed to the park where the festival was being held.
I’m sure Bigfoot was much happier with the display of love given him in Happy Camp. There was art, jewelry, clothes and crafts, and I was excited to see that the majority of it was hand-crafted. There was a magician wearing a bright yellow suit at the pavillion who actually pulled a rabbit out of…something…maybe a hubcap? Anyway, the kids loved him. After that, we got a sneak preview of the Bigfoot court. Having lost the coveted Fortuna High prom queen prize to some undeserving slutty cheerleader in 1988, I felt a little tear well up in my eye at the sight of the beautiful Bigfoot queen. The only criticism we had was that just like in Willow Creek, there was an extreme lack of Bigfoot schwag. We could only find one type of t-shirt. I can’t find the words to properly describe it, so I’ll just let the picture speak for itself.
The food at the Happy Camp festival was also superior. There were huge Indian tacos, barbequed flesh, pizza, and just about any kind of deep-fried morsel you can imagine. Squirrel and I were really looking forward to dessert. There was a booth serving gigantic bowls of shaved ice in over 20 different flavors. In the center of each huge mound of flavored ice was an equally huge mound of soft-serve ice cream. It filled up the middle and came spurting out the top like some kind of weird sweet volcanic treat. It looked fabulous – but after the tacos and the side of the largest fried zucchini rounds ever, we just couldn’t stomach anymore. Besides, we had to save room for Reese’s s’mores. We headed back to camp happy and satiated and fell into sweet Bigfoot dreams accompanied by an off-key version of “Fire and Rain.”
In the morning as we sat drinking coffee and enjoying the quiet, we skimmed over the program for the rest of the festivities. The parade started at 11, and we definitely didn’t want to miss that. We figured we might be able to get in a quick swim before heading into town. But wait! There was something else we just had to be a part of: the local elementary school’s pancake breakfast! We hurriedly got dressed and headed to the school. Who would possibly want to miss being served lukewarm food by surly thirteen-year-olds who’d rather be anywhere but there on a Sunday morning? The bonus was that we also got to eat on plastic trays! It was the best $10 we’d spent in a long time.
We talked to this guy for awhile. He told us that after the parade he was going to get Bigfoot on the back of his bike and do a photo shoot in the woods for “Easy Rider” magazine. Squirrel, who has ONLY looked at “Easy Rider” because his…um… roommate in the Army had a subscription….uh huh….yeah, that’s it….said that he had noticed some of the women in the magazine looked like Sasquatch, but he had never seen the real Bigfoot in one. Maybe Squirrel’s “army buddy” will send him this issue.
It was HOT in Happy Camp, and standing on concrete for an hour made us sticky and sweaty and ready for that swim we had missed to go to the pancake breakfast. We headed to the store to hopefully find a local who knew of a good swimming hole.
“Oh, sure!” said the woman who was bagging groceries behind the counter. “You take this road here and drive, oh, between two to six miles or so. It’ll take you about fifteen minutes – twenty if you drive slow. Look for a perfectly manicured lawn and a turn-out across the street. Park there and you can walk right down to the river.”
The directions were a bit sketchy, but we were sure that we could figure it out. We drove, snidely wondering what “perfectly manicured” actually looked like in Happy Camp. After about ten minutes I noticed that we seemed to be going much higher than the river. After fifteen, the county-maintained road ended, and we got out to take a look. We were high above the river, and there was absolutely no way down. Figuring we’d gone too far, we turned around and headed back down the hill. We stopped several times along the way whenever we’d see what appeared to be some sort of lawn. Each time, we saw what looked like beautiful swimming holes, but there was no way to get to them without seriously risking life or limb.
At one turn-out, we saw a trail leading back into the woods. We could hear water in the distance and hurriedly ran down the trail imagining the glorious swimming hole at the end. The trail ended abruptly in several walls of poison oak. Each way we turned there was more poison oak – it was completely impassable.
Trying to remain positive, we drove a little bit further, parked the car and decided we might have a better chance of finding something on foot. We walked and walked in the stifling heat. Streams of perspiration began to drip down my forehead into my eyes. My flip-flops were making matching blisters between the toes of both of my feet. The bag of towels and books I was carrying felt like it weighed fifty pounds.
At this point, I began to get a little bit cranky. And perhaps a little bit paranoid. I imagined the woman in the store laughing hysterically and telling all of the locals who came in about the swimming hole snipe hunt she had just sent some dumb tourists on. I visualized her glowing red eyes….the little horns starting to peek through the dark roots of her unkempt blonde hair…the forked tail curled up inside of her out-of-style stonewashed jeans.
“I’m done,” I told Squirrel. “You can keep searching for this damn swimming hole all day, but I. AM. DONE. I’m going back to the car where at least I can turn on the air conditioning.” Sensing, in the throes of my temper tantrum, that I might just leave him there, Squirrel wisely followed. We got in the car and drove silently back down the road that would take us to the campground.
Suddenly we came around a turn and saw that to our left was a long stretch of perfectly manicured lawn, and on our right was a gravel turnout. How in the world did we miss it on our way up? We pulled into the turnout and gazed at the glorious swimming hole before us like it was some kind of mirage.
The crabbiness and paranoia disappeared with the first dive into the cool blue water. A little girl who was swimming there too asked me where we were from. I told her we were from Eureka and had come for the festival. “How’d you find this place?” she frowned suspiciously at me as she challenged me to a breath-holding contest. “A beautiful blonde angel at the grocery store told us about it.”
We spent several blissful hours floating the afternoon away.
That night Squirrel read me scary Bigfoot sighting stories around the campfire. I was disappointed that we hadn’t had our own encounter, but inside the tent, I was sure that I heard the call of Sasquatch in the distance.
The next morning we sadly took down the tent and packed the car to go home. Neither one of us was ready to leave Happy Camp – or Bigfoot. But we’ll be back next year. We already have our Bigfoot action figure/toenail jewelry booth all planned out.