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OREGON: Third-floor walk-up, rustic

Peacock Perch is one of 11 treehouses guests can rent at Out ’n’ About Treesort in Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains, about 20 miles from the California border. The resort’s bathhouse pavilion is on the ground level.
(David R. Olmos / LAT)
Times Staff Writer

THE sudden noise that woke us sounded like the rumble before an earthquake. We bolted from our beds and rushed outside and saw a dozen or more horses streaking past, with much snorting and stomping of hoofs.

My 7-year-old daughter and I witnessed the scene with breathless excitement and from an unusual vantage point: the deck of a treehouse built 20 feet up into two large oaks in the southern Oregon wilderness.

We came here for a dad-daughter getaway before the bustle of day camp, coach-pitch baseball and barbecues swept the summer past us. A trip to a treehouse seemed like the right choice, the type of experience that, I hoped, Olivia and I would talk about for years. I also wanted to introduce her to the natural wonders of Oregon, where I grew up, a setting well suited to the fairy tales she enjoys.

There is a sprinkling of treehouse lodgings on the West Coast, but the most unusual and best known may be the Out ‘n’ About Treesort in Oregon’s Siskiyou Mountains, about 20 miles north of the California border and 265 miles from Portland.

The Treesort — a collection of 11 treehouses built by Michael Garnier on 36 acres — combines the rugged flavor of an adventure destination, the creature comforts of a B&B and a funky, anti-establishment vibe. Although the property is large, the treehouses populate an area about the size of a football field, providing a communal feel.

It opened in 1990 and its popularity has grown steadily. Forget about making last-minute reservations, especially in the summer. We booked our Father’s Day weekend trip in early February, and even then the openings were getting scarce.

We arrived in late afternoon after a five-hour drive from Portland that finally rewarded us with pretty country roads and a picturesque valley. Along the roadside, someone erected a striking metal sculpture of a buffalo that bore the message: “Think Peace.” As we pulled into the parking area, we spotted a wooden sign nailed to a post: “Tree Musketeers Only. Government Officials Prohibited.”

We checked in at the rustic main lodge but got no key; none of the treehouse doors has locks. Then, along with a family of four from Boulder, Colo., we got a quick tour of the facilities: Besides the treehouses and lodge, we saw a bathhouse pavilion (clean and modern), a campfire site with barbecues and an outdoor stage, where local rock and punk bands jam through a “summer soulfest” on the solstice.

Each decorated differently

OUR home for the next two nights was the Peacock Perch, so named because of the bird beautifully carved into the wooden entry door. Each treehouse is unique and fancifully named: the Swiss Family Complex, the Serendipitree and the Cavaltree, which has a cavalry fort theme.

The Perch was the first Treesort lodging Garnier built, in 1974. He moved to southwestern Oregon (an “old hippie area,” he calls it) after the Vietnam War, where he was a medic with the Army’s Special Forces. He started a bed-and-breakfast cabin, but guests started asking if they could stay in a treehouse he’d built for his children.

The Perch has just enough space for a twin bed, cot, floor lamp, mini-fridge, sink and an Ansel Adams poster. My daughter tossed her sleeping bag and suitcase onto the cot, staking out her territory.

Olivia, suddenly exuberant after the drudgery of the long drive, raced to the lodge to check out what activities were available (for a fee).

We could choose from horseback riding and classes in mosaic-tile design and tie-dye T-shirt-making. There’s also a basic ropes course — a system of harnesses, cables and ropes that helps you climb a tree to a platform — and a couple of zip lines, including one that reaches 650 feet across a meadow. We signed up for that evening’s tie-dye class and a guided horseback ride the next day.

Our instructor for the tie-dye class was “Sunshine” (a.k.a. Cathy Ducat), a 50-ish woman whose hair was dyed bright orange and who later showed us photos of her pet wolf.

Spreading her paints out on a wooden picnic bench beneath the trees, Sunshine patiently showed our class the basics of tie-dye art — how to make spirals, stripes and other patterns on the T-shirt. Olivia, who followed the instructions more closely than her father, corrected my technique on shirt-folding and rubber band-wrapping.

Because I forgot to stop in town to get something to barbecue, we drove back into Cave Junction, about 12 miles away, for dinner. The only place that had cars outside was a Mexican restaurant called Carlos. After a huge plate of enchiladas and a quesadilla, we headed back to the Treesort for the night.

My mattress and Olivia’s cot weren’t Westin Heavenly Bed quality — more well-used mountain cabin. But we were tuckered out and slept soundly our first night among the branches.

Sketching and swimming

THE next morning, we rose early with anticipation. My daughter wanted to try out the rope swings scattered around the property. Breakfast at the lodge — a home-cooked, family-style meal of tasty quiches, waffles, orange juice and hot chocolate — could be consumed in the kitchen or outside on the deck.

Seven suspension bridges crisscross the grounds leading to platform decks, and on that gloriously sunny day a high-up deck seemed the perfect spot to take it all in. My daughter sketched scenes of the treehouses while I snapped photographs and relished the view.

Once the day warmed, it was time to try out the swimming hole, a man-made pool built of stones and filled with water from the nearby Illinois River, which rushes down from the Siskiyou Mountains. Nestled among trees, it looked inviting, but it was teeth-clatteringly cold.

As we shivered, Miriah Killem a new Treesort worker, told us she had the unenviable job of removing the leaves that had settled on the bottom of the pool.

Dark-haired Miriah — who looked as though she had stepped from the pages of Outside magazine — plunged into the pool with little hesitation, staying below for about 15 or 20 seconds to collect the debris. We got goose bumps just watching her. Not wanting to feel like wimpy Southern Californians, we ventured in up to our waists, then hurried out.

That afternoon, I found myself reflecting on the fact that my daughter and I had spent nearly every moment together for two days.

This is something a dad should cherish, and I did. But I was also aware that all of the other families staying at the Treesort seemed to have more than one kid along for the fun.

In a stroke of fortuitous timing, I spotted a dad and daughter, about Olivia’s age, by the rope swing. We hadn’t noticed them before. (As it turned out, they were staying at another treehouse hotel nearby.)

We walked over and introduced ourselves to Bruce and Isabel Darby from Napa. Within minutes, Olivia and Isabel were swaying on the rope swing, gabbing and giggling as if they’d been best friends for years.

Evening horseback ride

FOR our early evening trail ride, our guide was Tessa Garnier, the owner’s daughter, who had recently graduated from the University of Oregon with a biology degree. Our easy hourlong ride through the lush firs of the Siskiyou National Forest crisscrossed small streams and meadows. Afterward, Olivia and two other girls helped Tessa groom the horses before they were corralled for the night.

Our last night also happened to be the summer solstice. As the year’s longest day neared its conclusion, Olivia and I played some volleyball at a court set up on one corner of the property. We took a break to watch as the twilight sky turned a dazzling palette of orange, yellow and purple.

I recalled the advice that my daughter’s kindergarten teacher once offered parents of overscheduled kids at the beginning of the summer. Leave time, she said, for your children to lie in the grass and watch the clouds.

At that moment, I couldn’t imagine a better setting to heed that advice.

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GETTING THERE:

From Los Angeles, Alaska and United fly nonstop, Southwest flies direct (no change of planes) and America West has connecting flights (stop, change of plane) to Portland, Ore. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $178. United, America West, Delta and Alaska have connecting service to Medford, Ore. Restricted round-trip fares begin at $168.

Driving from Portland, it’s 265 miles to Takilma, which is off the Redwood Highway (U.S. 199) about 20 miles from the California border. From Medford, it’s about 70 miles.

WHERE TO STAY:

Out ‘n’ About Treesort, Takilma, Ore.; (541) 592-2208, https://www.treehouses.com . Summer 2005 rates for treehouses range from $100 to $180 per night, including a full breakfast. The resort is open year-round, weather permitting. Activities cost $20 to $30 per person.

WHAT TO DO:

Cave tours are available at Oregon Caves National Monument, 19000 Caves Highway, Cave Junction, Ore.; (541) 592-2100, https://www.nps.gov/orca . A half-mile, 90-minute guided tour through an active marble cave costs $7.50; $5 for ages 16 and younger. Nearby hiking routes include the Big Tree Trail, home to Oregon’s largest Douglas fir.

River rafting and kayaking along the Rogue River are popular area attractions. Outfitters include Raft the Rogue Raft Rentals, Shady Cove, Ore., (800) 797-7238, https://www.rafttherogue.com , and Sundance River Center, Merlin, Ore., (888) 777-7557, https://www.sundanceriver.com .

Redwood National and State Parks, home to old-growth redwood groves and open meadows, are about 50 miles down the Redwood Highway (U.S. 199) and are good places for day trips. The national park is free; the state parks fee is $5 per day. (707) 464-6101, https://www.nps.gov/redw .

— David R. Olmos


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