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Third-floor walk-up, rustic

WESTERN TRAVEL | RARE RETREATS

At funky, family-oriented Out 'n' About Treesort in Oregon, a dad and daughter try out treehouse living and get closer to nature.

August 21, 2005|David R. Olmos | Times Staff Writer

Takilma, Ore. — 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

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