21 May, 2011
Olompali State Historic Park
“Those who know me personally will attest that I am often more comfortable communing with shrubbery than with people.”
I arrived at Olompali State Historic Park at 1:30 on a Saturday with the idea that the visitor center would be staffed between noon and 3pm. No such luck. In fact, I wasn’t sure where the visitor center was. The entrance to the park is sprinkled with structures from various time periods and plaques explaining about each building but nothing marked the elusive center. The parking lot held about ten cars—only one family was in sight. They were picnicking; when lunch was finished their picnic evolved into a game of Frisbee with a bonneted toddler who called out “Hiiii” as I passed.
As I wove from sign to sign, I discovered that this space records, tells and holds a tremendous amount history in a relatively small space. Evidence suggests that the site of Olompali supported human populations from as early as 6000 BC. It is the site of the largest Coastal Miwok village; the name Olompali means “southern village”. When the Eurpoeans came to this area, it already served as a hub for trade.
There are remnants of buildings, roads, and gardens from the Mexican, Spanish, and contemporary California. The property has changed hands so many times since the 1850’s it is difficult to keep the record straight. Among other things Olompali supported several ranches, a hippie commune frequented by Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and a swim club. Several other families and couples descended from the parks 2.75 mile loop as I made my way to the end of the historic buildings.
On my way out I peeked in the window of the most likely building for the Visitors Center, stacks of maps I longed for sat locked inside. I left my business card and request for stories under the door, and headed back toward the parking lot.
As I walked down the gravel road, a State Park truck rolled up and sat idling next to a car in the lot. The driver hopped out adorned in a State Park uniform.
“How’re you doin”
In less than the time it took to say those four lines, I reasoned (with no evidence from him) that this man obviously doesn’t want to be bothered, as he began loading his cooler and street clothes into the second vehicle, and I had done my duty by slipping my business card under and note about the project under the door. I bounded past him on tip toe, jumped in my car, and sped off without asking any relevant questions.
On the way out of the park I lambasted myself for being a giant chicken. This in itself is an interesting concept as I have never seen a chicken be particularly fearful of anything. In fact, chickens appear quite confident particularly when you think consider the number of critters that want to eat them.
I did manage to snap a few photos of this resident staff member (see lizard below. There were lizards, a gorgeous snake who posed patiently for a picture that I botched, turkeys, and a large assortment of boisterous birds. I plan to return to Olompali to hike the trail.