Down Bald Hill Road to Elbow Lake and Moonshine Valley
(Tacoma News Tribune and Sunday Ledger June 21, 1964)
(Author’s note: This article on the Bald Hills was part of series articles written for the Ledger which detailed interesting day trips for it readers. The other two articles from four decades earlier provide an explanation for why an area in the Bald Hills was known as Moonshine Valley.)
FOUR CORNERS, Thurston County — Follow the Bald Hill Road to Elbow Lake, where true-blue Washingtonians laughingly camp in the rain . . . and on to Moonshine Valley, a hollow of enchantment beside the Deschutes River and once a haven for nudists.
Moonshine Valley owes its name to a thirstier, rugged era when homemade stills flourished on creeks and springs back in the tall firs and the wild brush. Later it was promoted as a spa for naked sun-worshippers, who collected from all over the country (some arriving by airplane on a private field) to convene in the raw.
But now some 130 acres of romantic Moonshine Valley are converted into a family resort, for weekend and summer pursuit of outdoor recreation. And it well could become a Palm Springs of the Northwest.
The Bald Hills are south of Tacoma, by way of Roy and McKenna, and the country is blessed with famous fishing lakes … such as Clear, known the state over for its plentiful trout, and Lawrence, which opened for the season this morning after a poison treatment restocking by the Game Department.
And the best sources of information, advice, history and what the future holds for this “last frontier” is philosopher-grocer Tom McMonigle . . . proprietor of the Four Corners General Store.
The most popular item in the store is free … a three – page Mimeographed map showing the routes to the many attractions of the Bald Hills. Tom said local teen-agers produced the map for him . . . and he estimates that already this year he has handed out 10,000 copies. (If this is hard to believe, don’t forget that the Game Department reported more than 10,000 fishermen hit Clear Lake the day it opened in April.)
A native of the area, Tom frankly admits he makes his living from the users of the lake resorts . . . and that the rains of tune are an economic menace and that his disposition is a weather vane, cloudy or sunny, depending on the complexion of the sky over his beloved home country.
The day of our visit was excessively wet. But the grocer, sensing a return of the sun, treated us with only respect and courtesy, We’ll say right here that Tom McMonigle puts out the best free map to be found at Four Corners.
And we ventured forth down the rainy road . . . met a 13-year-old capitalist. Young Ken Bean raises worms, sells them to fishermen and puts the money away for a college education. He is an orderly, determined captain of industry, who covers his worm bins with straw in the winter . . . and stands guard spring and summer against marauding birds.
He entered the worm business three years ago. Last season he had terrific competition. But he expanded his inventory to include red gold worms imported from Texas and which turn different colors under water, proving irresistible to finny creatures.
Ken has taken in his sister, Barbara, 11, as a partner.
Last spring their mother, Mrs. M. W. Bean, promised them $10 each if they could earn $100 apiece from their worms. She had to pay up. And Ken’s money went into a fund for the time he enters college to become a mathematician or a doctor.
The future Dr. Bean uses two front-yard signs to attract customers. If he is at home, his signs reads: “Honk horn for service.”
But if he is away for any reason, he relies on an honor system . . . and his sign announces: ”Self Service Worms—20 cents a dozen.”
Waiting for the Mail
Our first report on the good bass, crappie and perch fishing to be enjoyed’ at Elbow Lake came from two freckle-faced boys on bicycles. Brothers Pete and Roy Ehrlich, 13 and 11, were waiting for the mailman to arrive at their box on the Bald Hill Road.
“You can get about 18-inch bass out of Elbow,” Pete informed me.
They would have told us more, except that the mailman—a woman—suddenly appeared . . . and they were fast on their way home with the day’s delivery.
We turned off to Elbow Lake on the Piesner Road . . . near two old school buildings no longer in use . . . with broken windows and grass growing out of the roof shingles . . . the grounds haunted with ghostly figures playing hopscotch and kickball.
And we reached the lake by a meandering route and strict adherence to the several signs . . . and we could see fishermen in yellow slickers out on a raft. We were at Elbow Lake Park, a public recreation area provided by the Weyehaeuser Co.
Soon we were sipping coffee at a camp site occupied by two Tacoma families. They were there with tents and badminton equipment and spears for hunting long-legged frogs at night . . . and their own recipe for fun in a leaky outdoors.
The husbands—Don Lemon and Harold Greenwood — had gone fishing, hopeful of repeating their previous day’s success. The wives had the coffee pot on. Several boys were in a car, playing cards.
“There’s a technique to camping in the rain,” Mrs. Lemon confided. “You go to the library and get a stack of books like this’—she moved her hands far apart—”and you wear the latest from Dior, rubber boots, old riding clothes, you know.”
And Mrs. Greenwood chimed in: “Our tent smells like I don’t know what . . . Wet tennis shoes, I guess.”
Hypnotizing Frogs Mike Lemon, 17, explained how frogs are hunted for the legs that many people relish as a delicacy. A strong light is worn on a head band and focused on the frogs … which become hypnotized and are easy targets for long, three-pronged spears.
Despite the steady drizzle, Mrs. Lemon urged Don to set up the badminton net.
It was a magnificent display of the tenacity of the female spirit. We were ashamed for every complaint we had ever voiced about the blankety-blank weather.
We intend to travel up the Bald Hill Road again—under a blazing sun. But we don’t expect to find Moonshine Valley any more peaceful and hauntingly beautiful than it appeared with gem-like raindrops on the green slopes and in the branches of fir and cedar and spruce. Bob Thurston and Mike Johnson are the developers of the valley, nestled between Clear Lake and Deschutes Falls. When the property was a nudist colony a fence blocked the passage of unwelcome visitors
Now there are signs everywhere, pointing the way to Moonshine Valley, newly opened as a conventional resort . . . with a stone swimming pool . . . cabins and tent sites . . . a hall for snacks and dancing . . . and access to fishing in the river.
Thurston calls the Bald Hills country a “last frontier.” He and Johnson are betting on the increased leisure time of the workingman and on Tacomans’ and Seattleites’ great zest for the outdoors.
They have many definite plans and many sketchy dreams.