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Planning big parties out in the boondocks.

Planning big parties out in the boondocks

Most of us sample the wild in small groups, leaving larger-scale sorties to organizations with professional expertise. The thought of staging a major event in one of those places referred to as "the great outdoors' or, less kindly, "the middle of nowhere' might lead a lot of people to ask: what's wrong with a back yard or a rented hall?

Nothing, really. But an atmosphere of outdoor adventure can turn a special occasion into an extraordinary one.

Some such occasions we've looked in on include a 100-person crab feed on an island in San Francisco Bay, a traditional Thanksgiving feast for two large families in Death Valley, a family reunion of 25 relatives 9,000 feet up in the Sierra Nevada, and an 80-guest wedding at a mountain hot springs. Each was a rip-roaring success.

There's no denying such gatherings require lots of advance planning and some extra work. But the results can live on for years in scrapbooks and memories.

When making plans for tatherings at a park or recreation area, call ahead about camping and picnicking arrangements. Reservations or permits may be required for group facilities.

Crab party on San Francisco Bay

It's now tradition with the Robert Trefry family of Sunnyvale, California, to invite a big gang to celebrate Dungeness crab season (November 13 through June 30) at Angel Island State Park in San Francisco Bay. Guests come to the park on regularly scheduled ferries departing from San Francisco and Tiburon. The Trefrys use their own boat to bring supplies ahead.

"It's not much work,' says Mr. Trefry. "Other than purchasing supplies, the only advance preparation is making the lemonbutter mayonnaise and popping corn. We buy cooked crabs whole and uncleaned. We used to clean them all at home--a lot of work--but now we bring them to Angel Island and everyone cleans his own.'

Thanksgiving in Death Valley

The Pulskamp and Bellue families of Bakersfield, California, decided to combine their considerable forces (they have 17 children between them) for an outdoor Thanksgiving. The site they selected was a 5-hour drive away: Death Valley National Monument.

Cooking began two days ahead. Dishes like oyster-stuffed cherry tomatoes and ginger-topped ceviche were festive, yet designed to be packed in ice--300 pounds of it--and driven across the desert.

Some traditional dishes were cooked in untraditional ways. The 36-pound turkey was skewered on a homemade spit of steel pipe, then roasted over a campfire.

Labor was divided as much as possible: the children, for example, were responsible for most of the desserts.

Both families learned a few lessons about transporting a large meal and a large group 300 miles. Advises Nacy Bellue, "Before the caravan takes off, drivers should communicate regarding signals for rest stops, speed limits, and the final destination.' Unpacking posed some problems. "People were asking "Where's my ladle?', "Who has the cups?' Color-coded dots on the boxes would have been handy.'

Her final hint is for groups with lots of younger children: "Meditate a moment on food service and the lineup of eager picnickers, and arrange your tables accordingly. Set up a table of easily created appetizers for kids to attack, as they do, like dive bombers. Then grownups can relax without worrying about the now-you-see-it, now-you-don't problem of a single table of appetizers.'

Family reunion in the Sierra

If you had been standing beside a certain trail in the Sierra Nevada in August 1983, you'd have been passed by a group of backpackers--some grandparents and some babes in arms--stirring dust on their way uphill. You might have thought they constituted a hiking club on its monthly outing, except that many of them shared a strong family resemblance.

The Dupre family, 25 strong, had been scattered across America by jobs and marriages. They had tried to defeat these distances by holding family reunions, usually at someone's house. But this year they were reuniting far from anyone's living room. "We wanted to get together in a space that didn't belong to any one person. We wanted relationships to have a chance to go beyond the old roles that come with the old territories.'

In June, four family members scouted likely Sierra trails, keeping in mind age ranges and hiking abilities (there would be one expectant mother and two babies), then obtaining the necessary permits when the site was selected. Someone else rented equipment for those who lacked it: tents, sleeping bags, stoves, and a van large enough to transport it all. Participants were sent a list of recommended clothing and gear.

A menu was planned, and reunioners were asked for insulated jugs, containers, and coolers to transport and store its components. Near-camp sources were found for firewood and ice.

The family converged in one member's Bay Area home on a Friday evening, where they spent the night. Saturday morning, an advance party drove to the trailhead and hiked up the trail to prepare camp: four lakeshore sites. The rest of the reunion group hiked up on Sunday, to begin four days of high-country outdoor pleasure.

Mishaps? No more than you'd get at an ordinary family reunion: one sprained ankle, one set of car keys locked in a trunk.

Wedding in the wilderness

The invitation began: "Please join us and our families and friends in the celebration of our marriage . . .' But its last line was "Mono Hot Springs, California.' An appended note explained, "Mono Hot Springs is not convenient to anything. We suggest that you make a three- or four-day vacation out of it.'

Wanting to hold their wedding someplace unique, Julie Ferderber and Jim Thomas began scouting possible locations in March. They chose Mono Hot Springs at the 6,560-foot elevation in Sierra National Forest, northeast of Fresno. A September date was set because this part of the Sierra is usually uncrowded, sunny, and warm in early autumn; still, there was the chance a thunderstorm might interrupt the vows.

Guests were sent a "Mono Hot Springs Wedding Guide,' which included maps, weather and recreation information, and an equipment check list.

To encourage guests to arrive the night before the ceremony, an opening barbecue was planned. (Like all other meals during the three-day event, it was catered by the resort.) Some guests were to camp outside, while others were to stay in cabins. "That was shaky,' admits Jim Thomas. "We didn't want to confirm the cabins without knowing how many people would show up, but we had to.'

Would guests back out at the last minute? That worry proved groundless. On Saturday, 65 adults and 15 children watched the couple exchange wedding vows under a cobalt blue Sierra sky.

Photo: Six-car Thanksgiving caravan winds its way to Death Valley for big spit-roasted turkey dinner (right) shared by two Bakersfield families. Overnight tent camping puts off the long drive home

Photo: Crab fans wave claws at Angel Island State Park party. Host's boat brought cooked crabs, bibs, bread, and wine to island; guests came on regular ferry

Photo: Bride wore white, trees wore green at forest wedding. Guests enjoyed the cake as well as the hiking
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1984
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