Situated on the highest point on seventeen acres of alpine meadow is the Paca Pride Guest Ranch cabin. Yards away, alpacas graze on tufts of green grass. Chickens scurry through the garden. Campers set up tents on covered platforms. Clouds hover over pine and hemlock trees that surround the property on Green Mountain. On a clear day, Mt. Pilchuck is the backdrop to this Robe Valley scene. Sunshine or not, I’m here to experience the only farm stay along the Mountain Loop Highway and its permaculture philosophy.
As I walk up to the Lincoln Log House, chickens cluck and alpacas almost hum. Tall, flowering yellow mustard and oregano plants flourish in garden beds. Next to the cabin are bathrooms, a yurt, and a grassy field for tents. As I turn around, the farmscape spreads out before me. Alpacas move around a small barn. Beyond that is fenced grazing ground and a larger yurt. Closer to the cabin are two covered tent platforms with a communal eating area and fire pit. It’s clear this isn’t a manicured hotel landscape; it’s a working farm that’s reinvented the camping experience.
David Capocci, the proprietor, heartily greets me and shows me to the inside guest room with a queen-sized Tempurpedic bed covered with plush comforters and my own private bathroom. After I’m settled, David leads me out onto the porch and talks about the farm. He says, “It’s all about factoring the humans out and putting Mother Nature back in.” The clovers growing in pots on the deck will go out to the pasture. The alpacas mow the pasture to maintain its alpine state. Alpaca poop and hay create new soil. Chickens provide eggs. Alpacas, and one llama, provide fiber for clothing, and each year David knits “Name Series” hats.
As he talks his entire face lights up and I find his enthusiasm catching. “When are the farm tours?” I ask. David tells me more campers are arriving and he’ll arrange a farm and walking tour of the property the next morning.
That night, campers cook their dinners in the outside kitchen. For camping, it’s quite a set up with a sink that has hot and cold water, ample counter space, a four burner gas stove, a gas grill, tables and chairs. After seeing how easy it is to cook your own meal on-site, a twinge of guilt passes over me as I drive to Granite Falls, about a ten minutes away, for dinner. When I return I soak up the warmth at the fire pit with other campers. Talk drifts from education to traveling; something everyone here enjoys. Later, I ask why they chose Paca Pride. Some wanted to experience a farm stay. Others were familiar with the concept and preferred a more intimate setting. As the sky darkens, I head to my room, slip under the warm covers and quickly fall asleep.
The next morning, several of us help David with farm chores. We learn that alpacas create their own latrine area and their poop helps create soil. We rake up last night’s hay and poop and put it in “Muck Alley,” where new soil is created. Fresh hay goes into hay bins and barley sprouts in feed bins. David moves the chicken tractor, which is a small enclosed hut that houses the baby chicks and turkeys on the meadow. He pulls it into a new spot, lays down a fresh hay and new feed. Then, it’s time to move the herd to the back yard for grazing. David locks the fence along the road into place and using the words “paca, paca” calls the herd. He opens the gate and they wander all around us. Then we steer them past the garden beds to the back yard by holding our hands out on either side of our body and say “hup up, hup up.” Seconds later, they are secure. Our final task is gathering eggs, and the children collect ten eggs that morning.
On the walking tour we hike along one of the old wagon wheel roads used during the gold rush in the 1890’s. We are shown blueberry bushes, a towering big leaf maple, conks, and learn that a local policeman spotted Sasquatch on the road not far from Paca Pride. At the end of the property, we walk up another pasture toward the large yurt and back up to the barn. By the end of my stay my head swirls with new terminology like, winter sacrifice paddocks, carbon sequesters and fodder. I can’t help but admire David, who single-handedly runs the farms operations, and impressed that permaculture makes this possible.
Before I pack up my bag, I gaze out over the fields and watch the alpacas. Some of them watch me back.