Saturday, July 05, 2008

Little Africa


I was ten, and excited to be on my first camping trip. As the bus of girl scouts groaned up the 405, I wondered what it would be like. The campsite was called Little Africa. I wondered why. Would there be a jungle? Zebras? Elephants?
Little Weedlot in the Middle of Nowhere would have been a better name. Gravel as white as moon rocks. Clumps of blonde grass... ...few wimpy oaks. This was no jungle. This wasn't even the woods.
It did have a stream. This excited us. Then we saw the duck. It was dead, slumped on the rocks as current flowed around it. Nothing like a dead bird to keep you out of the water.
On the last day I found the cage. It was the size of a garage, rising from the weeds like it grew there. Steel bars as thick as a broom stick grew from the cement base. It creeped me. A dilapidated trailer stood nearby. One girl claimed it had belonged to a former owner. She'd kept tigers in the cage, but they escaped, clawed into the trailer, and killed her. Was it true? I thought, Even if it wasn't true, why was there a cage? Who or what had lived in it?
It spooked me. The thought of it chilled the skin on my back. The chill followed me home.



Note: The park still exists, under a different name. There's very little online info about it, except brief (and favorable) campground ratings. I used a Google Earth photo to get the the tones for the background of the second image. I don't know if the cage is still there.
I never found out what it was for.

11 comments:

walterworld said...

What a disappointment that trip must have been! And the dead duck adds a sad touch (not to mention the mysterious cage and scary story)...Bet you were glad to get back home to your own room!!!

Sally said...

ooh, summer camp stories are often unpleasant, but this one is so scary grim. Makes you glad you're an adult!

Namowal said...

Hi Walterworld,
I sure was glad to get the heck out of there. A Motel Six would have been a better destination- no cages, a safe pool to swim in, and a coffee shop nearby.
Hi Sally,
Yep,I'm glad I'm adult. It's spooky to be a kid when you run into something weird and don't know the full story.

stray g said...

Lovely illustrations: looks like handmade paper sort of.

Namowal said...

Thanks, Stray g.
I got that look using a photo of a sloppy brick wall as the paper texture. If you look closely at the tiger's stripes, you can see it.

billsey said...

I love love love these illustrations. The dead duck is so sad and beautiful. Yes, they feel like delicate collages made out of colored tissue paper. So beautiful - and even with the flatness of this, there is a lot of depth and lighting in them. Very, very good job! And as always, your stories/experiences are really entertaining and moving.

Namowal said...

Thanks, Billsey.
What a nice thing to say!:)
Before this week I never would have thought that creepy camping trip would lead to anything that got such great feedback. Thanks again.
p.s. don't work too hard.

0d93c2dc-0992-11e6-a723-57b058107cbb said...

It's years from your initial post but I just came across it and didn't know if you'd ever learned the history of the place. We used to camp there on occasional weekends when I was a little girl, and my parents got to know the people who ran it. It had originally been the setting for filming some of the old Tarzan movies, and when we first started going, you could still see the remnants of Tarzan's treehouse. Later, it was used as the set for filming the 1960's series Daktari, which apparently was a show about father/daughter veterinarians running an animal wildlife care center in Africa. The moldering animal cages you saw were left over props, abandoned when the series closed. Nothing creepy like owners getting killed by tigers! However, in the hills nearby at one time there was some kind of private animal rescue, because in the 80s we would sometimes hear distant lion roars, which was pretty exciting for a couple of little girls!

Unknown said...

We camped there when I was a kid. It was called Little Africa and we would make friends with many of the families that would come from all over the country to camp there. It was lush, vibrant and had a beach where we would spend most of our time. At night we'd have campfires and play games until bedtime. The Lions that could be heard roaring in the distance were from Tippi Hedren's animal reserve which was very near by. Sorry to hear the place has faded away. I will always remember it the way it was in the 1970's.

Robert Beltran said...

We camped there when I was a kid. It was called Little Africa and we would make friends with many of the families that would come from all over the country to camp there. It was lush, vibrant and had a beach where we would spend most of our time. At night we'd have campfires and play games until bedtime. The Lions that could be heard roaring in the distance were from Tippi Hedren's animal reserve which was very near by. Sorry to hear the place has faded away. I will always remember it the way it was in the 1970's.

Namowal (Jennifer Bourne) said...

Wow, thanks for the info. I'd figured the tiger-eating-its-keeper tale was probably kid-lore, but it's nice to finally know what was up with the big cages.

I was looking at today's fire map and it looks like the campsite (well, its current incarnation under a different name) is in the red area. Okay, I wasn't thrilled about it as a kid, but I'd hate to have it burn.