The sun beat down on us like we were out-of-tune bongos, unaccustomed to the pressure needed to properly function. By 8 a.m. each morning, the heat was so thick that everyone was either already crawling out of their tents or wobbling back from an all-night soundstage. It was too hot for anyone to throw shade, so people did their best to find a hammock in it. Yet somehow, incongruously, all of this was glorious.
Roughly 150 weirdos, queerdos, beardos and heroes, mostly from San Francisco, had descended upon the tiny ghost town of Pulga, somewhere outside of Oroville, in California’s Gold Country. The only gold in this part of the country though was in the form of lamé short shorts. It was a few days before the Fourth of July, and since nobody was feeling particularly patriotic, Pulga was temporarily rechristened “Glitter Ranch” and populated by mostly naked psychedelic disco cowboys and cowgirls. It was too dry for flames, so we were the goddamn fireworks.
At the turn of the 20th century, Pulga was a functioning town. It had a railway stop, a post office and a school, all supporting the rugged folks who’d moved to the region to work in mining and logging. As those industries wilted away, it became a place for family retreats, which then gave way to a place where hippies and beatniks escaped the city to find inspiration. Rumor has it that the Grateful Dead and Janis Joplin used to hang out in Pulga. Eventually, it fell into disrepair.
In 2015, a woman named Betsy Ann bought it and, with the help of some friends, began restoring Pulga to its future glory. Before this, Betsy Ann had been living on a houseboat in Oakland. Her friend Janay split time between an Oakland houseboat and property in Twain, 30 minutes from Pulga. When Janay told Betsy Ann that Pulga was for sale, she jumped at the opportunity to buy it.
Those of us at Glitter Ranch last week were elated that she did. It was hard not to fall in love with the place.
In the day, we escaped the heat by frolicking on oversized floaties in the swimming hole that lazily drifted off the Feather River. At night, we danced under the stars while DJs made the trees tingle with beats and basslines. A train passed right through town numerous times day and night. Art was everywhere, and in the dark, the place lit up like an old west town had married a Burning Man camp and moved to the mountains.
This was made even better by the fact that there was a bar serving mighty cocktails and food catering that was seriously the best campout grub anyone ever had. Other bits of magical ingestibles that found their ways into people’s mouths also probably helped the place feel even more sublime.
Glitter Ranch was Pulga’s coming-out party, a freaky-deaky moon landing of a debut if there ever was one. So it must’ve really weirded out the Union-Pacific Railroad workmen who drove through town each day. Can you imagine that? You’re used to driving through a sleepy ghost town everyday for years to work on the railroad and, suddenly one day, it’s full of godless freaks in glitter, cowboy hats, neon pasties, and not much else.
Unfortunately, Glitter Ranch couldn’t last forever, and we all had to make our way back to the Bay eventually. The good news is Pulga is now open to for public use — and you don’t have to be a midnight raver. You and your friends and family can camp there or rent cabins or even rent the whole town. It’s a good base for hunting and fishing and even a beautiful spot for a wedding. The whole place is run by artists, so they offer residencies for artists, writers and researchers. (There’s an application on their website.)
I’ve been back from Glitter Ranch — ahem — Pulga, or about a week now. I left my mind somewhere out between the creek and the waterfall, but luckily it arrived over the weekend, sent by Sparkle Pony Express. I’m just looking forward when I get to go back.
Stuart Schuffman, aka Broke-Ass Stuart, is a travel writer, TV host and poet. Follow him at BrokeAssStuart.com. Broke-Ass City runs Thursdays in the San Francisco Examiner.