Arts & Culture Blog
More Photographs from the Remote Retreat of Priest Valley Tavern
November 17, 2012
Highway 198, which connects Highway 101 at San Lucas (17 miles south of King City) to I-5 and beyond, is not a designated Scenic Highway, but it should be. The two-lane road drifts through a remote and rugged eastern part of the county that shares some of the terrestrial character of the Pinnacles to its north, but spread wide over peaceful, rolling hills alternating with hospitable, abundant trees and dramatic mountains and valleys.
Weeks after driving across its 52 miles from Coalinga to Highway 101 returning from a trip to Pasadena, my girlfriend Enid Baxter Blader and I returned to the gorgeous stretch of highway to visit a lone tavern, and the special family that runs it and lives there, tucked deep within the big, secluded countryside. Read the 831 story here. Photographs by Enid Baxter Blader.
Heading east on Highway 198, also designated John McVeigh Jr. Memorial Highway, from Highway 101. The two-lane road is carved into an inspiring landscape of big skies and big geography, which is suggested only a few miles in.
Valleys are interspersed with mountain ranges. One sign stated the elevation to be 2,500 feet.
Highway 198 is on the right. Priest Valley Tavern is the only place to get food and drinks along the 50-mile stretch between Highway 101 and Coalinga. Many tourists on their way to Sequoia National Forest, and motorcyclists in the know, stop by to rest and bask in the quiet.
Two horses and a mule corraled in on one side of the tavern.
The entrance of the tavern, towered by old trees. The kitchen is situated behind the right window.
Mike Peterson, who owns the tavern with his wife Lillie, watches precocious 2-year-old Raquel Lillie Lyn, granddaughter of Lillie whom the two have adopted outside of the entrance to the tavern. Across a walkway and lawn is the dance hall "barn" next door.
The dance hall has been host to dances and private parties (that don't demand a lot of amenities) for a long time. People used to ride up on horseback and hitch their horses outside.
Inside the dance hall. In the orange shirt is Carlos, Lillie's 33-year-old son who is mentally challenged and lives at Priest Valley Tavern with his family. He enjoyed the attention of visitors and getting his picture taken. In the background, the bar and stage for live music and karaoke.
Lillie, second from left, joined her son Carlos, husband Mike and granddaughter Raquel Lillie Lyn for this photo inside the sparse dance hall.
Lillie and Raquel inside the tavern at one of the dining tables; the kitchen in the background is bathed in white light. Mike's new Harley (which he sold his truck for) is parked. The flaming orange and black sign on the wall behind Lillie reads "Carlos" and designates his favorite place to sit.
The interior of the tavern facing the entrance shows a homey hodgepodge of furniture, fridge, non-perishable foods on shelves while the couple is tiling the kitchen floor, the glowing neon sign lighting the window to the right, and the counter cluttered with sundries.
At the counter, Mike leafs through the guest book, which is signed by people from Salinas, Seaside, Fresno, Sacramento, Idaho, Sweden, France, the Netherlands.
A photograph of the tavern from 1953, which was identified by a local who recognized the car in the picture.
Lillie and Mike in the kitchen. The couple, who've been married nine years, have a familiar and friendly manner and bought the tavern three years ago because Lillie says she had a premonition from God to do so.