Twin Peaks location hunting in the Pacific Northwest
It’s a late January morning and low grey clouds hang heavily over the Washington state coastline. Waves lap against the gritty shore, and a cold breeze blows in off Puget Sound carrying birdsong and the scent of seaweed. My patient Seattleite friend Jennifer follows behind as we pass beneath Douglas fir trees. I spy my goal and break into a run. There it is. The exact scene: the house, the trees, the huge log lying on the foreshore. Almost exactly as it appeared 26 years ago on millions of television screens. I am in Twin Peaks, although the map says Bainbridge Island.
I immediately search for the spot where David Lynch’s camera once stood as he shot the opening minutes of his celebrated series’ first episode. I find it, frame it and edge into the scene. Genial fisherman Pete Martell discovers the body of the femme fatale and homecoming queen Laura Palmer and alerts the local sheriff: “She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic.”
In the company of non-obsessives, a liminal experience such as this can only be rendered as quiet, embarrassing contemplation, perhaps accompanied by a feeble “wow” or an irredeemably pathetic re-enactment. Without ever rolling her eyes, Jennifer watches all of these things take place in quick succession: my brief impersonation of Palmer’s body by the log, my loud disbelief at discovering a weathered plaque that notes the log’s role in television history, with all the serious-fonted solemnity of a geographic boundary, and my marvelling at the exterior of the nearby Kiana Lodge, which appeared as the home of Pete and Catherine Martell.
Awestruck, I barely notice a woman ambling up to me carrying what looks like a canvas bag of grass clippings at her hip and a belt laden with tools.
“You wanna look inside?”
I catch my breath. “Really? I… we can go inside?”
“Sure. No one’s in at the moment.”
The groundskeeper pulls out a cacophony of keys and opens the front glass door. I’m too excited to ask her name. “We do a lot of functions here,” she says, walking inside, “but it’s kind of quiet this time of year.”
I follow her, my eyes widening and jaw slackening. It’s as if Lynch called “cut” yesterday.
The wood of the room turns the light golden. Everywhere I look offers a familiar location. Kiana Lodge provided the lobby of the Great Northern Hotel, the office of nefarious town mogul Benjamin Horne, the Horne family dining room. Through an open door, I can peek into the Martells’ kitchen. Native American mosaics still cover an interior wall, the stone fireplace and looming deer head trophies appear exactly as they were on April 8, 1990, when the pilot episode first aired.
Since then, fans have steadily trickled into the Pacific Northwest to visit and meticulously document filming locations. Websites have sprung up with maps, perfectly framed “then and now” comparison pictures and suggestions of “Peaksy” places to stay and eat. The announcement of a third series to screen mid-2017, 26 years after the end of the second, has triggered a new surge in Twin Peaks-related travel.
Long neglected as a travel destination, the region is now embracing its role in popular culture. It’s a transition taken by tourism departments the world over. Television series such as Call the Midwife and Downton Abbey and the Harry Potter film adaptations have revitalised tourism in parts of regional England that would once have had little truck with celebrity. Since Peter Jackson released his first Tolkien film adaptation in 2001, tourist arrivals in New Zealand have increased by 50 per cent. Similarly, Northern Ireland and Croatia have had their tourism industries given a boost by providing settings for the TV series Game of Thrones.
Every July, several hundred “Peaks Freaks” meet in the town that stood in for Twin Peaks itself –North Bend, Washington – for the Twin Peaks Festival. This year, a few hundred kilometres south, Brownsville, Oregon will simultaneously celebrate its role as Castle Rock, the town of Rob Reiner’s iconic coming-of-age film Stand By Me. Follow a B-road north-west through forested hills and you arrive in the town of Vernonia, still profiting from having provided the setting for the Twilight adaptations.
While UNESCO protection means Venice looks almost exactly as it appears in the classic 1970s films Don’t Look Now and Death in Venice, a charitable trust keeps the Welsh town of Portmeirion instantly recognisable as the setting of the 1960s science fiction series The Prisoner. North Bend, Brownsville and Vernonia are preserved by very different means: economic recession. Once thriving logging communities, the towns are now reliant on attracting businesses and, with cheap real estate, commuters priced out of Seattle and Portland.
Visiting these towns is a strange experience for a fan. Trivial obsession is rewarded with a feeling somewhere between deja vu and lucid dreaming. As a location, a real place becomes a series of stylised, truncated memories. Locations used by Twin Peaks’ creators, the populist-surrealist Lynch and theosophy enthusiast Mark Frost, are especially unsettling. Places still look like, but not quite exactly like, those from the series’ dreamlike soap-opera narrative. In Kiana Lodge, established as a retreat for Seattle’s aristocracy in the 1920s, there is money to be made in keeping things as they were.
Conscious of the groundskeeper’s generosity and thinking that I can’t be the first slack-jawed foreigner she’s seen here, I awkwardly offer a tip that she laughingly waves away. Jennifer and I leave, drive an hour inland, through Seattle, then along a highway bounded by forested hills, past fields with rusting cars and farm machinery, to another place that has seen no reason to modernise: Twede’s Cafe, better known to Twin Peaks fans as the Double R Diner.
After taking each other’s photo by the Twin Peaks mural on the diner’s outside wall, we ease into a leather-lined booth. I grab a menu but there is really no question of what we’re having.
As a waitress asks for our order, I struggle not to interrupt.
“Two black coffees and two slices of cherry pie, please.”
She blinks, nods and walks away. Her knee-length uniform, apron, glass pitcher of coffee and easy conversation with the locals perfectly evokes the series’ clean-cut ’50s/’80s stylings. The cafe’s owner, Kyle Twede, had once focused on catering to locals and saw the show’s fandom as a bonus, but times have changed. When Lynch arrived in 2014 to set up shooting the new series, Twede wanted to be sure the cafe would subsequently retain whatever styling it was given for the screen, with genuine renovations. “Whatever you do, do it permanently. Don’t just ‘Hollywood’ it,” he told the obliging director.
We leave fortified for the short drive from the cafe to the series’ most iconic location, Snoqualmie Falls.
Every year about 1.5 million people visit to take pictures of the tumbling waters and the Salish Lodge – aka the Great Northern Hotel exterior – at its crest. The 82-metre waterfall was one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions long before it became familiar to millions more when it featured in the series’ glacially paced opening credit sequence.
Disappointingly, the interior of the lodge is a functional luxury hotel with a complete absence of deer antler chandeliers, Native American artwork or wood-panelled walls hiding secret passageways and spy-holes. After decades preferring to ignore its role in the series, the Salish Lodge now offers a “Great Northern Escape”, a grab bag of themed gifts and a cocktail.
But a little way from the tourist buses and wheelchair-accessible trail to the viewing platform is a spot where a fan can become the camera with a squaring of the fingers. A nearby B-road brings a final familiar site: a winding drive, a forested hill and distant mountains, only missing the sign that proclaims, “Welcome to Twin Peaks, Population 51201.” Finishing, as seems appropriate after Lynch’s penchant for dreamlike narrative and the odd character speaking backwards, at the beginning.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 25, 2016 as "Rapt in plastic". Subscribe here.