I needed to smell life again. Not the stale stench of grease, cigarettes and weak coffee at the Hamburg Inn, the musty-sour smell of my rumpled sheets, the rotting vegetables in my fridge, or the tang of the moldy shower stall. The long cold winter of 1972 in Iowa City had killed all the smells of life outside, and it was killing me on the inside. Iowa in late winter was a depressingly bleak place for an outdoor-loving, experience-craving nineteen year-old; I couldn’t take it anymore.
So I hit the road—westbound—with $125 in my pocket. In two months I crammed in enough new West Coast sights, smells and experiences to last me four years. And when the urge hit again, I went out west for good, and over a course of seventeen years, I slowly retraced my 1972 footsteps, from Southern California to Eugene. But this time I stayed. Maybe I should have the first time?
One year earlier I had dropped out of high school in Baltimore and hitchhiked west. The plan then (such as there was one) was to heed the siren call of California’s natural and cultural attractions. But a blizzard blew me off I-80 and into the clutches of Iowa City. My family had lived there some years earlier, so it was familiar and the inhabitants were friendly. A series of warm, free basements like this one as well as a shortage of money kept me there.
That fall I had scored a job on a construction crew making a whopping $3 per hour. That ended with the arrival of another cruel winter. Before my precious savings of some $125 ($775 in today’s money) evaporated on such indoor pleasures as can be found in Iowa in winter, I decided it was now or never. With my old Boy Scout backpack and a threadbare sleeping bag on my shoulders, I set off for the promised land. Would it be a one way trip or round-trip?
I had no itinerary, no reservations, no map, no guide book, no credit card, no airplane, train or bus tickets. The internet and cell phones were the realm of science fiction. And the world was a lot larger then. Even trekking in remote Nepal or Africa today, cell phones have changed everything. It’s a small world after all…
Strictly speaking, I did not hitchhike the first leg from Iowa City to Southern California, though I did the rest of the trip. Walking through the UI student union (to warm up) I noticed a Ride Board, where students pinned up notes offering or asking to share rides, mostly to get home for a long weekend or a holiday. I quickly scanned it and found this under “Rider Wanted”: Driving to LA on 3/10, room for one rider. help with gas. That was highly compelling, even if it would cost me some scarce money for gas.
Part 1: Iowa City to Claremont, CA
A few days later a 1968 Datsun 510 four door sedan with California plates stopped in front of my current couch-surfing abode. I threw my pack in the back seat and we drove out to I-80 and headed west. And what was going through my mind, on that gray winter’s day, looking at the frozen fields and bare trees? California Dreamin’
I’d be safe and warm, if I was in LA…Warm, yes. But safe? Who knows what I would encounter there. But such is the thrill of heading off into the unknown. The blind optimism, self-confidence and…sheer stupidity of youth is a heady mix, one that had served me reasonably well so far, but this was the biggest cliff I had ever jumped off. And I had jumped off a few pretty good sized ones before.
The Datsun 510 was only four years old, but was already showing some early signs of age. Its owner was a geology grad student, and it had taken him to many remote sites all over the West as well as suffering through a winter or two in Iowa. The wheel covers were gone, and it was a bit bedraggled and dirty, as was every car in Iowa at that time of year. But it eagerly gobbled up the miles as we headed west, and then south at Des Moines, on I-35.
The drive through southern Iowa and northwest Missouri was unmemorable, being all-too familiar in terms of the geography and endless farms. But once we passed through Kansas City, heading southwest to Wichita, the lay of the land become increasingly more open, with farms further apart, fields bigger, and more open range land.
As we passed Wichita and headed into Oklahoma, the land become increasingly arid and open and hilly. The vast Osage Indian reservation lay to the east. Little did I know then of the almost surreal history of that tribe, which had once been one of the most powerful in the Midwest. They were forced to move west, first to a reservation in Kansas. Continuing incursions from settlers, political difficulties during the Civil War (the Osage were pro-union), and several waves of smallpox made life untenable there. They managed to sell their remaining land to the government for a decent price, which in turn allowed them to purchase a large tract of some 1.5 million acres in Oklahoma. Thanks to a very good attorney, the Osage successfully negotiated for the full mineral rights under it. This would lead to an unprecedented boon as well as murderous exploitation.
Since the land was barely able to support subsistence farming, life was very difficult for the Osage. But then oil was discovered, which turned into a series of gushers in the early 1920s and generated a gusher of money. By the mid-late 1920s the Osage were the wealthiest ethnic group in the world, comparable to the Saudis in later decades.
Beautiful mansions and large houses were built, staffed with white servants (this is the abandoned Tallchief mansion). Others moved to tony neighborhoods in Los Angeles and New York. Not surprisingly, this wealth attracted white swindlers, grifters and even murderers to the reservation, as the “headright” that conferred a partial ownership of the mineral rights could legally be inherited and even sold. Hundreds of white men sought to marry Osage women, often under duress. Others were swindled, tricked, robbed and even killed.
There’s a terrific book about the whole ugly story, Killers of the Flower Moon. Much of this was suppressed for decades, and the Osage Nation still suffers from the lingering effects of the brutal incidents that stripped so many members of their headright and its income. Of course, with the collapse of oil prices during the Depression, the mansions were mostly abandoned, but the Osage Nation still derives much of its income from the oil under its land, which varies depending on the price.
It was getting dark. We pulled into a big truck stop somewhere near Oklahoma City and ate our first hot meal of the day, having brought a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Some may extol American vintage truck stop and diner food, but don’t count me in. At least the smell emanating from the cafe was better than the omnipresent smell of diesel outside.
Somewhere west of Oklahoma City, the driver pulled off at an exit for Hinton, which lay to the south a few miles. We drove through the center of town, and a mile or so south of town, and then suddenly dropped down, into a canyon. That felt odd and surprising, given the flat land we had been traversing. There was an empty campground near a small river, and we spread out our groundcloths and sleeping bags. It was surprisingly calm and mild down there, and as I lay on the fresh spring grass gazing up at the stars overhead, I realized I was smelling the outdoors once again. This was a good start.
I woke up to a dazzling bright sunny day, and found out that we were in Red Rock Canyon. This had been a traditional Native American winter camp, as the canyon was protected from the wind, and game was abundant. During the California Gold Rush it became a major landmark on the California Road, the southern route to that destination. It was a place to repair wagons, let the livestock graze, and rest for the arduous journey ahead.
We packed up and drove back out, and I looked back at the surprising terrain of the canyon. It was so green and lush and mild down there; a tiny preview of things to come.
We drove back into Hinton and stopped at the cafe. As soon as we walked in, I was greeted with a mouthwatering gust of bacon, maple syrup and fresh coffee; it was an accurate predictor that the food here was going to be better than average.
But the visual impact exceeded the olfactory one: my eyes immediately glommed onto a huge mural above the counter that covered the whole wall. It was of a grandiose Western scene: a verdant glade with a babbling brook running through its middle, flanked by a bighorn sheep and an elk on either side, posing regally. Behind them stood a row of majestic mountains, but it was painfully obvious that the painter had never seen a real mountain, as they were all depicted as perfect symmetrical pyramidal cones, each with a pointed snowy peak, in the way a child would draw a mountain. It was moving in its innocence and grand sweep, and it was hard to keep my eyes off it as I ate the hearty breakfast.
Once back on I-40, we settled in for our second day, this time heading due west, towards the Texas panhandle, New Mexico and Arizona.
I’m not going to pretend that the scenery was exactly riveting for much of that day’s trip. And just how did we spend our time? The radio was AM-only, and country/cowboy music was not our thing. We talked some, but not really all that much. We just…sat in silence, watched the world roll by, and were alone with our thoughts, or the lack of them. I had learned to meditate a few months earlier, and now discovered that it was quite possible to meditate with the eyes open too. The long vistas became a slow-moving mantra.
I still drive that way today. Sometimes on a long trip I’m forced to put on my noise cancelling headphones and listen to classic jazz, if my tinnitus is being aggravated by the grating sound of less than smooth pavement. But otherwise I just slip into the zone…drive here now.
As we rolled through New Mexico, we had to drive through several cities and towns that did not yet have a bypass on I-40, thanks to an Anti-Bypassing Law that prohibited the construction of an interstate bypass around a city or town opposed to it. That law was repealed in 1966; in 1972 one still had to drive through several small towns on the eastern section of the state, as well as the cities of Tucumcari, San Jon, Santa Rosa, Moriarty, Grants and Gallup on Route 66.
Gallup was the most memorable; we parked, stretched our legs and I had my first Navajo taco. Situated between the Navajo and Zuni reservations, there were rows of shops selling artifacts, curios, jewelry, splendid Navajo rugs, and other craft items.
The rugs really caught my attention, and almost exactly ten years later, Stephanie and I would be back to this part of the world and come home with two very fine rugs woven by one of the more highly respected weavers.
In Arizona, I-40 was also still far from complete; the last section wasn’t finished until 1984. So we got to see a lot of the local attractions along Route 66, including the Wigwam Motel. Of course back then it wasn’t staged with vintage cars, as are so many other roadside shops and former gas stations along the still-existing segments of 66.
I had no complaints; it was a chance to traverse the hallowed ground that the Corvettes of “Route 66” had made famous. That was my favorite tv show as a kid. The idea of just driving a Corvette around with your buddy, free as a bird, waiting to see what would happen around the next bend of the highway; how great was that? Undoubtedly it had left its imprint on me.
It was getting dark as we headed up into the high country, where Flagstaff was situated at an elevation of almost 7,000′. We pulled into town to get some supper, and it was suddenly winter again, with dirty snow in shady patches. Visions of skiing on real mountains popped into my head. Having grown up on skis in Austria, Iowa was such a flat-land let-down.
It was too cold for sleeping out under the bright stars in Flagstaff, so we rolled on again, and found a place to camp near Ash Fork.
The air was crisp and still quite chilly as we roused ourselves and piled into the Datsun for the home stretch. I-40’s major deviation from Route 66 starts at Seligman, as the freeway now runs on a more southerly and direct route to Kingman.
That has left this orphan section of Route 66 the longest continuous stretch of the old highway. I can reach into my files for pictures, as we traversed it just two years ago on our big loop of the Southwest in our van. It’s a fine stretch of road, following the tracks of the Santa Fe railroad.
Back then, these roadside gas stations and stores were mostly still open and fulfilling their original role, not as the tourist traps that they’ve become. This one in Hackberry now has quite the collection of vintage cars spread out on its grounds (Here’s the full tour). Who could have imagined in 1972 that this and other remaining stretches of Route 66 would become tourist meccas?
From Kingman, the route steadily loses altitude as it heads into the Colorado River valley and the low desert. The temperature rose steadily, even though it was just the beginning of March. This was unexpected, as it couldn’t have been all that hot, in the 80s or so at the most, yet the Datsun’s temperature gauge’s needle was now probing the red zone. Something was obviously amiss.
So we joined the untold thousands of other travelers that had overheated here before. Not coincidentally, the aptly-named town of Needles, on the California side of the river, was extremely well equipped to serve them. There were numerous service stations and garages, all stocked up with radiators, hoses, belts and water pumps. This little industry was a significant source of Needles’ economic base back then. No wonder the town has been dying for decades; cars just don’t overheat anymore.
We pulled into an old garage or service station. I cannot recall now just what exactly was done to cool off the hot little Datsun, but I’m sure it involved replacing something, or several somethings. The smell of anti-freeze wafted out on the shaded veranda thoughtfully provided for the customers, where we sat sipping a cold soda. This was my first taste of the low desert, and it brought home stories I’d heard from friends of crossing the desert at night in the summer, in order to keep the cars from overheating.
This picture is of Carty’s Camp in Needles, one of many such stopping places for travelers going back to the 1920s. During the Depression, Needles became clogged with Dust Bowl migrants heading for California, including the fictional Joads in “The Grapes of Wrath”.
It’s not hard to imagine all the patching and repairing that was done here on those tired old cars and trucks before the long and lonely crossing of California’s Mojave Desert. I see this old touring car has a “desert bag” of water hanging from its “landau bars”.
The cooled-off Datsun was ready to cross the Mojave, which is a medium-to-high desert with elevations ranging between 2,000 and 5,000 feet. The eastern section is in the higher areas, and is vegetated with creosote bushes, yuccas, chollas, and Joshua trees. It was already late spring in the desert, so some of the wild grasses were still green. Distant hills punctuated the wide open spaces, and visibility in the dry air was all the way to the horizon. I fell in love with the vistas, smells and textures, rolling along with my window down at 70 mph on I-40. I would have loved to pull off and explore the Mojave, but that would have to wait, like so many other things. My California To Do list was growing quickly.
But plenty of others were doing just that. As the elevation dropped steadily towards Barstow, and the desert become sparser, sandier and scruffier, I began to notice more and more little Datsun pickups with dirt bikes in their beds, heading back towards LA. Back then the Mojave was pretty much wide open, and it was possible to drive across it with whatever could get you there, and back.
Seeing these off-roaders reminded me of an article I had read in Popular Science as a kid, on Perry Mason author Erle Stanley Gardner’s many off-road vehicles he designed and had built for his explorations in the Mojave. Gardner lived in Temecula, and spent much of his time exploring the deserts of Southern California. He could afford to have a little fleet of off-road trucks with trailers to haul the various two and three-wheeled contraptions. Yes, these were the proto-ATVs.
In Barstow our route turned into I-15, and traffic steadily picked up as we headed through Victorville and towards Cajon Pass, perhaps the most legendary railroad pass, certainly in the Western US. In 1972, EMD F and E units were still heading up Union Pacific streamliners, and Santa Fe freight locomotives in war-bonnet paint came in wide variety. It was and still is a train spotter’s paradise.
My driver’s destination was Claremont, home of the renowned Claremont Colleges and his waiting girlfriend. We turned off 15 and headed directly west on 210, on the north side of the vast San Gabriel Valley, next to the brooding range of mountains with the same name. It was dark, and before us spread out an endless vista of lights, the nighttime landscape of the greater Los Angeles area so familiar to anyone who has flown in at night.
We parked in front of a classic California bungalow court, two rows of cottages facing a shared walkway and a small garden area. I had the window open that night, and relished the mild waft of a breeze scented with night blooming jasmine and other unfamiliar plants. Gray and cold Iowa seemed even more than 1800 miles away.
Next Page: Pasadena to Big Sur
Wonderful story, Paul. You came of age in a great time to be young in America. My dad hitchhiked all over the US as a climbing bum in the 60’s, and I really enjoyed his tales. For those of us who grew up after the Ted Bundy years, hitchhiking was certainly deemed much more dangerous!
I didn’t know about the Osage and the oil boom; I now want to read that book. And the rest of your story makes me long for the West.
Great story for this grey winter morning. That really scratched an itch, it’s been so long since I’ve been out west, or anywhere for that matter.
And I still want to take my Mustang convertible down Hwy 1, I hope you won’t think less of me for it. Such a tourist 🙂
Great tales, Paul. Thanks for sharing.
Excellent story, well written, and great recollections of your experiences back then. Many places I have not been, and you painted a beautiful picture in my mind’s eye of your time there.
I did a lot of hitchhiking in the early ’70s, but I didn’t take notes, so I couldn’t possibly write up my travels now the way you have.
On cursory examination, this appears to be a fabulous travelogue. I have saved it for reading later as right now i have a “rush job” to complete. Thanks, Tom
Once again, a great Sunday morning read courtesy of CC. A well-written story makes you feel like part of it, and this one certainly did the job. I’ve never been out west, but it’s a part of the world I’ve always wanted to visit and one of these years I’m going to fly to California with my wife, rent a car and drive up the coast. Or maybe we’ll just drive out there with a tent in the trunk. Who knows? Definitely a place I want to see.
A magnum opus of memories Paul, well written and delightful in details. It’s caused me to relive my somewhat similar adventure from 1976, but starting in Southern California heading north. Thank you for this masterpiece!
Wow, what an amazing story! Your stories of your youth make me realize how boring and mundane mine was. Stories like this and the articles posted on here are exactly the reason why this is my favorite website. Keep them coming!
A great read that certainly puts together some the pieces you’ve mentioned over time. Having been to just enough of the places you mentioned has certainly helped also.
This was certainly work to get put together; thank you.
Paul, I learned some geography and history. Thanks. I am intrigued by the canyon south of Hinton, OK. I know I-40 there and I would have never imagined that site. Reminds me of Palo Duro Canyon south of Amarillo – you’d never guess it was there from surrounding topography.
That Cheyenne Greyhound station is long gone but the cops like the one you met are still part of the scene.
Yes, it reminded me of Palo Duro Canyon as well, though I think it’s much smaller. Another great place in Oklahoma is the Wichita Mountains area, about an hour south of Red Rock Canyon. In 2019, we took a vacation to that part of the country, but decided on visiting Palo Duro instead – but at some point I’d like to go back and those areas of Oklahoma too.
I was small in 1972 but remember the time and the vibe. Things were so much more open and relaxed. Or they could be, in the right places with the right people. I sometimes wonder whether I would have plugged into that if I had been born 10-15 years earlier. I’m such a straight arrow, conservative, a man who likes to stay home. But I was also shaped by my time. Perhaps the earlier time would have shaped me differently. Thanks for sharing these memories, Paul, they were a pleasure to read this cold afternoon.
Thank you for the paragraphs on the terrible exploitation of the Osage Nation. It relates to a story I read in a book, as a kid, decades ago. Packard’s first dealership in the region saw a young man from the Osage Nation buy a brand new Packard Twin Six, despite the fact he obviously didn’t know how to drive. He drove off , only to return on foot, three hours later. He’d inadvertently driven the car into the ditch and wanted another one just like it.
That story has stuck with me for 47 years, and your story today puts it in perspective. Thank you.
Reading this, I thought of what Wolfman Jack said in “American Graffiti”:
“. . . and the places he talks about, that he’s been. The things he’s seen. It’s a great big beautiful world out there.”
Great story telling so evocative of a time and place is one of many reasons I keep coming back to CC.
I am perhaps 8-10 years younger, but I can remember much of the music, the fashion, the acceptance of new ideas and, of course, the cars of the early ‘70s. However, things had changed pretty dramatically by the time I came of age, and the opportunities and adventures that existed then were not the same as those of the early ‘80s. Still, I enjoyed the glimpse of a path not taken and cannot help but wonder how life would have been different if I too had ended up on the West Coast.
My maternal grandfather loved to drive through Moriarty NM when they drove out (never flew on a plane) from Orlando FL to visit us in San Diego. His name was Moriarty.
A great story! Thanks for sharing. I recognized a lot of the trek up 1 and 101, as we have done that in the RV. I was mesmerized by Sea Ranch when we drove by it, so I was glad to get a little background.
Well I hit Los Angeles a little before you. Moved from Catonsville MD in June 1966 via 5five of us the 1964 Galaxie along the more northern route. Arrived in the San Fernando Valley about 12 days later for our newly built house. Set foot on Santa Monica beach in July. There was a movie studio promotion on the beach which involved two elephants. Don’t recall what the movie was since two beautiful blonds, age 20-22, in James Bond gold mini-bikinis were with the elephants. I looked to the sky and said thank you I am in heaven.
My parents made the drive up US 1 the summer of 1970 as far as Point Lobos only in a dark blue 1970 Olds 98. I had a camera with me now. They then moved to the Bay Area for a new job for my father in the Ferry Building with Port of San Francisco on top. I stayed in San Diego as Iwas in SDSU but on vacations home explored Berkeley and San Francisco by foot in the day and very late at night for the more dicey areas.
I miss those times in the 70s and to maybe the end of the 80s. When I arrived California had 14 million people. Never a crowd when you were out going to any site. Now 40 million people. Consequently I haven’t been wine tasting since 1985, all the way down US 1 since 1998, been in San Francisco much at all after living there 1988-98. Tahoe was pleasant then but too crowded since the late 90s.
You had a picture of the cable car turnaround at 5th & Market where a Woolworth’s used to be. Well Woolworth’s has been long gone as well as Emporium Capwells which was right across the street. Almost the same picture below from 1995.
OK, your cable car
Your cable car view at the end of the video
Your Green Monster. Lots of electric buses as Hetch Hetcky ownership meant electricity was cheap for the City.
My Parents and I kind of did the opposite…we’d moved from the east coast to southern California in 1959…my Dad got a chemistry degree in 1956 and lucked into working on semiconductors at Sylvania for his first job…back then he frequently changed jobs, by 1959 he was working in El Monte California for Hoffman Electronics (probably hardly anyone knows about them now, but he worked on the processing for solar cells, some of which were used on Explorer 6 satellite..he never worked on them since, he wouldn’t have them on roof of his home). His tenure didn’t last long, he interviewed somewhere near San Francisco (he’s gone now, wish I’d asked him where) but it didn’t take, instead he got a job back east near Pittsburgh, PA by 1961. Talk about going against the grain!…many people thought he was crazy…he worked for Westinghouse Semiconductor, who transferred him to Maryland (early 1963) where he worked (for some reason) at the Baltimore Washington airport, while we lived in Catonsville. We lived there about 2 years and he got yet another job up in Essex Junction, Vermont…and the moving wasn’t over…moved to Northern Virginia, back to Vermont, then to central Texas (the moving finally stopped, he passed away 6 years ago after living there 35 years. Despite working for many different companies, he basically did the same thing until he retired, wasn’t romantic about it (once a job was done, he didn’t really talk about it) but really loved his work….he retired for health reasons more than anything….after he retired I’d tease him by finding jobs for him in the paper (tells you something about how long ago he retired).
He actually drove out to California in his ’56 Plymouth, apparently carrying some supplies for his new job (not sure why)……some chemical packed in dry ice. The dry ice ran out in Needles, and he drove to some military base to ask if they might have some…when they found out what he was carrying, they blanched, apparenly it was pretty inflammable without the cooling, and someone came up with enough to get him the rest of the way. He drove rt 66 both ways; our home in Covina was only a few blocks off the route.
His ’63 Rambler was totalled outside the Catonsville Holiday Inn…we’d left our house preparing to move and were staying in the motel, when my Dad was hit by another driver (someone waved him through but apparently someone in the other lane didn’t get the message). Somehow Dad got up to Vermont (we probably stayed with my Grandparents afterwards) and bought a ’65 Olds F85 wagon with the 330 V8 up at Val Preda’s in South Burlington to replace the Rambler wagon (2nd of 2, he also had a ’61 bought out in Compton Ca).
We lived in a rental house in Glendora, then he bought a house in Covina. In 2005 I took my parents back to Southern California on a vacation..my Mother hadn’t been back in 44 years…the current occupant of the house graciously invited my Mother in to look around after seeing us gawking..my Dad and I tried to hang around outside and look as inconspicuous as we could waiting for my Mother. I think they bought the house for about $5000 (in 1960) but that was par for the area back then
I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your epic 70’s adventure! Thanks so much for sharing your journey down the Asphalt Path!. Visual writing style and the pics and related videos were frosting on the cake. I just restored a 1973 Mercedes W114/280C in which I could imagine making such a trip. Good stuff. I love that you have revisited so many of the spots, especially your redwood tree! Very cool.
An epic story of an epic trip. I guess I can boast about making that trip several years before you did. Of course, doing it at age 5 in the back seat behind Mom and Grandma made for a very different experience. 🙂
I love this. very well written and a true snapshot of a time.
Paul: Reading this personal autobiography evoked various stages of longing and mild envy as I considered my relatively “safe/dull/boring/mundane” upbringing. Observing the various pictures of the towns, and reading your accounts and descriptors i.e. “clean cut Mormons, hippies, rednecks, short haired/long haired, etc.”, it occurred to me that such an undertaking for “people of color” would probably not have been as easy or safe. Then, I realize that my experiences would of no doubt be interesting to someone else! I have enjoyed the pleasure of experiencing vicariously your adventures. Thank you for being so open and revealing in a way that I personally could never be! Peace! 🙂
Amazing read Paul – you now have me wanting to road trip out west and up the California coast for the next vacation!
This may be in another CC article, but how did you end up aiming microwave dishes for the TV station? They usually have tower climbers for that (I handle the transmitters on the ground, but I hire climbers to do that work – I’m nervous hanging set lights let alone tower work).
Also just watched “The Hithchiker” last week – being a Perry Mason fan it was a shock to see William Tallman play a psychotic killer, and of course seeing the Mexican police use Nash sedans gave me a chuckle. I assume back then there still was a stigma about hitchikers (Vanity Fare song notwithstanding).
Thanks again for a great CC to go with the morning coffee…
We were a small little non-profit starting a new UHF station. No unions, no money for professionals/contractors. No one else was willing to climb the tower except me. 🙂
Not only did I aim the microwave dishes which were about half-way up the tower, but afterwards I climbed all the way to the top, where the actual tv antenna started. It was a big pole, and had little hand/feet grips sticking out on each side. I started to climb it, but I got the willies. That was far enough…
Wow! I love radio but I’m not sure I could be motivated to climb the tower…especially to the top…and damn sure not touching the antenna unless I’m positive it is off (I love a warm and fuzzy feeling but not from RF exposure).
I’ll bet the view was amazing – was that Mount Wilson you were on top of?
No, it was on Sunset Ridge, near Mt. Baldy. The tower was about 300′, as it was already some 6,000′ feet up. Quite the view!
Yes, the station was not yet broadcasting when I climber up to the antenna. 🙂
Key sentence, which I heartily agree with, “One can only experience a new place for the first time once; it’ll never be quite as fresh and stimulating again.”
What an epic trip! I’m wondering, did you keep a journal, or write down your experiences not too long after you returned to Iowa? Did you take pictures?
I ask because I very much doubt I’d be able to retain so many of the details in my head for so long after the fact.
No notes. No pictures. Just the memories, which have stayed mostly very clear, except for some details.
Many of those places are familiar to me. In 1969 I was 12 and we lived near Philadelphia. One leg of a family vacation involved driving a rented Dodge Polara from Portland to Sunnyvale, CA via Eugene and down 101 and the PCH. We even went to the Haight and Berkeley right after the People’s Park conflict. The scenery was beautiful and the air of danger and possibility was palpable. Of course at 12 y.o. and travelling with my parents I couldn’t experience it to the extent Paul did. But there may have been some lasting impact as I sit here now a pony-tailed, tie-dye wearing musician.:)
Thank you for this! It’s brilliant. That photo looks like North Temple in Salt Lake City, where I was born and where I’m spending my retirement years. Ah, the Sixties and early Seventies, when depending on the kindness of strangers was a lot less perilous than it is now. I spent my growing-up years in Covina, which isn’t very far from Pasadena, and I lived in Eugene for about a year and a half in the mid-Seventies (i.e., the Animal House years). I did manage to spend a few days in San Francisco right in the middle of the fabled “Summer of Love”. I had one of those “only then, only there” experiences when I randomly struck up a conversation with a guy who turned out to have been born on the same day I was. I worked at Iowa State for more than thirty years, so I’ve had more than my share of Iowa in the winter. Boy, do I understand the urge to be someplace warmer come February (or March, or April, some years). So much of your story mirrors experiences I had back then. Don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a reading experience more. Thanks again!
Just terrific. The sense of adventure is so palpable and a great antidote to quarantine fatigue. And now I want brownies, but actual brownies with nothing else in them.
Wow, what a fantastic read Paul. Very well written and thank you.
What to say? When’s the book going to be published?
With all that has been happening, I was late reading this. It brought back a lot of memories; 25 states, 6 provinces and about 25,000 miles but not California Hitchhiking set the stage for a rather unconventional life. Thank you for what is the most pleasant read of the week.
Wow, not sure how I missed this first time around! Thanks for re-running it, definitely a “Best of”. I was only 15 and young for my age in 1972, and spent the summer discovering parts of the opposite coast, in the DC area. Things really were different regionally in the US in those days. DC was nothing like San Francisco where I was in high school at the time, and rural Virginia felt like another country in another era, at least compared to my limited experiences as a kid on family trips in the agricultural parts of the greater Bay Area.
I (too) have no idea how I missed this back in January 2021. It was a delightful read this morning, me being Paul’s age but having chosen a far less adventurous life–with only enough early 1970s hitchhiking to have a few memories. Fun to think of your early-1970s western encounters are part of others’ memories as well…
Fraternity Life (Eugene): I hadn’t thought about it, but perhaps early 1970s was a low point in membership and campus presence overall.
I tip my hat to you again, Paul, for your adventuresome and entrepreneurial ways! (Warmest holiday wishes to you and everyone at CC.)
Nowadays, there are lots of scanned campus newspapers and yearbooks online, really helping provide a sense of it all–including realizing how much that $20 you lost could have purchased back then (ouch!).
I could read this once & year…..
The whole, fantastic adventure reminds me of a book I read in high school:
…the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957)
Thanks for sharing this detailed and entertaining account. Trying to recreate past memories has been much easier since the internet can provide so much supporting material. The old saying that youth is wasted on the young is not always true, sometimes we do and see and experience some unforgettable events in our youth.
Growing up in Northern California, even in the heart of the East Bay urban area, I discovered the beauty of California once I got my drivers license and a motorcycle. I took many trips around the state and later even around the country. A few years back I reconstructed these trips and wrote up accounts so that I couls share them with my kids.
Excellent read, such an undertaking would have not occurred to me post high school, I was more the good boy doing what was expected and that was college. Boring. I did finally make it to LA though on holiday over 20 years ago. Still here.
Rather poignant as well, after hearing the news of the passing of Joan Didion, who’s masterful CA prose were rooted in this period.
And that there was peak Michele Phillips in the video. Former husband John once described her as the quintessential California Girl. Indeed.
No wonder people picked you up, Paul. You looked like Jim Morrison.
Some people have a gifted way with words and you, Paul are one of the better ones .
I traveled down the Pacific Coast during the Summer of 1969, from Canada to Mexico, spent two weeks in the S.F. Bay area, sleeping at night in the hills of Berkley .
So much walking and things to see, interesting people to meet, the images you post bring back serious memories .
In January 1972 I hopped in my battered 1960 VW Beetle with my then best friend and we drove to S.F. / Berkley for a week, fun times for sure .
*VERY* different times then than now, I too used to hitch hike everywhere until I got my VW, some really weird folks out there .
California is still fun and nice but BE CAREFUL if you visit , maybe focus on the remote areas these days .