During the summer of 1977, after resigning from the Prudential Insurance Company in April, I had continued to lead two irreconcilable lives until August 12, 1977 when I left my "happy home" in the Fern Rock section of Philadelphia with "the aim to clear my mind out". I had no particular traveling goal in mind but simply wanted to "hit the rowdy road" as in a Cat Stevens song called The Road to Find Out. While I didn't have a definite goal for the trip, I did have a general design to drive quite directly to my old military base in Oklahoma and to then use it as a starting point for meandering my way through the interesting geology of the Texas Panhandle, visiting the Four Corners area of the Southwest to try and get some understanding of the lives of the Navajo people, returning with backpacking gear to the canyon country of Utah and Arizona that I had passed through too quickly on an earlier RV trip, and then to cross Death Valley from Las Vegas and follow the east face of the Sierras north to Mt. Shasta before continuing to the Pacific Coast highway. From there I had in mind to travel south to John Steinbeck land to see how the Salinas Valley was doing since the days of East of Eden, Cannery Row, and Grapes of Wrath.
Quick escape from my two ruined relationships was my immediate goal as I traveled out of Philadelphia to Harrisburg on the Pennsylvania Turnpike and then headed south on I-81 to the Great Smokey National Park in eastern Tennessee. The healing power of the road began here as I sat on a log eating a bag of potato chips and cursing my lot while a black bear approached me silently from the rear. He was within an arm's distance of me before I sensed his presence and gave him the remainder of my potato chips so that he was occupied enough to allow me to make good my escape. After short explorations of Knoxville and Chattanooga, I moved on to Nashville for a visit to the Grand Ole Opry.
By August 16, I had arrived in Memphis and rode down Elvis Presley Boulevard past the closed gates of Graceland on almost the hour of his death. When I crossed the Mississippi River and checked into a campground near Fort Smith, AR that evening I was shocked to be informed of the momentous event. Next day I continued along busy I-40 through Oklahoma City and into the Texas Panhandle for overnight camping in the Palo Duro Canyon State Park near Amarillo. I very much regret having to leave this beautiful park after only one day, but I had acquired the company of two German hitch hikers in Oklahoma and their interest was in moving further west to Santa Fe rather than in exploring the canyon trails of Palo Duro.
In the afternoon of our arrival in Santa Fe I climbed up into the mountains and met a young man who was vigorously in pursuit of mushrooms called Amanita Muscaria. He had eaten two or three and was placing others in a basket for later consumption. When I returned from the mountain and rejoined my German traveling companions, they were distraught at hearing of this because they were sure that the mushrooms were deadly poisonous. We spent much of the evening trying to find and save the mushroom hunter from what my friends were sure would be a certain death. I was somewhat alarmed myself because, under the young man's persuasion, I had eaten one of the mushrooms myself but was not yet feeling any unpleasant result and was too embarrassed to confess my misdeed to the alarmed Germans. After visiting two hospitals and reporting the incident to the medical authorities, we returned to our campsite in the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Mountains just east of Santa Fe. I recognized that my German friends were pursuing a faster pace than I was so I returned them to the highway next morning, but I was entranced by the city of Santa Fe, the river that flowed through it, and especially the magnificent mountains.
On my way back from dropping off the Germans, I picked up another hitch hiker who was in possession of what he claimed to be the purest possible LSD and that he could guarantee me was free of any unpleasant side effects. I had long been curious about the drug, but previous circumstances had caused me to worry about side effects. My curiosity had been piqued by a William James book when he had written of the drug's capability of revealing a consciousness quite different from our normal delusion of rational consciousness. Now under the combination of this person's persuasiveness and the laboratory-like isolation of the campground, I felt like I could make a sort of scientific examination of the characteristics of the drug. I licked a drop of LSD as a sort of dessert after dinner and sat on my picnic table to make careful observations of its effects upon me.
For my generation sickened by the brutal war in Vietnam and fired up by some of the most exciting eruptions that popular culture had known, a molecule called lysergic acid diethylamide isolated from grain fungus by Albert Hoffman in 1938 and marketed in 1947 as a psychiatric drug—became the fuel for a revolution.
I quickly confirmed observations of earlier experimenters and realized how hard that it was for them to convey the nature of the experience in a way that others could understand. In very little time the sunset became the most amazing that I had ever watched. The light fractured into prismatic patterns and when I turned to examine the shape of my car it had more or less liquefied and taken on the consistency of melted wax. I opened and shut the door to be attentive to how hinges would work upon such a distorted form and satisfied myself with the validity of those observations seeing how the metal clearances worked to prevent any binding of any sort. What is different is that the whole framework of thinking about and feeling the world has changed in a truly profound way and you are fully aware that a threshold has been crossed that will have an ironic effect upon all future experiences.
After perhaps an hour of marveling at the shapes and brilliant colors of things. I grew confident enough of my sensibilities to drive my much misshapen car slowly up the road to where I had earlier met some women so that I could try and articulate my experiences to them and to use them as some sort of reference to the real appearance of things. From then on I was on an eight-hour mental joyride. I felt like a grain of sand in a beach—both insignificant and essential in my own small way. I thought, “I can’t wait to do this again!”
Overnight, the temperature dropped below freezing in the mountains and as the morning light rose I was sitting next to a small stream pouring into a very small pond. Sunbeams were visible in the vapor rising from the melting snow. I felt like I could see the photons of light communicating with the snow's ice crystals, telling them to wake up. Ice heard the call. Yawning, it became water and then rose as vapor mist. The vapor mist then created the orderly scaffolding for the sun's rays to create images for my eyes. In awe of this vision, I threw a bread crumb into the small pond. Suddenly, a tiny fish appeared from nowhere, nipped at the crumb and before long there were many fish nipping at the bread. How did the bread send the information of its presence? And how did the fish communicate to each other not to collide in there nipping at the bread? What a spectacle of nature buzzing with myriads of energy and information exchange.
It has occurred to me that the so-called hallucinations commonly associated with psychedelic ingestion are in fact diversionary tactics on the part of our ultraconservative human DNA, whose primary objective is always preservation of the species. From the DNA perspective, every man is but an ambulatory seed factory, and every woman a walking egg carton. When subjected to LSD, there is a portion of our brain that failing to scare us into a "bad trip", will then roll out amazing fractal 3-D cartoons, hoping that by sufficiently entertaining us, it can divert us from the existential truths the fungoid alkaloids seem mysteriously designed to uncover. For its narrow interests, our DNA puts on a show, hoping to head off a psychic jailbreak. On LSD we perceive that all matter is condensed energy, we are all one consciousness, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves.
In that quiet morning, I heard the notes of nature's humming conversation from water molecules to the clamoring fish and then laid back to daydream about my life on this planet and how it all began. I had read that Charles Darwin had once considered the appropriate conditions for life's beginnings in a letter to his friend, botanist Joseph Hooker: If we could conceive in some warm little pond, with all sorts of ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc., present that a protein compound was chemically formed ready to undergo still more complex changes...
He was describing what we think of as the "primordial soup." Such a warm little pond would contain all the simple inorganic, chemical components of life. It would require only an energy source--lightning perhaps--to provide the energy needed to initiate chemical reactions. The ingredients were there but they had to be made to communicate. We should then see the emergence of organic compounds, which form the basis of life as we know it.
After this breakthru in my illusions of understanding I was tired of the Interstate highway, I left Santa Fe angling slightly northwest on Route 84 and then turned left on NM Route 64 driving westward along the San Juan River Basin. This became AR Route 160 when I crossed into Arizona following a brief photo opportunity at the monument marking the actual meeting point of the state borders of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. I now entered the Navajo Reservation and traveled through Red Mesa to the right turn on to Route 163 at Kayenta which would take me a few short miles north to Monument Valley. While it was still prime vacation season, I had the whole valley to myself and the stillness was such that body gurgling and heartbeats were thunderous. I had been to places where you seemed to be able to see forever, but this was the first time that I had been able to hear it. In the morning, I put on my new hiking boots and headed for the flat top of a nearby mesa. Most of the way up was a talus slope of loose rock but then about 200 ft. from the top there was straight up sandstone. At any previous time in my life, I would have turned back in recognition of my lack of experience and skill for such efforts. But here, even though the desert surface was so far away that my Saab was like a matchbox toy at the bottom, it looked like I could survive a fall by rolling down the talus slope until I could bring myself to a stop with only a few broken bones to mark the mishap. I found handhold after foothold and without looking down to allow the terror to overcome me.
Loose rock crusted every surface and I worried about the holds keeping attached to the cliff than my hands staying attached to the holds. I scrabbled up three short falls, generating little cloudbursts of falling stones, then hit a fourth too high and crumbly to climb. A bypass to the right offered zig-zag ledges through bands of orange and grey cliffsa hundred feet high. The ledges sloped out and down and shook off rocks and gravel wherever I touched. I eased myself around corners and up crumbling ladders of stone before reaching the top and dancing around like Rocky. I was totally hooked on climbing things.
I thought for a moment about staying in Monument Valley and climbing everything in sight, but decided instead to travel on through Tonalea and Tuba City on Rt.160 and then north on Rt. 89 through The Gap, Bitter Springs, and Marble Canyon to Rt. 67 south through the Kaibab National Forest and the north rim of the Grand Canyon. I treated myself to a room in the Grand Canyon Lodge so that I could have a hot shower and a good rest before starting my descent into the canyon next morning on the North Kaibab Trail. After I reached the bottom of the canyon I crossed the Colorado River and followed the River Trail to Indian Gardens where I pitched my tent for the night. Next morning I took the Bright Angel Trail up to the South Rim, camped for the evening and then took the South Kaibab back into the canyon to its intersection with the North Kaibab Trail and then made my way back up to the North Rim where my car awaited me.
From the North Rim of the canyon I drove back through the Kaibab National Forest on Rt. 67 then turned west on Rt. 89 and then Rt. 9 into Zion National Park. I parked my car, got a wilderness camping permit from the ranger station, and began my climb from the valley up the east face of the canyon to the rim. When I found a campsite on the rim I began to disassemble my pack only to watch in horror as my sleeping bag began to roll rapidly toward the edge of a thousand foot freefall into the valley below. I did a quick flying tackle and slid within inches of a tumble into the same valley. The next day I climbed down from the east face and up to the rim on the west face for another overnight camp before leaving next day for Las Vegas on Route 15 southwest. I had dinner with a friend from my Prudential days before leaving to drive across Death Valley toward the east face of the Sierras where I had set my mind on climbing Mt. Whitney.
About halfway across Death Valley near Furnace Creek, I stopped to wander about and in doing so I quickly tired ofcarrying my daypack containing my canteen and my car keys and so I hung it on a sage bush that I thought I would be able to recognize upon my return to the car. I did return to the car successfully but it took hours into early evening before I found the sage bush again and recovered my car keys so that I could proceed onward.
Death Valley is a hundred miles long, end-to-end, and for most of that distance, the mountain ranges on either side run roughly parallel to each other. To the south, the Panamints stare across at the Black Mountains. To the north, the Cottonwoods watch the Grapevines. The exception is the wide spot in the middle of the valley, where the western mountains step back off their line by ten miles. This extra belly of flat ground pooches out just north of Tucki Mountain, and it becomes a giant eddy pool for the north-south winds.
Here I came upon the ranger station, gas station, motel, and RV Park collectively known as Stovepipe Wells. Prior to 1926, a tangle of miners' tracks--mostly wandering ruts with a habit of disappearing--had been the only routes for mechanized travel in Death Valley. But tourists now came in Model Ts and it was preferable for them to arrive alive, sooner rather than later. Bob Eichbaum, who busted flat as a gold miner in 1907 and reinvented himself in tourism with a goat cart on Venice Beach, spent the end of 1926 building a road from Darwin to the sand dunes with Stovepipe Wells at the end.
Once Eichbaum had added people to his village of canvas bungalows, he devised entertainments for them with a broken-down wagon that he labeled as a "lost wagon" of the 1849 goldrush. While eating my lunch at a picnic table I met my first self avowed asexual person who told me that he had hitched into Stovepipe Wells several years ago, taken a job as a short order cook in the restaurant and found the peace that had been denied him in the more populated world.
Continuing to drive east through Death Valley, I eventually arrived at Lone Pine in the Owens Valley where the main drag goes about ten blocks with but one red light. I shopped for some food and climbing supplies before continuing on to a campsite near Whitney Portal located about 13.7 miles west of Lone Pine at an elevation of 8,374 feet. This paved road passes through the Alabama Hills, the scene of literally hundreds of cowboy films, but the road has a film history, too. The steep, sharp switchbacks along the Whitney Portal Road were prominent in scenes in the Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz film "The Long, Long Trailer", in which Luci surreptitiously fills a travel trailer with her rock collection until it’s too heavy to ascend the grade. The road is also featured in the 1941 classic, High Sierra, starring Humphrey Bogart.
As far as trails go in the lower 48, this is the ultimate natural high. My objective for the first day's hike is Trail Camp at 6.3 miles from the trail head and an elevation of just over 12,000 feet in a rocky, often windy, alpine basin above the treeline. It follows the gentler main branch of Lone Pine Creek to its source, and then climbs by 97 switchbacks to the Sierra crest about 2.5 miles south of the summit. The trail then travels very close to the crest of the range until reaching the summit plateau. The hike is strenuous, long, and the effects of the altitude became very intense, but the reward is a panoramic, jaw-dropping view that stretches as far as the eye can see, as well as the impossible joy of having achieved my first true hiking milestone.
Next day I traveled north up the Owens Valley on Rt. 395 to Bishop and then Mammoth where I started to hike to the Devils Postpile National Monument. Darkness came before I got to my objective so I set up my tent to spend the evening. My hands shook from the cold as I opened and ate a can of tuna so that I splashed some of the contents on my clothes before climbing into my sleeping bag. Sure enough, just as I was about to doze off, a bear started snuffling around outside my tent and with his short sightedness and keen nose may well have mistaken me for Charlie Tuna. As is my way, I began to examine the pluses and minuses of either running or staying and trying to figure out some sound that would cause the bear to go elsewhere. I slowly sat up at the front of the tent and tried to squint into the darkness to find a way of rising quickly to my feet and running a course on which I would not immediately fall to the ground and leave myself inviting and vulnerable to his claws. Finally after he had pushed his head up against the side of the tent several times and sniffed loudly, I saw him shuffle off into the trees where I could no longer see him. I slept little for the remainder of the night and then hiked on to the Devils Postpile the next morning so that I could be there for filming the early light on these unusual formations which resulted from volcanic activity over 100,000 years ago. Liquid rock cooled, solidified, contracted, and cracked to form the present-day vertical columns.
Leaving Mammoth the next morning I drove north on Rt. 395 to the town of Lee Vining near Mono Lake where spectacular "tufa towers," calcium-carbonate spires and knobs have been formed by interaction of freshwater springs and alkaline lake water. After exploring the southwest corner of the lake for the morning, I drove west on Rt. 120 into Yosemite National Park where I parked my car in the valley and then hitched back to the Tuolumne Grove, a cluster of about 25 giant sequoias near Crane Flat at the intersection of Rt. 120 and the Tioga Road. From the nearby trailhead I hiked about 16 miles to the Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Lake, and Pass where I camped before continuing on the next day along the Merced River to Nevada Falls and back into the valley to recover my car. At one point along the Merced River, I encountered a mother bear and her two cubs. The cubs were very cute as they nibbled on some huge pine cones and I slowly inched my way up closer and closer to them so that I could shoot Super 8 footage of them without the reduced depth of field and lens movement that usually accompanies a telephoto shot. I was just about to compose a perfect shot of the furry little darlings when their mom sensed that I had crossed some endangering boundary and came at me in a full tilt charge. Luckily she slid to a stop about 20 feet away in a position between me and the cubs. I walked backwards very carefully and made no abrupt moves until I was well away from her and she had returned to her foraging.
From the Yosemite Valley I backtracked on Rt. 120 to Lee Vining and then traveled north again on Rt. 395 to the Lake Tahoe area where I visited Carson City and Reno before starting northwest again toward Lassen Volcanic National Park. The dominant feature of the park is Lassen Peak; the largest plug dome volcano in the world and the southern-most volcano in the Cascade Range. After exploring several areas of the park, I traveled further west on Rt. 44 to visit Mt. Shasta. I had developed a hope of climbing Mt. Shasta but was deterred by people who said that it was too late in the season to safely climb it alone. Mount Shasta at 14,179 feet is the second-highest peak in the Cascade Range and the fifth highest peak in California. The mountain is physically unconnected to any nearby mountain, and rises abruptly from miles of level ground which encircle it.
From Mt. Shasta I drove west past Whiskeytown Lake through the tiny logging towns of Douglas City, Weaverville, Helena, Big Bar, Salyer, Willow Creek, and Blue Lake accompanied almost only by huge logging trucks carrying the corpses of the beautiful trees that I had grown to love during my hikes.
I turned onto Highway 101 south just above Arcata and then limped my way to Eureka where I was able to schedule a badly needed clutch repair for my trusty Saab. While my steed was being restored, I went to the library at the nearby College of the Redwoods to research the areas of the country that I was about to drive through. There I met a young woman who offered me lodging and introduced me to the savory joys of salmon prepared on sticks slanted over a pit of pre-heated rocks by members of a Pacific Coast Indian tribe. After my car was repaired I drove further south on Highway 101 to its intersection with Highway 1 in Leggett, CA. I then followed the spectacular Highway 1 along the edge of the Pacific through Mendocino, Bodega Bay, Tomales, and Marshall to a campsite in Point Reyes National Seashore where I spent three glorious days playing along the water's edge. I then went on to revisit Muir Woods before crossing the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco.
While camping in Yosemite I had met some musicians who had invited me to come to their home in Berkeley and spend some time exploring that corner of the world and to listen to them play improvisational piano at a gig in Monterrey. I revisited some of the Berkeley haunts that I had explored when I attended the film school in 1975. I also took the time to explore Oakland but suffered the injustice of having my life threatened by a street thug who demanded my camera and sound recording gear. We compromised when I kept the camera and my life while he made off with my sound gear.
After a great week in the Bay Area I set off south again on Highway 1 to Salinas, Monterey, and Big Sur. Ispent four days of exploration as the house guest of a woman named Penny who was also my first travel idol. The adventure for which I most admired her was a hitchhiking trip across the Sahara Desert with a female traveling companion. She was also a major Elvis Presley fan and I traded my "I was in Memphis on the day of his death" story for a retelling of her Sahara adventure. We visited the now upscale Cannery Row and several other Steinbeck haunts before I departed to travel on to visit another friend and film school classmate in Santa Barbara
While crashing with Rudy and his wife, I toured the famous William Randolph Hearst castle at San Simeon. I then went on to visit the Los Angelos area with stops at the USC and UCLA campuses, a climb up to the Hollywood sign, a visit to the La Brea Tar Pit, a drive along Rodeo Drive, a stop at Hollywood and Vine to look at Grumman's Chinese Theater, and an ogle of Venice Beach to observe many well formed people and a man who juggled a chain saw, a bowling ball, and a flaming torch.
After visiting the Queen Mary and the Spruce Goose in Long Beach I continued south on Highway 5 to San Diego and then crossed into Northern Mexico at Tijuana. After wandering around in Tijuana for a while, I crossed the shriveled remains of the once mighty Colorado River and drove across the Mexican states of Northern Baja and Sonora to return across the Arizona border at Nogales near the Organ Pipe National Monument. As a longer haired person, I was greatly suspect to the border authorities and all of my possessions were thoroughly reviewed for contraband. After veering west again to spend a couple of days camping in the Organ Pipe, I drove north through the excellent little town of Why to Phoenix. I visited the Sonora Desert National Monument and the Saguaros National Park near Phoenix before heading east through Tucson, Las Cruces, El Paso, and Austin to spend some time visiting friends in Houston. From Houston I drove on to Galveston and then took a ferry across the neck of Galveston Bay to visit Janis Joplin's hometown of Port Arthur before rejoining I-10 through Lake Charles and I-49 through New Iberia, Morgan City, Houma, and Kenner on my way to New Orleans and Fat City.
During the days that I stayed in New Orleans I developed the idea of trying to seek out the cities of Mississippi and Alabama that had occupied the newspaper headlines as the Civil Rights movement began; Jackson, Meridian and Philadelphia in Mississippi plus Selma and Montgomery in Alabama. I drove north to the state capital of Jackson on Route 55 and walked around the campus of Ole Miss where James Meredith was the first black man to enroll. On June 12, 1963 Medger Evers paid for his convictions with his life, becoming the first major civil rights leader to be assassinated in the 1960s. In June 1966, Jackson was also the terminus of the James Meredith March. The march, which began in Memphis, Tennessee, was an attempt to garner support for the Civil Rights movement and was accompanied by a drive to register African-Americans to vote in Mississippi. In this latter aim, it succeeded in registering between 2,500 and 3,000 black Mississippians to vote. I also roamed the campus of Jackson State College where two students were killed while protesting the Vietnam War on 15 May 1970.
Leaving Jackson I then followed signs from Canton to Philadelphia where I stopped and walked around for hours in the hope of seeing the alien culture that had been portrayed in the news media and later in the movie Mississippi Burning. To my untrained eye and ears and with the limited conversations that I was able to have with the townspeople it was a sort of Anytown, USA with black people and white people going about their business without casting any wary eyes at one another. I went to the place where I had read that the bodies of James Chaney, a 21-year-old black man from Meridian, Mississippi, Andrew Goodman, a 20-year-old Jewish anthropology student from New York, and Michael Schwerner, a 24-year-old Jewish social worker also from New York were uncovered after their murders during what became known as "Freedom Summer." I began to be happy with the path that I had chosen through Mississippi not because of the notability of the towns but because the back roads on which they were located were giving me a better perspective on William Faulkner's corner of the literary world.
I moved on through Meridian and crossed the Alabama border on Route 80 to drive into Selma known for the Selma to Montgomery marches, three civil rights marches that began in this city. If the Civil Rights Movement could be simplified into having a birthplace, it would be here in Selma. The marches were triggered by the death of Jimmie Lee Jackson who had been shot by a state trooper as he tried to protect his mother and grandfather in a café to which they had fled while being attacked by troopers during a civil rights demonstration. The first march, led by John Lewis and the Reverend Hosea Williams, made it only as far as the Edmund Pettus Bridge, six blocks away. State troopers and the Dallas County Sheriff's Department, some mounted on horseback, awaited them. In the presence of the news media, the lawmen attacked the peaceful demonstrators with billy clubs, tear gas, and bull whips, driving them back into Selma. Seventeen marchers were hospitalized, leading to the naming of the day "Bloody Sunday".
Leaving Alabama I made a stop at Warm Springs, GA to pay further homage to FDR at the site of his death, then drove on through Jimmy Carter's hometown of Plains, past the site of the infamous Andersonville prison for Union soldiers in the civil war, and took a look at Macon, GA. Macon was spared by General William Tecumseh Sherman on his march to the sea and later became the birthplace of Little Richard and a backdrop for Lester "Axe Handle" Maddox during his momentary strut onto the pages of history during the civil rights movement.
From Macon, I skirted Atlanta and made a stop at Stone Mountain and then Athens to visit the campus of the University of Georgia. Driving on the next day I picked up a hitchhiker on his way to a concert by a group called Kansas and he offered me an extra ticket in return for giving him a ride. I met a large group of his friends at the concert and imbibed excessively as I listened to Dust in the Wind for the first time. The next morning I atoned for my sins by paying a visit to the Bob Jones University to try to get an understanding of what that sort of facility was all about. I then proceeded on toward home through Charlotte, Greensboro, and Durham to a half day reconnoiter of the civil war battle site of Petersburg south of Richmond in Virginia. The next day I arrived back at my starting point in Philadelphia to rest up until my April 1978 departure to circle the globe.
Images of Greece 1989