Weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, California, and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks

REFLECTIONS ON THE SUMMER OF LOVE: PART SIX

By: 
John Elliott

 

This is the sixth installment in an ongoing memoir in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Previous installments are here.
 
When we stopped for the night last time we were 25 miles west of Salt Lake City, Utah. I remember where we pulled off the road that night. The moonlight made an eerie reflection on the Great Salt Lake dominating the viewscape to the north. 
 
I had always heard that the salt water was buoyant and it was impossible to sink while floating. We never had a chance to test the water. It smells bad anyway and attracts lots of flies, but even to see it in its high desert setting at 4,200 feet above sea level is quite impressive. 
 
Doc drove us around the south end of the lake that measures nearly 28 miles wide; due north from where U.S. 80 skirted the south shore the lake measures 75 miles. It’s the largest body of water (15 million acre feet; Shasta Lake is 4.5 million acre feet at capacity) between the Great Lakes, where our journey began, and the Pacific Ocean, where we were headed.
 
One hundred miles more to the west, Doc pulled off at a scenic viewpoint a few miles before the Nevada border. There was an interpretive sign that explained that the Bonneville Salt Flats, an extensive white desert spread out below us, like the Great Salt Lake, is a remnant of Lake
Bonneville, a large freshwater lake of the Pleistocene era (75,000-7,250 B.C.) that once occupied much of western Utah. 
 
The Bonneville Racetrack and, later, “Speedway” opened in 1911; the flats are home to many land speed records. The salt flats are public lands and managed by the Bureau of Land Management. 
 
Access is free and the public is permitted to drive on the flats. Doc did not set a land speed record that day in the Rambler but he did kick up a white dust devil or two. Off in the distance, as we re-entered Highway 80, the flats had numerous shimmering pools that appeared to be water but they were just a mirage.
 
Within what seemed like a few minutes of driving time we crossed the Nevada border and were soon passing places named Oasis and Pequop Summit (6,960 feet). After passing Wells, Deeth, and Halleck, Doc stopped in Elko. This town was a little more substantial than the others we had been seeing since Salt Lake. Elko had lots of glittering lights adorning the first casinos I had ever seen. 
 
I wasn’t tempted enough to put my meager pocket change into a slot machine even if I would have been allowed. But in 1967, the legal gambling age was 21 years of age, just like now. Casino gambling in Nevada was legalized in 1932. 
 
Doc asked us to wait outside while he played a couple hands of blackjack. Casino gambling was never Elko’s biggest industry like many other Nevada towns — it was the open-pit gold-mining district south of town down to Round Mountain that was opened in the late 19th century. 
 
A short distance south of Elko was the Hastings Cutoff, an alternative route for westward emigrants to travel to California. It was utilized by the ill-fated Donner Party, who spent the winter of 1846-1847 snowbound in the Sierra Nevada. 
 
Elko, like Cheyenne, Wyo., was founded in 1868, growing up around the Central Pacific Railroad. I vaguely remember Doc going into a casino on Idaho Street, Elko’s main drag. High above the coffee shop entrance was “White King,” a huge polar bear. For the curious, the real White
King is displayed inside, a 10 ft. 4 in. tall real, stuffed polar bear that is touted as the largest in the world. 
 
The polar bear was killed in Hope, Alaska, on a challenge to bring the biggest polar bear to the Elko casino. The bear was purchased and brought to Elko in 1958. 
 
The Commercial hotel, coffee shop, and casino occupy the building where King resides. The Commercial building dates from 1868 and is about as historic as it gets in northeast Nevada. 
 
Don’t know if Doc won or lost at blackjack, he never said. He did say playing a game of chance was just something you had to do when you passed through Nevada.
 
The two-lane highway was wide open after Elko so we made the 124 miles to Winnemucca in about two hours. We still had plenty of daylight so the 160 miles to Reno flew by quickly as Doc started for the first time on the trip to tell us about California. 
 
He said he had made several trips there in the past couple of years, and it was the one state that had practically everything from the highest mountains to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. He mentioned a few places that if we didn’t get to see on this trip we should come
back for: Yosemite, Big Sur, Laguna Beach, and be sure to visit the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, he said.
 
Doc said in North Beach (which really wasn’t a beach since the Embarcadero was filled in the 19th century) at City Lights Books was where the hippie movement began. But in those days, the 1950s, hippies were called “beats” or beatniks. 
 
My image of beatniks came from watching “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis,” a hit TV series from 1959 to 1963. Bob Denver played Maynard G. Krebs, an affable, eccentric, goofy best friend who shunned authority figures and work.
 
Even though it was already nighttime, at that very moment we all saw the same sign: Welcome to California. Doc said in five hours we would be in San Francisco.
 
I had goose bumps just imagining about what might be happening in Haight-Ashbury at that very minute. Throngs of peaceful, young people with long hair, shunning authority and making love not war.    
 
And in a few hours we would be joining in that incredible gathering and seeing the sights of San Francisco too!      
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