Tuesday, August 21, 2012


This is a two part story—one concerning South Dakota in 1967 and the second describing some petrified wood collected from Utah in 1968.  I hope that you will see the relationship!

In summer 1967 I was working in South Dakota for the State Geological Survey and trying to finish up my MS thesis.  My work took me to several sections of the state but at virtually every location my field assistant and I heard the musical anthem of the summer—San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair).  It was a haunting and peaceful song that sort of stuck in your mind and you wanted to hum along:
If you're going to San Francisco
Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair
If you're going to San Francisco
You're gonna meet some gentle people there

For those who come to San Francisco
Summertime will be a love-in there
In the streets of San Francisco
Gentle people with flowers in their hair

All across the nation such a strange vibration
People in motion
There's a whole generation with a new explanation
People in motion people in motion

It was the ultimate “flower power” song of the generation and sort of chronicled, and invited, gentle people to visit the city during the “Summer of Love”.  Now, in 1967 I was not about to wear flowers in my hair and instead sported a western battered black hat.  But, I was a dreamer and sort of wondered what it was really like in California.  Was it all peaceful and gentle with a perpetual spring?   However, my Midwestern, small-town, strong parental care upbringing did not allow me to “drop out” and join the migration.  I needed to work, I liked my job, and I needed to graduate, etc.  Later in life I did stop at Haight and Ashbury to see if any magic remained.  The only thing I saw-- several “old hippies” getting their picture taken by the street sign so they could return home and lie to their grand children: Yah, I was there for the love-in and saw Janis Joplin belt out a song.  Of course kids, I didn’t run around naked and I didn't inhale!  In 1967 the area was home to music by Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.  The place was rocking to a variety of "hard" music (for those days).  Back in the "hinterlands" the best we could do was crank up the 50,000 watt KOMA 1520 AM out of Oklahoma City--but only after after sunset!  Baby Boomers all over the Plains and Mountain West would head to their cars and run down the 6 volt batteries in short order listening to the latest hits of Rock n Roll.

In fall 1967 I had a “big week” as I graduated from South Dakota, traveled to Kansas, got married, and drove to Utah for more graduate school.  All worldly items were packed in our car—a 1959 Pontiac with a portable roof carrier.  Of course in those days such a car seemed about 50 feet in length (actually only 18) and was powered by a mighty 285 hp engine; the trunk was enormous.
 Actually, we were somewhat terrified as Salt Lake City approached—a couple of kids from small towns on the plains going to the “big city” (250k people then).  With less than $250 on hand we found a landlord willing to let up pay rent in two week increments.  But, I wanted to teach in a university and getting that degree was the path to that job.  It all worked out in the end—I graduated, got the university position, stayed in higher ed for 36 years, and am still married to the same wonderful person.  Life is good. 

One of the first places that I explored in Utah, looking for a dissertation project,  was a few miles east of Salt Lake City near an old mining town called Park City (if only I had bought property then).  This back valley (back of the Wasatch Mountains) was filled with early Tertiary “volcanics”, all sorts of wind-blown and water-lain tuffs intermixed with eruptive volcanics derived from the "Park City volcanic field".  In fact, hard-rock mining for metals (associated with the volcanics) commenced in ~1889 and lasted until the 1950’s.  Currently the local population mines the tourists who arrive by the tens of thousands!  
 Near Park City is a road intersection known as Silver Creek Junction, about where the current I-80 intersects with US 40.  Many of the rocks in this area seemed to have been deposited in a wet area or pond or something like that and petrified wood was common.  Much of it was opalized and sort of a yellow to orange color and was quite beautiful.  Today the land is developed and private, and generally collecting is off-limits as owners do not appreciate rock hounds digging holes.  I have one piece of that wood from those early collecting days.
 OK, how does this Utah tidbit tie into Scott McKenzie?  In working on my dissertation I needed access to back country roads/trails between Park City and Evanston, Wyoming, and could not afford a jeep or pickup.  So, I purchased a 90 cc Kawasaki dirt bike and off I went.  In 1968 the “migration” to California by drop outs and/or partakers of magic potions was still evident and Utah was on the main road.  On one trip up a small highway to a back valley I came upon a VW bus trailing blue haze out the windows and chugging along, straining the engine.  Now, that Kawasaki was not the fastest bike in the world but it was speedier than the VW!  As I passed them with a wave I could see eleven long-haired friends of Jesus in a chartreuse microbus (as C. W. McCall sang in Convoy) singing along to McKenzie’s song blaring on the radio—they were heading west with a smile on their face and magic weeds in their pocket. 

In fact, the 1960’s always reminded me of Charles Dickens’ description of the French Revolution (from A Tale of Two Cities, 1859): it was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.  The 1960’s were tumultuous to say the least and they certainly influenced the country (and the world) for decades to come.  However, they were interesting and I enjoyed my time during that period.  So, today whenever I hear San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair) on the “oldies station” I get a little nostalgic as it brings back brings back pleasant memories of youth--
Those were the days, my friend
We thought they'd never end
We'd sing and dance forever and a day
We'd live the life we choose
We'd fight and never lose
For we were young and sure to have our way
                                                             sang by Mary Hopkins, 1968

  And, I begin to dream: would that bike have made it to San Francisco?

Rest in Peace Scott McKenzie (1939-August 2012).