James Dean And A Country Drive

JAMES DEAN AND A COUNTRY DRIVE

On a drive through California’s San Joaquin Valley, on our way to Monterey, my Prince Charming husband and I drove through miles of farmland growing every crop imaginable. Traveling west on Route 46, ahead of us we could see the soft rolling hills that border the western edge of the valley. There were horses, grazing cattle and nut trees as far as the eye could see. We were passing out of the bread basket of California and into the beautiful vineyard country of the central coast. In typical fashion for farming country, we passed several signs inviting us to a country store and gas station offering edible treasures from the surrounding area. My husband read one of them, “Pistachio Almond Bark.” “Let’s go in”, I said, thinking that sounded good. Besides, I love these kinds of country stores with homemade yummies.

JD2

Turning into the parking lot, we passed a towering cut out figure of James Dean in rolled up blue jeans and t-shirt, his hand pointing us in the direction we should go. Inside we were greeted by a vast array of plastic bags of flavored nuts; honey almonds, maple cashews, jalapeño pistachios and a hundred others lining the aisles. There were jars of jams, jellies, syrups and other delectables, everything made from the bounty of the land around us.

The walls were covered with pictures, posters and artists renditions of the famed actor James Dean. I initially thought they were there because of the charming 1950’s style diner in the back corner of the store. The real reason though was one my Prince Charming husband was about to discover. As I was busy photographing an interesting truck display in the center of the store that I was so enamored with, my husband interrupted me and called me over to him. Holding up one of the jars of preserves, he showed me the label on the front of all the jars on the numerous shelves. It said ‘Blackwells Corner. James Dean’s Last Stop.’

JD3    JD4 JD5    JD6

Having chosen our yummy selections; a jalapeño honey mustard, two jalapeño preserves, some almonds and pistachios, I asked the young man at the register what it meant by ‘James Dean’s Last Stop’. He informed us that the legendary actor’s tragic auto accident happened about 25 miles up the road, in Cholame, and while passing through he stopped in this very truckstop. Perhaps he wanted a cup of coffee, a sandwich or some of the wonderful nuts, just like we were buying now. It was approaching sunset as we left with our goodies and we continued up the hills toward the spot where the acclaimed actor lost his young life. As we passed the junction of highway 46 and 41 we saw it was marked by a small official looking sign that reads ‘James Dean Memorial Junction’.

On September 30, 1955, James Dean was on his way to an auto rally in Salinas, California with his friend and mechanic, Rolf Wuetherich. Unfortunately they would never make their destination. At the junction of Highway 466 (now State Route 46) and Highway 41, shortly before sunset, a vehicle turning left didn’t see the silver Porsche coming toward him until it was too late. The Porsche rammed into the Ford, the small sports car torn through like tin foil. Sustaining fatal injuries including near decapitation, James Dean, the actor who was astonishingly talented, and achingly beautiful, was gone forever.

JD7

About 900 yards from the accident site on Route 46 there’s a tree called ‘The Tree Of Heaven’ where a memorial for the actor still stands today 59 years later. There’s a quote from a dear friend and an epitaph. On the epitaph it says, ‘Death in youth is life that glows eternal.’ Appropriate, since his legacy still lives on. It’s a lovely, simple tribute to a man who made a huge impact in only 24 short years on this earth.

JD9    JD13

James Dean only completed three films in his life as the lead, two of which were released after his death. All three are classics and must-see viewing for movie lovers. He is, to this day, the only actor to earn two Academy Award Oscar nominations after his death, none in his lifetime.

We continued on the road James Dean would have driven, had he lived, thankful to enjoy the pastoral drive through Paso Robles, admiring all the wineries that beautify the landscape. We talked about the actor, films, young lives cut short and, of course, we drove very carefully.

JD1

My husband and I, being the classic movie lovers we are, had always heard about how James Dean died but never really knew any details or even where it happened. We were simply driving to our destination for an art show I was participating in. We had no idea that we were about to stumble upon a bit of film history, however sad it was. That is what I love most about traveling. Whether it is around the world or just around the next bend, you never know what amazing things you might discover.

James Dean

Griffith Observatory

GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY

I drove up Hillhurst and N. Vermont Avenues heading toward Griffith Park.  Having a few hours to kill before meeting friends for dinner, my internet research told me that this park had an excellent view of the iconic and historic Hollywood sign. I plugged the address into my GPS and before I knew it, I was driving past magnificent and majestic homes that cost more than I will ever make in my lifetime. The streets were lined with stately trees, their trunks the diameter of a small car and roots popping up the sidewalks. There were perfectly manicured lawns with large, beautifully made, decorative fences that all screamed, “go away!”

Reaching the entrance of the park, I thought I’d drive through it to see as much as I could. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to walk the trails, even though I would have loved to. After a few minutes I was surprised as I came across a sign that said ‘Griffith Observatory’ with an arrow.  I turned my car in that direction. I don’t know why I didn’t put it together. Griffith Park and Griffith Observatory. Of course, I had heard about the Observatory, but I’d never been here. Excited now to see two of Los Angeles’ must-see attractions, I drove up to the top.  After parking my car I got out and headed over to the side to inspect the view. There it was, the Hollywood sign, lit up in the sunshine, displaying it’s large white letters proudly for all to see. Being the traditional tourist that I am, I proceeded to get my camera out and capture the view numerous times and from several angles. Pleased with my image souvenir, I headed toward the observatory.

Reading the sign, I realized that it was closed for the day. Disappointed, I decided to make the best of it and enjoy the view and the serene, relaxing feeling in the air.  Others felt it too.  There were hikers just finishing the trails, sprawled out, catching their breath on the green lawn.  Couples snuggling up in corners to kiss, with the Los Angeles skyline providing a stunning backdrop to their camera phone selfies. Parents lifted their children up to see the pretty buildings in the distance.

I came across a sculpture statue of James dean, the actor. Part of the movie ‘Rebel Without A Cause’, which I saw, was filmed here at the Griffith Observatory, but I didn’t remember that until the statue reminded me. Did James Dean walk where I did? Did he too enjoy the view of the Hollywood sign from up here? I paused on the walkway to take in the view. Did the famous actor stop right here where I’m standing and have a cigarette? Although his view would have been much less populated and surely with less smog, did he appreciate the fact that Los Angeles looked so nice, pretty and almost kind from here? No wonder it’s a popular spot to come to. Still in the city but away from it all with nature and history all around.

The breeze kissed my face and made my hair dance. I looked out at the layer of smog below. It looked like a ribbon about to tie up the city into a dirty colored bow. Occasionally you could hear the screech of a car slamming on its brakes or an ambulance siren in the far distance. The only tell tale signs of the metropolis below.

As the sun began to sink in the sky, photographers began to appear and lined up along the edge of the terrace. Where I would normally have felt at home I suddenly felt out of place. I had not brought my ‘real’ camera. Armed with only my camera phone and a couple of small after market lenses I captured what I could of the view.

I looked out at the view and day dreamed a little. James Dean filming up here. The Hollywood sign and film history.  What would it have been like to be Natalie Wood, filming with James Dean? Getting to kiss him. What did it look like up here at night? I was dreaming, because that’s what you do in L.A.  You dream.

Sign of Hollywood

Dean Sculpture

Trails of Griffith Park

Observatory Entrance

James Dean Figure

Through the Arch

Welcome To Griffith Park

Another View of Sign

Tower Stairs

Dean Sign

Spyglass

Sign Through Arch

Iconic Sign

Skyline

Hollywood Sign With Tree

LA

Downtown From The Terrace

Stairway to Tower

Griffith Observatory

LA with Trails

Downtown LA Sign

James Dean Sculpture

Downtown

 

Up ↑