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.


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.’

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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.


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.

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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.


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.

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Beauty In The Desert

I don’t enjoy the desert. To me it’s dull, lifeless and has an almost palpable feeling of death and depression. When you look out at the wide open expanse, there are beautiful mountains in the distance and the gorgeous colorful sunsets that take your breath away. But you first have to look at the dirt, shrubs and heat soaked land before you. Those mountains are so far away they seem as if they’re a goal that you’ll never reach. The brass ring. Unattainable. However, on a recent trip to Phoenix I got lucky enough to discover something new and extraordinary to love about the desert.

We were driving along a lonely and barren stretch of interstate outside Gila Bend, Arizona, in an area where seemingly nothing grows except dust storms, when my husband woke me from my day dreaming to point out that the road ahead of us was moving. Not moving under our car mind you, but rather something on the road was moving. I sat up and concentrated my gaze on the blacktop. He was right, there were some things out there, silhouetted against the rays of the setting sun, crawling across the road. What were they? Whatever they were, there were hundreds of them, possibly thousands. I asked him to pull over so we could investigate further. Once we stopped, I very slowly and tentatively opened the car door for fear of something jumping or flying up at me. What I saw delighted me. They weren’t snakes, tarantulas, roaches or worms as I had expected, all of which I’ve seen crossing these roads over the years. They were caterpillars. Huge caterpillars. Not the size of your pinkie finger. Nope. The size of your index finger and even bigger. They were crossing the highway in droves. It was a grunion run but with caterpillars. Astonishing and beautiful! They were bright green with yellow and black markings, each one unique. I jumped out of the car, being careful not to step on any of them, and grabbed my camera to capture this surprising scene. When I looked back and saw them on the road, they shimmered a little in the sunlight.


















I’m glad we stopped when we did, because once we resumed our driving, less than a mile down the road, they were gone. It was really only about a one mile stretch where they were. If we hadn’t been paying attention we would probably have driven right by, and over them, with not another thought about it.

Even though I’m not a fan of the desert, I would love to go back and see the butterflies that those caterpillars are going to become. I’m certain, based on their size, they would be the largest butterflies I would ever see. For now I’ll just have to imagine the sight in my mind. A dirt and cactus covered desert with no signs of life except for the skies being filled with a thousand wings of color. The butterflies fluttering through the heat, breathing beauty, luminosity and amazing life into the desolation. I don’t know what the caterpillars were doing there, where they came from, or where they were going. But I’m really glad I saw them, especially since it made me realize that there is beauty here and possibly another reason to come back and explore the desert.

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