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The Last Glimpses of California’s Vanishing Hippie Utopias

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There was an aphorism in the movement: “Bad roads make good communes.” And the road we’re on today is bad. Several miles inland from California’s foggy coastline, we’re driving down a single lane hemmed in by 50-foot fir trees and then turn onto a rocky dirt path, joggling our rented SUV. Photographer Michael Schmelling and I are in Mendocino County, about a three-hour drive north of San Francisco, looking for what remains of perhaps the most famous of the hundreds of rural communes established across Northern California in the late ’60s and ’70s: Table Mountain Ranch.

The entire expanse—which once was a kind of American Arcadia, home to scores of hippies who’d fled San Francisco to live a new, idealistic kind of life—now looks deserted. We pass tree stumps, logging equipment, and mounds of dirt. The only sound is the chirping of birds. Eventually, in the middle of an open field, we come upon a peeling wood building where a lone man is perched up a ladder. Ascetically thin, with long red hair and a patchy beard, he tells us that he’s one of Table Mountain Ranch’s last remaining members. Now in his mid-70s, he’s wary of supplying his name, wary of being somehow “on the map” after so much time off the grid, so I tell him that I’ll refer to him as Jack Berg. Attempting to set the foundation for a second-story balcony, he struggles to balance on the ladder while positioning a two-by-four, an unlit roach in his fingers. As we look on, he brusquely puts us to work, chastising Michael for snapping a picture instead of immediately helping with the load.

Berg is restoring the Whale Schoolhouse, a progressive academy founded in 1971 that became the pride of communards across the Albion region of Northern California. Fifty kids, from elementary to high school age, were enrolled here, but it’s sat unused for decades—and now Berg is moving in. “Nobody cared about this building,” he says. “It was disintegrating.” He takes us inside. It’s a single room, the size of half a tennis court, with old class pictures on a corkboard. A circular window overlooks an empty field that had long ago been a playground.

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An abandoned structure at the Nonagon commune in Humboldt County.

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Click the link below for the article:

https://www.gq.com/story/californias-vanishing-hippie-utopias?utm_source=pocket_discover

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