My Dad doesn’t live in Mount Washington, but it’s just his kind of place.
A Fan of Mount Washington History
My father is a native Californian and an avid fan of the Golden State’s history and literature. When my family moved to the Hill, he was fascinated by the history of the Mount Washington Hotel (now the ), by the history of the built to carry hotel guests up the Hill, by the railway ticket office on Marmion Way and by the .
He thought the Southwest’s collection was “the best Native American collection [he’d] seen west of the Mississippi.”
Of course, he was right.
A Sense of Adventure
My dad used to farm in the Central Valley. He moved there as a child with his parents after the Long Beach earthquake, which he still remembers. One minute, he was standing on the kitchen table getting his hair combed; the next minute, he was outside in the street as it rocked and bucked.
Maybe that’s what made him ready for anything.
I’ve that my dad and Jack Smith both lived in Long Beach and Bakersfield. Both went off to sea in the service of their country and both lived in Los Angeles. And while my dad isn’t a writer per se, he married one.
Like Mr. Smith, my dad has an insatiable interest in and curiosity about people and places. He’s an adventurer of the world.
He has some chronic health issues but he’s game for anything. “What else am I gonna do?” he asks by way of explanation. “Sit in my apartment and mold?”
Highways and Byways
Once a month during our childhood, my dad would load me and my sisters into our station wagon and head off to explore the most recent “Highways and Byways” section of Sunset Magazine. He’d pull up to the big attraction, his enthusiasm catching. My sisters and I would tumble out of the car hollering with excitement at the month’s adventure.
Sometimes, it would be Indian petroglyphs scratched on rock rusted by water and minerals.
Sometimes it would be giant buttonwillows rearing out of the land along a wash, their branches lacy across the sky. When I was older, I recognized those same buttonwillows in photos of Dust Bowl migrant worker camps documented visually by Dorothea Lange and in The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck: one of my dad’s favorite authors.
Often, our destination was a ghost town scattered with sand-blasted glass bottles and bullet-blasted signage. My father would stride around, my sisters and I scampering at his heels, as he pointed out aspects of the town and expounded upon why it was abandoned.
Given his interest in the detritus of history, he was, naturally, excited to hear about the sign for the Mount Washington railway that we found on our future home's lot.
“That’s neat!” he said.
The Eldred Stairs
My dad has compiled history and led literature walks for San Francisco visitors. And he’s fascinated by the public stairs around Mount Washington even though he’s now unable to climb them because of his health.
So naturally, with Father’s Day imminent, I thought of my Dad when my husband Marty and I climbed the wooden Eldred Stairs. If my dad was along, he would love the signs that welcome visitors to “Eldred Estates” and caution them to watch out for children, big horn sheep, motorcycles and loose dogs.
Having climbed Mount Whitney and Mount Shasta, he would offer encouragement during the steep street ascent to the stairs and wave off the sign noting that it's 0.6 miles to the summit of Mount Washington.
My ex-farmer dad would know exactly what kinds of chickens wander around Eldred Estates and that it’s best to ignore the big, leonine dog that looks menacing but stays still as a statue as we climb past
For stair enthusiasts like Mount Washington resident , organizer of the annual Big Parade, the 196-step Eldred Stairs, which was restored in 2009, is a favorite. I know my dad would agree.
Once on the stairs, my dad would be the one to identify the solid oaks and the pepper trees waving in the breeze and the morning glory climbing blue on the Eldred Stairs’ wooden railing. My dad would be the one to point out the lone, orange nasturtium peeking out between the stairs.
The top of Eldred stairs isn’t visible from the bottom but it’s a surprisingly quick climb up to Cross Street. If my dad was with us, we’d stroll back and forth along Cross Street looking out at Highland Park beyond the wooden barrier. My dad would undoubtedly point out Mount Wilson and Mount Baldy.
When I call my dad for Father’s Day, I’ll tell him all about it: the dog and the chickens, the signs and the stairs, the climb and the views. I know what he’ll say.
“That’s really neat!”
So are you, Dad. So are you.