Claire and I completed the driving part of our cross-country tour (both the width and the length portions) on Sunday – the 17th day of our journey – when we pulled into Claremont around 7:30 local time. We’ve put approximately 4,500 miles on the rental car and have been through 13 states.
I’ll write more about this segment of our travels later, but I did want to capture one bit of Americana from Sunday’s drive. As we were tooling down California Highway 46 between Paso Robles and Lost Hills, we passed The James Dean Memorial Junction. Hmmm, I thought, I wonder if this is where James Dean died in his car crash. Sure enough, a couple of miles down the road we came to a store and gas station with a huge likeness of the famous 1950s actor pointing to the entrance.
The Atlas Obscura (who knew such a thing existed), provides this background for the junction:
The California junction of Highways 41 and 46 would be simply another remote road crossing had it not been for the 1955 accident which led to the death of Actor James Dean, idol to millions of moviegoers.
This junction was the epicenter for a shock that reverberated around the world when Dean and his personal mechanic Rolf Wutherich were involved in a head-on collision that killed both men. Given Dean’s astronomical fame at the time of the crash, the actor’s death became national news, a rare occurrence at the time for a single car crash. The tragedy even spurred California planners to reroute the junction so that the road was safer.
The new, safer junction is now called the “James Dean Memorial Junction” and bears a sign with the name. The sign still sees visitors from around the world who come to pay tribute to the young performer, often leaving ribbons or small tokens of remembrance.
And the gas station/store is a memorial to all things James Dean:
So Claire and I thought it would be great to picture her beside the Dean roadside figure, giving her best Rebel Without a Cause pose.
And what better way to celebrate a cross-country trip, than with another icon who came of age in the 1950s and made it out the other side – none other than Johnny Cash – singing his hit I’ve Been Everywhere, Man. (A tip of the hat to Andrew for the reminder about what a perfect song this is for today’s post.)
Believe it or not, we still have a day to go before I board my plane on Tuesday, so there will be…
More to come…