There is little evidence today of Ken Kesey's acid parties, with treetop speakers blasting psychedelic music across the secluded hills of La Honda.

The "No Left Turn Unstoned" road sign that marked the entrance to Kesey's home and the mailbox studded with fluorescent stars have long since disappeared, carted off as holy relics by worshippers of the hippie icon.

It has been 35 years since Kesey, who died last Saturday at 66, decamped from this isolated hamlet, setting off with his motley gang of Merry Pranksters to travel the country in their now famous bus, Furthur.

But ghosts of this cultural provocateur of the turbulent 60s lurk behind many a redwood here - in the traces of Day Glo paint left on the trees; in stories traded on the porch at Apple Jack's tavern; in the assortment of oddballs, trippers and fellow travelers who still call La Honda their home.

"People still come here saying, 'Where's the house? I've traveled all the way from back east to see where Kesey lived, and I want to touch it.' It's like a pilgrimage," said Laurie, a La Honda local who declined to give her last name.

"Kesey is kind of why I came to La Honda," said Bill Marquis, a former psychedelic drug researcher at Stanford University who moved to La Honda in 1968.

"That group (the Pranksters) had a similar attitude to me on the benefits of LSD. I decided to go out and see where Ken Kesey and the Pranksters did their work."

Old-timers trade stories of the Kesey days with a mixture of reverence and rancor.

Many remember how the conservative farming town was rattled by the arrival of hordes of flamboyant soul-searchers and thrill-seekers, who staged elaborate theatrics and experimented with drugs.

"They weren't too welcome," said one long-term resident who asked that her name not be used.

"They never did anything too drastic, but they caused a lot of confusion around here, with their loud music and outlandish clothing. They'd drive up to the post office and the general store in that crazy bus and cause quite a bit of commotion."

Locals tell of a town split between the traditional ways of the rural ranchers and the experimental exploits of a younger generation from Palo Alto and San Francisco.

"This place started changing when Ken Kesey came around," said 71-year-old Ron Duarte, the owner of Duarte's Tavern in nearby Pescadero.

"Those folks were off the wall. They were sleeping all over the place - in any vacant barn or field they could find."

Some locals found their quiet lives invaded. Pranksters found bullet holes in their cars.

But veteran Prankster and Furthur bus driver George Walker, who moved with Kesey to La Honda and now lives with many of the surviving Pranksters in Pleasant Hill, Ore., says the reception was not entirely chilly.

"There were lots of little pockets that were already in transition from the 50s and 60s. Once we started making our presence known, kindred spirits started coming out of the forest."

Kesey and the Pranksters began to host Saturday night gatherings that began as show-and-tells for mind exploration and mushroomed into all-night music and drug rages.

Hundreds of people assembled to take Kesey's "acid tests" designed to expand people's consciousness by pushing them to their psychic limits.

Speakers blasted music and two-hour ravings by beat icon Neal Cassady into the woods and across the town.

Hell's Angels, invited by Kesey as something of a social experiment, roared into the valley. Lines of patrol cars a quarter of a mile long flanked the rural roads.

"I can remember sitting toasted out of my mind and the whole canyon flashing red with sheriff's lights," said Pat, a La Honda old-timer who frequented the parties.

"There were tree forts and all these hidden places in the woods. There were speakers in the woods100 yards back. It was pure nuts"

A native who identified himself as Matt remembers his impression of the gatherings as a 9-year-old boy, when his parents were friends of the Pranksters.

"It was kind of scary, kind of chaotic. You'd see big people fight."

Others remember a more moderate side to Kesey, an outgoing, affable man who was always taking notes to use in his stories.

"When he was not on drugs, he was a very nice man, and his wife was charming," said one resident.

"I thought he was wonderful. He was a big man, dynamic, with a twinkle in his eye" said David Garvin, a teacher at the Peninsula School.

Kesey, who was banished from the county in the late 1960s as part of a plea bargain for a marijuana charge, would sneak back into the county and drop his children off with Garvin.

Today La Honda has moved far beyond the upheaval that marked the Kesey days. Dot-com executives have long since replaced hippies as the new kids in town.

The town has a few monuments to the Kesey legacy.

There is the Merry Prankster Caf, which two years ago hosted a big party when Kesey and his gang came back through town.

There is Kesey's former home, where a few doors and floorboards still bear the psychedelic collages that used to cover the house from floor to ceiling.

Even the Honor Camp, a men's correctional facility outside of town, boasts claims to the legendary figure. Kesey stayed there for four months on the marijuana charge that eventually forced him to leave town.

But the most colorful reminders of that era are in the stories of the locals, young and old.

The Kesey legacy was "definitely one of the things that drew me to this town," said Apple Jack's regular John Ferrara. "There are still a few of the people from that era hanging around, and I guess it rubs off on people."

"Even now, people come here looking for where Kesey did his thing," said Marquis. "They should have a shrine here. I'd like to do something like that."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.