A cabin at Table Mountain Ranch with a geodesic dome.
The Last Glimpses of California’s Vanishing Hippie Utopias
Half a century ago, a legion of idealists dropped out of society and went back to the land, creating a patchwork of utopian communes across Northern California. Here, the last of those rogue souls offer a glimpse of their otherworldly residences—and the tail end of a grand social experiment.
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
At one point in 1970, Table Mountain had over a hundred residents, some living in tipis, some in cabins, some crashing in the open air. It appears that before it became a commune, the 120-acre property had been a dude ranch, and the cabins and outbuildings were constantly being expanded in an endless ad hoc construction project.
It’s common in Northern California to find people who abruptly dropped out of society, never to return.
A deserted cabin at Table Mountain Ranch.