John R. Beyer
In the early Fall of 1982, the Great Woz decided to build a venue for all to enjoy. He wanted to celebrate the 1980s as a generation more interested in being more selfless than selfish. He meant those who were tired of the 1970s, which he described as the Me generation.
“I want the world to know we are the generation of technology and rock music,” the Great Woz may have stated to someone.
And thus, the construction of a huge open-air amphitheater was begun at the Glen Helen Regional Park in San Bernardino County.
Steve Wozniak — the Great Woz — was the co-founder of Apple and mastermind behind the Apple I and Apple II computers, had an awesome imagination.
He wanted to build a together moment for the masses. So, he got with Bill Graham, the famous rock promoter of the time, and together created the Us Festivals — Us being all of us.
The first concert held at the new amphitheater in Glen Helen was during the Labor Day weekend in 1982.
Wozniak paid for all the construction with the dream that the effort would pay for itself and bring unity to the world.
Though the festival featured the likes of The Police, The Cars, Pat Benatar, Talking Heads, and many more performers, the festival was a dismal financial failure.
Four hundred thousand people came to the festival and spent a lot of money, but the music fest lost nearly $12 million dollars.
When told of this, it is rumored that Wozniak took out his wallet and paid the loss himself in cash.
“Dude,” he was quoted as saying, “Anyone got change for a $20 million bill?”
A second attempt was made the following Memorial Day in 1983, and it still lost money. — even with talents like Willie Nelson, Ozzy Osbourne and David Bowie.
Over 600,000 folks had shown up for the event, but it was not enough to keep the concept of the Us Festivals going.
But, with Wozniak came a performing venue still in use today, the Glen Helen Amphitheater, which offers a great variety of events throughout the year.
I almost recall going to a Jimmy Buffet concert with friends in 1994 — though it was known as the Blockbuster Pavilion at the time.
A friend called me the following morning and described what a great time we all had.
“Yes,” I responded.
“You were dancing and screaming all over the place,” he stated.
“Yes,” I responded and hung up.
I recall walking into the kitchen after hanging up, knowing it had to be five o’clock somewhere.
Recently, I was driving down the pass, Cajon Pass and decided to take a detour into the Glen Helen Regional Park.
Though I had been there for the Buffet concert — so, I am told — I had never taken any time to look around the park.
It is one prominent, beautiful historical place.
The area, not far from Mormon Rocks to the north and west of Interstate 15, had been used as a trail and resting spot by Native Americans for centuries. It was initially known as Sycamore Grove and used as a respite for travelers as they made their way up or down the pass between the San Gabriel Mountains to the west and the San Bernardino Mountains to the east.
Two famous travelers rumored to have stopped here during their travels in the area were Father Francisco Garces in 1776 and Jedediah Smith in 1826.
The area received its name, Sycamore Grove, by a group of Mormon colonists in 1851 who enjoyed resting beneath the large branches of trees.
These sycamore trees, which were there in the plenty, offered lots of shade for weary travelers – some of these deciduous trees can be one hundred feet tall and nearly as wide.
That is a lot of shade.
“Pa, move over. I need some shade,” one little traveler may have said to her pa.
“Matilda, there is plenty of shade over yonder sixty feet,” her pa may have responded. “And besides, you haven’t bathed in a month.”
The paths and trails were used for decades as more and more people moved into California from the East. Men looking for easy riches during the California Gold Rush made their way through the grove, as well as those seeking a more southernly route during the winter to avoid the tragic occurrence by the Donner Party in 1846.
“You know we’ll save time if we head directly into the north during the winter and not waste it heading south to go north,” one miner may have said to another.
“If we do that,” the other miner responded, “Please load up on a high-calorie diet for the next month.”
“Why would I do that . . . oh.”
Glen Helen Regional Park boasts over 1,300 acres of space for individuals and families to enjoy. Gorgeous green rolling hills, tall trees, picnic areas, covered sitting areas, water slides, two large lakes for fishing, and so much more are there for the most discerning visitor.
I am not the most discerning traveler — I go and see what there is to see, and sometimes it is pleasant and sometimes not so much. And that is fine.
But I was impressed by how well kept and beautiful the place was.
Cruising through the park, I saw many people playing here and there with frisbees, tossing a football, or just relaxing by one of the lakes.
One gentleman, Stan, was fishing by the smaller of the two lakes.
“I live nearby and come here as often as possible,” he told me.
“Catch anything?” I asked.
Stan walked to the lake’s edge and pulled out a huge catfish he had just caught a few minutes earlier. It must have weighed nearly five hundred pounds.
“That’s a big fish,” I said.
“There are bigger,” he responded.
Stan told me that he has been visiting the Glen Helen Regional Park for years, fishing, and spending time with his family.
“It’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life and just enjoy the outdoors.”
I had to agree with him. Standing lakeside with a gentle breeze from the north across the blue water was very relaxing.
“You know,” he stated, “I don’t care if I catch anything or not. It’s just comforting to be here.”
“You fish?” he asked.
“The other day, I got a big halibut at Trader Joe’s.”
Weather permitting, the park stocks both lakes with fish every week, with trout, catfish, and great white sharks (a reminder not to swim in the lakes).
According to Stan, both lakes are packed with fisherpeople on the weekends.
I sauntered through the park. What else does one do in a park but saunter?
Two runners suddenly sped by me. So there is that, too, for the more physically minded.
I walked across picnic area after picnic area. Some rooms were rather cozy for small families, but some covered areas could accommodate parties by the dozens.
I was surprised by how busy the park was — it was relatively early in the day and mid-week.
Seeing how many folks had decided to step outside on a beautiful sunny day and enjoy it was very nice. They were not at home ignoring each other while staring at their phones but instead had come to the Glen Helen Regional Park for some together time.
It was refreshing.
A quick scenario.
“Why do I have to go outside? I can pull up a park and look at it on my phone.”
The child would only look at their parent and shake their head. “Because being outdoors is good for you both physically and mentally.”
“But I will miss getting likes on Facebook if I leave,” the parent would reply.
“Exactly, put your phone down and take my hand.”
There is also something called an 18-hole disc golf course through the park. It is a game that mimics golf by people going hole to hole and tossing a plastic disc into a chain basket to see who gets the lowest score.
It seemed very fun as a family of six were tossing, laughing, joking, and seeing who could get the better score.
What impressed me was no one members threw the discs or their family into the lake, as I have seen golfers do.
“Man, you just threw your Titleist TSI3 into the lake!”
“Stupid club, made the ball hook.”
“You going to go get it?”
“Nope, could be great white sharks in the lake.”
Wandering through the park made me realize I had missed a great opportunity so close by for many years.
Glen Helen Regional Park offers so much all year round. People can visit and enjoy camping, fishing, walking, running, swimming, and so much more. But it offers time to be together as family and friends in the beautiful great outdoors.