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An insider look at 
Mount Shasta Vista's first 50 years: 

1965 - 2015 

  Informal history of the one-time backwoods recreational development and its frustrated efforts to morph into a standard rural community

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by Stuart Ward

Note: This page has nothing to do with Stewart Springs, which tribute-watchdog site it's in. It's about the writer's long-time home front across the valley from the Springs; it needed a home, is all.


(To return to Springs site any time if coming from there, click back-page arrow key)


Shorter versions of parts 1, 2 and 3 first published

in now-zombied Mt. Shasta Herald on September 22 and 29, 2021


* * *


The once sleepy, 50 year-old backwoods subdivision of Mount Shasta Vista underwent a radical sea change starting in 2015. While the would-be rural community had already jumped down the rabbit hole ages earlier, it was then to discover even greater depths as a haven for unsanctioned commercial pot growing. The following seven-part insider retrospective explores where the place was coming from leading up to that momentous year. It hopes to explain why it...well, went to pot...on so many levels. It blends a seven-part, crazy-quilt of jumping-timeline history with personal experiences, anecdotes, and nuanced analysis of why the place derailed so spectacularly. 


 Ward, a Vista resident since 1978, has served as a volunteer board member and co-started an ephemeral official Vista website, online from 2012 to 2014. In 1984 he hosted a controversial rainbow family camp.  He still brakes for road litter.



"...the past is never truly is always tugging up both

its treasures and its tragedies and carrying them insistently into the future."

- Margaret Renkl


[Part 1]

Wilderness condo, anyone?

The rustic wooden archway spanning the A-12 highway entrance was emblazoned with the words “Mt. Shasta Vista” in hand-scrolled wooden letters. Surrounded by inviting trees on either side, the sign beckoned one. As first-time visitors drove under it, any the least whimsically inclined might've felt they were entering some mysterious, enchanted realm.


That welcoming sign amid the trees, both now long gone,had imparted a certain grace to the entrance of the rural development begun in the mid 1960s; one felt the loving attention going into its creation. The touch showed how earliest property owners -- then only visiting summers from distant cities for extended camping ventures -- held an endearing affection for the newly purchased vacation lands so nicely secreted away in the high desert foothills below volcanic Mount Shasta's northwestern slopes.


So smitten by its charms were some of the repeat vacationers that soon the place --  some 15 miles out from both Weed and Grenada -- segued from its simple recreational land beginnings into a functional if very sparsely settled residential community of code-approved homes. This, despite what would remain an almost total absence of infrastructure city dwellers took for granted. The pronounced lack, resulting from a cascading series of causes and events -- central among them later arrivals refusing to conform to county health and building codes -- would torpedo efforts to grow and sustain what proved to be only an ephemeral standard community. 


Shortly after the short-lived building-to-code period, when a handful of fully approved homes were built in the early 1970s by the would-be community's pioneers, it would shift into a permanent, bizarre limbo land perpetually at war with itself, an incongruous oil-and-water mix of legal residences and decidedly non-legal ones. As a result, the place was in constant hot water with the local powers that be, reflecting the sentiments of a community at large, which resented its very existence and had always put in down it an undesirable place to live.


That the shared vacation lands originally held no aspirations to be anything more than cooperative private camping lands was indicated by its simple boilerplate CC&Rs. And its association status: it was a POA, a Property Owners Association, not an HOA or Home Owners Association. Just a Good Sam’s Club of sorts, tucked away in the boonies. An unassuming rural development offering weary city dwellers a mess of mostly secluded, 2-1/2 acre-on-average parcels on which to enjoy occasional camping and unwinding from city cares.


A sea of turn-key primitive wilderness camping condos, if you will.


There was no water, no electricity, no sewer system, no gas lines, no paved roads, no community center, no parks, no playgrounds. No nothing except lots of lots -- 1,641, count 'em -- and a labyrinthine 66-mile network of modest cinder roads and signage to access them all.


Called 'ranch roads' by the developer, they were fragile, modest affairs, built up of loose rock base over the often deep, sandy soil, with a local volcanic red cinder gravel topping. They were never designed to regularly withstand heavy loads or frequent or fast traffic. A 15 miles-per-hour speed limit was set to help preserve them plus keep the backwoods' relaxed, tranquil atmosphere intact and dust down. Ongoing maintenance was covered by the annual mandatory-membership property assessment, informally called road dues.


Profound solitude

Situated a few miles uphill and east of the also then-new exurb of Lake Shastina, the majority of the realm's lots could offer one a rich sense of calm and seclusion (or isolation, depending on one's mindset), situated as most were between one to five miles in from the county blacktop of highway A-12. On parcels furthest from its five entrances it might've felt more like fifty, due to the land's often profound quietude.


The 1,641 lots were flung over seven square miles of mostly juniper trees and sagebrush, with a scattering of tall pine. The development spanned nearly six miles between furthest points: Pilar Road and Perla Drive in Section 13 to Trails End Road and Rising Hill Road in southernmost Section 28.


The fledgling development flanked national forest on several borders. Square-mile sections were platted into two giant clumps, separated by a square mile of Bureau of Land Management land, with the county highway running between the second, smaller clump of sections 23 and 13, near Pluto Caves and Sheep Rock respectively.


As often happened in rural subdivisions, the developers had conjured up whimsical road names to tickle the fancy of potential vacation land buyers. Evocative names like Lost Mine Road, Zane Gray Drive and Happy Lane. Rich sounding names like Silver Lode, Golden, and Bonanza. One perhaps harked back to a classic movie line: Rosebud. Another was a shameless pun: Frankie Lane. A few were named after saints, like St. George Drive and St. Mary Road, perhaps sometimes giving the development the air of being some improbable Catholic retreat camp. Two, Collins Drive and McLarty Road, were named for the developer and his main man.


Born amid controversy,

place was instant problem child

The development officially gave birth on November 3, 1965*,  brainstorm of Los Angeles area developer George Collins on land he purchased from the pioneer-descendant Martin family, which had long laid claim to much of the wider region. Locals had been long used to grazing livestock on the land, and the region had been deemed among the best hunting ground in the county for over a century. Before white settlers, indigenous peoples seasonally hunted through the waterless area; the very first week I found a complete obsidian arrowhead on my parcel.


The story went that when the Martin family member sold the vast acreage to Collins, he hadn't first gotten permission from the others. Apparently too late to cancel the sale, they were more than a bit ticked over the commercial nonsense soon afoot in their now-lost ancestral holdings. They shared their grievances with the region's fellow longtime residents, soon building up community displeasure into the halls of local government so vocal was their flinty blanket condemnation of the development they were suddenly stuck with. This happened years before respectable lot owners had ever aspired segue the primitive rec lands into a de facto rural residential retirement community; one that was to engage in a ruthless, take-no-prisoners battle with the code-ignoring land buyers who blatantly tried to move into their briefly respectable domain on the cheap.


* According to the date that formal paperwork was filed and time-stamped in Siskiyou county courthouse. This date was used rather than the earlier, yet to be filed, date of incorporation, which was August 18, 1965.



Locals grumbled over how their longtime backwoods hunting, camping and grazing haven had been abruptly closed off just so a bunch of big city folk could lollygag about in their shiny Airstreams a few weeks a year.


The county's board of supervisors, some no doubt siding with the aggrieved Martin family members and incensed locals, reportedly almost denied greenlighting it. For the record, the hesitation was over lack of water and for being often rocky, volcanic land that couldn't support conventional septic systems, should owners ever want to build. Off the record, many just didn't want the place, period. Such non-supportive sentiments over time spread throughout every county department, clear down to dog catcher.


With such a shaky foundation, an already contentious situation was well on its way to snowballing out of control. 


A few years later, when the handful of adventurous owners, after many repeat vacations, got keen on the idea of actually retiring to their properties, they'd settled on the parcels lock, stock and barrel. Dutifully law abiding, each first drilled an approved well, gotten power lines extended and installed a regulation septic system, thus supplying all their own infrastructure needs before then getting a building permit and building to code. In the meantime, most lived elsewhere. On the surface it looked like the place was maybe well on its way to becoming a respectable, if sparse, rural community...but at the price of all but destroying the value of the vast majority of other lots for their originally-intended, purely recreational use: camping out within view of someone's big living room window wouldn't prove too appealing a prospect.


Into this disconnect came those with intentions destined to further blur the distinction between camp land and residential property. The late 1960s to early 1970s was a historically rebellious period. A growing stream of generally less solvent but definitely more free-spirited parcel buyers also soon became attracted to the secluded, unspoiled realm with irresistibly low lot prices. Some, maybe even most, were intent on ignoring silly codes and regulations; they figured what they did on their remote parcels out in the middle of nowhere was nobody's business but their own. They'd become instant homesteaders, moving onto their lots almost before the ink on the paperwork was dry.


That's when all hell really broke loose. 


The place's already gnarly vibe, first from negative outside forces and now erupting from within to boot, went into warp drive. Dutifully code-compliant residents went unhinged, fairly frothing at the mouth. The snowball of contentious forces grew to such monstrous proportions it almost seemed as though some demonic force had taken hold of the place, destined to permanently bedevil the would-be tranquil realm. 


Over time, between (1) teeth-gnashing, conforming residents on the warpath over the spreading plague of non-compliant dwellers; (2) rebellious, non-compliant residents taking the heat and kicking back; (3) disillusioned absentee parcel holders, disconnected from resident concerns and feeling stuck with lots they could no longer enjoy recreationally or sell without taking a bath; (4) put-upon county authorities over time essentially giving up even trying to enforce health and building codes (as will be told); and (5) an embittered farming/ranching community that came to view the inhabitants through distorted fun-house mirrors as a weird, invasive mix of irascible hillbillies and imperious city exiles ...add all these forces together and the place never had (you knew it was coming) a snowball's chance in hell.


A vexatious spirit infected the realm like an incurable disease. A contentious force field hovered over the otherwise serene high desert woodlands like so many storm clouds, forever threatening to rain on the parade of all, absentee property holders, code-legal residents, and non-compliant dwellers alike. 

No matter how many future residents would dedicate themselves to try turning things around and salvaging the development's early promise, the place would never amount to more than a stalled-out recreational development that failed miserably to evolve into the once-visualized standard, recognized community...or even the faintest facsimile thereof.


In realtors' stark parlance, the place was road kill.



Down the rabbit hole

The more free-wheeling, non-compliant dwellers destined to populate the once respectable place jumped down the rabbit hole into their own private world that the realm's rarefied energies so easily inspired.  Soon enjoying their own wild Mad Hatter tea parties all but oblivious to the outside world and its bothersome regulations they ignored with a pirate's glee, they dismissed as largely impotent the ravings the rants of the Red Queen, in the guise of the largely powerless property owners' board and its supporters, screaming, "They'll build to code or it's off with their heads!"


Expanding on this Alice in Wonderland comparison: Standing in for mischievous Cheshire cat was the spirit of rebellion that was erasing the until-then dully accepted ways of a perhaps over-strict and unreasonable law-and-order social climate.  The hookah-smoking caterpillar? Again, the stony, spiraling vortex energies of massive Mount Shasta; the backwoods development of Mt. Shasta Vista, clinging to its very foothills and a half hour from any town's normalizing influence, appeared to be fully under its surreality-inducing sway, asking of everyone entering the place, "Who are you?"


According to one definition, an energy vortex is "A place on earth that acts as a hub for energy...believed to exist at the intersection of ley lines, or lines of natural energy, that make up the earth's electromagnetic energy field."  And while some new-age wisdom went so far as to claim Mount Shasta was the root chakra of the entire planet, most everyone at least agreed  it emanated some very palpable, mysterious and powerful energy, which could affect everyone within its field, and perhaps not always in a good way. (That's why First Nation people never lived any closer to it; its energies were felt too strong for comfort and that to live close would show disrespect to Great Spirit.)


In any event, being under the mountain's almost hypnotic influence could induce some pretty wild fantasies (if not outright hallucinations). It oftentimes all but erased from mind any pesky notions of following society's conventional rules. When the non-code living scene started  taking off by people definitely not their kind, the code-compliant firstcomers (apparently somewhat resistant to succumbing to its influence), were staggered, shocked senseless. For their fledgling, upscale-rustic community, one they'd banked such high hopes on and invested tons of energy and time and money into, was in grave peril.


If they didn't scramble to stem the tide by demanding the county enforce its health and building codes, all would be lost...their nascent tranquil retirement village, gone with the wind. So, at the Red Queen's behest they summoned the Card Soldiers in the guise of the county's health and building departments -- sometimes accompanied by a deputy, should a situation threaten to turn gnarly (and, in time, as matter of course) -- to restore law and order to the now beleaguered wonderland.


Time of course proved their increasingly desperate efforts a losing battle; residency code enforcement efforts would, in time, be all but abandoned by county authorities. Stunned, code-compliant residents, devastated by the county government's seeming inability and/or unwillingness to enforce its own codes they deemed written in stone, were left spitting-nails mad, fit to be tied, frothing at the mouth, pick your metaphor. They wuz pissed.


Despite what had appeared to be an auspicious start as a popular shared vacation land and soon after a happy segue into a respectable embryonic rural retirement enclave (if only for a few of the 1,641 property owners; tough luck, deal with it, for the rest), the slew of parcels became a giant messy mix of code-approved homes and 'outlaw' dwellings. Plus, of course, the occasional die-hard visiting lot holder, hoping to avoid the downer of polarized politics and enjoy camping on the land as originally intended.


The place was now permanently snared between worlds. Skitzy in its reason for being, all along it had been an unwanted child, bestowed with little more than careless 'parental' support from the county and local community. Its residents and visiting owners, feeling the love (not) and emerging anarchistic energies, were left to squabble and bicker among themselves until the cows came home. The Vista was frozen in time, nursing a serious identity crisis and denied ever finding a rightful place in the sun.


Emboldened by realm's remoteness

Despite such a daunting load of handicaps, over time there was a steady trickle of buyers keen on moving onto the remote, oft-maligned, but incredibly cheap land.  Beyond investors feeling stuck with holdings in the arrested development; disinterested speculators hoping to make a fast buck; and those still content to simply retreat on their parcels now and then -- beyond these were the land-hungry buyers. People burned out on the high cost and hassles of city living and lured by the super affordable rural land. They crossed their fingers and hoped to be left alone to live invisibly 'between the cracks' of society's costly living standards. While some, including the writer, grudgingly conformed to building code, others, blissfully ignorant of (or studiously ignoring) the mundane, city-centric regulations trying to be enforced so deep in the boonies, often held more of a "Building code? You're kidding, right?" attitude. One couldn't blame them; people unless masochists naturally preferred one's living scene to be as simple and carefree as possible.


Some among the succeeding waves were emboldened by three things: (1) the place's remoteness, which made it feel like its own little kingdom, a realm far removed from mundane realities; (2) its all but abandoned original camp use intent and the emerging proto community of home owners, which created enough confusion, chaos and uncertainty to take ready advantage of; and (3) the lack of sustained residential code enforcement by the county, despite a solid core of code-compliant dwellers and an all but powerless property owners board lacking fining power, once the first few battles had been fought and won.


Early casual owner-builders -- labeled ""violators", "illegal residents" and perhaps the unkindest cut, 'squatters' (on their own land) -- would move in with a casual air of "Hey, what's the big deal? We're just building a little shelter on our parcel out in the  middle of nowhere; c'mon, you're can't be serious." Over time, knowing something of the place's code-conformity battle but also of increasingly spotty enforcement, other newbies made bold and went on the offensive, pulling in unconnected trailers and mobile homes, or building ramshackle shelters on the fly, all with a brazen attitude of "Hee, hee, what're you goin' to do about it?"  Or like screaming eagles: "Hey, this was still America last time I checked; this is my land and I'll do whatever I damn well want on it; back off if you know what's good for you."


Time warp

Eventually non-code construction and living in unapproved, utility-unconnected mobile homes became more or less epidemic: unconventional structures sprung up like mushrooms after a heavy rain.  While a few were artful, others were void of all charm except to perhaps their inhabitants. It was almost as though such dwellers had time-warped back to the pioneer era, when plains settlers built their primitive earth-sheltered soddies and forest settlers threw together rude log cabins. As if late in the twentieth century,the development had magically become a latter-day frontier. One far removed from modern times and all its spirit-stifling rules and regulations on how one was supposed to live.


In time, certain dwellers  -- feeling light years removed from dependable, responsive law enforcement save for most serious matters (and, even then, a 45 minute wait time wasn't uncommon) -- would essentially deem themselves a law unto themselves. 


Buy in Haste...

No doubt many impulsive first buyers among those interested in actually using the land were, at best, only vaguely aware of the place's sundry handicaps and liabilities, any number of which would turn off your more circumspect land shopper who exercised due diligence. They were giddy over the notion of getting such a generous-sized piece of unspoiled land in a popular recreational region at such a dirt cheap price. Eureka! It was practically the modern-day equivalent of history's governmental Forty Acres and a Mule giveaway. The parcels proved so invitingly cheap, any normally felt need for making careful assessment flew out the window; parcels got snapped up like so many bargain basement steals.


Before the place's sundry disheartening realities at last percolated one's grey matter, the latter-day, would-be resident-owners merrily spun excited dreams and schemes of how they'd enjoy their new secluded woodlands so safely hidden away amid a maze of private roads, beyond modern times' slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.


Add to them the parcel flippers who also grabbed the lots -- in vastly greater numbers -- imagining how they'd move them up the realty food chain in no time and make some easy money, and the property owners as a whole seemed locked at terminal cross purposes.


The eventual first-generation settlers had been at first only repeat vacationing campers. Camping was about embracing primitive nature, so they'd naturally accepted the almost total absence of infrastructure. Water was scarce, waste management nonexistent, and no more than maybe ten percent of the parcels ever got connected to the power grid.


While this had presented little or no problem during the first years of exclusive camping and simple retreat use -- trailers being self-contained and one otherwise making like a bear in the woods a while -- it was flirting with sure disaster when more and more resource-shy, would-be residents (unlike the well-healed initial settlers) rolled the dice and began dropping anchor onto parcels not seeking anyone's approval other than their own. In proceeding to establish primitive seasonal camps and year-round ramshackle dwellings, the pedigree of the Vista thus began a long, irreversible decline. It went from fledgling standard rural community to an anything-goes, growingly anarchistic outback. One over which the county at some point would throw up its hands in commingled what-can-you-do? despair, fury, and disgust...and , in time, indifference.


Onerous building code & the owner-builder

Unsanctioned home structures would flourish in the Vista in the 1980s and 1990s. More and more, buyers bent on settling lots appeared to lack the funds and/ or willingness to build anything to code. Freer spirits considered building requirements ridiculously over-complicated, needlessly intrusive and exorbitantly costly. As if they maybe only reflected the cushier living standard of the more affluent strata of society, which was imperiously demanding everyone to dance to their tune. But hoping to avoid such stringent codes -- and the inflated lifestyles of would-be upward mobiles tempted to live beyond their means and soon drowning in debt -- was the very reason so many moved to the Vista in the first place: to get back to basics, to live more simply and within one's means.


For it was one thing to have a few reasonable guidelines in place to avoid getting unsightly, flimsy, owner-built structures that might blow over in the first strong wind, and to ensure critical hygienic standards, another entirely to insist one living on their own private land out in the middle of nowhere overbuild by a safety factor of five, install double-glazed windows, super-insulate the roof, install fire sprinkler systems...

In the 1970s a grass roots effort came about, led by a group of outraged Mendocino county, California rural owner-builders, to establish less onerous building requirements. It resulted in then-governor Jerry Brown approving a Class K housing bill specifically with such rural owner-builders in mind. But it got so watered down in 1981 by an apparently construction-industry friendly state assembly that it was left to each county to adopt or not. Only three did; Vista's Siskiyou county wasn't one. Its building department, at home dealing with contractors who knew the drill in their sleep, seemed owner-builder hostile, not wanting to hold the hand and guide amateur builders in the myriad demands to conform to the quagmire of regulations and specifications. They assumed -- not without reason, given the code's impossibly far-reaching and pricey requirements -- that many were only reluctantly conforming owner-builders and so would try to  'cheat' the code at every opportunity.


While such draconian requirements discouraged earlier, would-be non-compliant builders, in later times, with the one-time iron grip of regulatory bureaucracy's over-strict enforcement weakening, a rebellious attitude emerged. People aspired to build rural shelter however they fancied, never thinking of first getting Mother-may-I? permission from busy-body bureaucratic authorities and, adding insult to injury, pay for the privilege. (Though on a much smaller scale, in some circles playing "beat the code" became almost as popular as "beat the pot laws" became in later times.) Bound and determined to live on their bought-and-paid-for property and figuring possession was nine-tenths of the law, such Vistans' attitude was, "Hey, this is my property and I'll do what I want on it; go jump in a lake if you don't like it."


...regret at leisure

As the place's sundry problems became all too clear to parcel holders, an intense love-hate relationship with the land emerged -- especially among those who'd hoped to actually settle on their lots and enjoy long-sought rural seclusion and attendant peace and quiet. It was "Buy in haste, regret at leisure", what would over time become a sad familiar song. Lured by the rural development's cheap parcels, every buyer who leaned towards being law abiding realized with sinking heart that if one wanted to make use of the place beyond just camping up to 30 days a year, the lack of infrastructure would demand shelling out a small fortune.


It was like attached to the ten-cent parcels were a hidden million-dollar spoiler.


For the same or related reasons, parcels were destined to become an albatross around the necks of investors, speculators and vacationers alike. For their holdings were no longer part of a simple, dedicated recreational development once full-on homes went up, and they were unable to sell them at a profit as vacation lots to anyone knowing the score -- which didn't take much sussing to find out One had only to talk to your typical walking-wounded, teeth-gnashing resident. Their ears would soon be singed by the disenchanted party warming to their task, some raking the place over the coals with an almost demonic intensity.


It was a buyer-remorse pattern destined to be repeated by countless.


The subtle magic and simplicity of an affordable tranquil backwoods under the protective presence of the magical mountain, the land feeling worlds away from noisy, over-wound city living, kept grabbing fresh batches of would-be residents and investors. The latter of course only thought to flip the under-priced parcels, while the former were blind to mundane concerns like conforming to the then-enforced health and building codes -- until out of the blue it bit them on the backside and they joined the full-throated chorus of disillusioned parcel holders.



Lots practically sold themselves

The parcels were originally offered only as primitive camp lands, nothing more; it was all upfront and legal. They were marketed as simple places of retreat for weary city dwellers who wanted to rough it a while, enjoy a bit of refuge on their own piece of relatively unspoiled, secluded nature. Developer Collins maybe sensed he needn't invest any more time, money or effort in the project than he did to move the lots, having created in effect a simple wilderness co-op retreat, Each lot had (initially) well-maintained road access and was platted to a fare-thee-well, corner boundaries marked by pounded-in, short red steel pipes and ribboned lathe sticks with exact scrawled bearings.


If so, he was right. It appeared enthusiasm over the chance to spend spring or summer, sometimes a pleasant early fall, amid the solitude of one's own, affordable woodlands, majestic Mt. Shasta watching over the scene as big as life, proved contagious. So much so, with the help of a little sizzling ad copy the lots practically sold themselves.


But the spiel also naturally attracted many who held zero camping interest --in fact, almost certainly the vast majority. They'd snap up the parcels as a long-term investment or short-term speculation by getting in on the ground floor, imagining how others -- not them, thank you -- would soon be clamoring to enjoy camping on the nicely tucked away, affordable rural properties. Yet others, though primarily speculating, might sample their 'wilderness time-shares' a time or two out of curiosity to discover what it was they'd bought sight unseen. Some of these the land grabbed  and they'd change their minds, flirting with the idea of building a vacation cabin or even a full-on residence. For some, it was just something to leave the grandkids. 


Again, no infrastructure besides a reliable and nearby water source had been needed to fulfill the place's original purpose. The minority who intended to visit and enjoy the lots were psyched at the prospect of being able to rough it on their very own backwoods refuge. They'd revel in the realm's often pronounced peace and quiet and the charm of the then relatively intact high desert woodlands ecosystem.  


As far as things went, everything seemed hunky dory on the surface. It was easy to be blissfully ignorant of the festering, behind the scene storm clouds brewing over the place's very existence, of the longtime locals' abiding ax-grinding resentment of well-heeled city folks crowding in and exploiting their once de-facto public rustic lands, crimping their accustomed lifestyle. (Many were descendants of the region's 1800's pioneer settlers and so were super-territorial.) They were clueless how the county powers had barely greenlit the place and looked at it askance ever since, sourly viewing the development like some lemon vehicle they bought against their better judgement and -- curse the luck -- were now stuck with.


As none of this was readily apparent, happy vacationers reveled in their idyllic bargain properties. One had the convenience and luxury of camping on their very own 2-1/2-acre piece of nature for up to 30 days a year, rather than pay someone daily to camp, with others maybe setting up twenty feet away with a passel of squalling kids. A mini-trend within the grand back-to-the-land movement was afoot -- many coming from the Los Angeles region, but others from the Bay Area and the Central Valley -- purchasers merrily pitching their tents and rolling in their travel trailers to fully enjoy the region's seclusion and fresh air while drinking in the breathtaking mountain presence.  


The terrain was known as high desert woodlands: high, dry, and wooded. Though powerful seasonal windstorms -- roaring through like a runaway freight due to the massive mountain displacing and intensifying a typical storm's air currents in Venturi effect -- could prove treacherous, the place, like nearby Lake Shastina, generally enjoyed an enviable banana belt climate. It usually offered delightful springs and falls. While summers were hot and often bone dry, there were plenty of junipers trees and, on some parcels at least, a few scattered pines, for inviting shade. Some years there were occasional summer thunderstorms to cool things down. Adventurous residents in the west end of section 7 lived a modest hike away from a cross-country irrigation canal to dunk in. In hot weather the mountain’s spectacular northwestern glacier-clad side could do wonders keeping one feeling cooler just by gazing on its chilled splendor.


"Bye 'n' bye" came fast

Significantly, developer Collins -- no doubt responding to a growing enthusiasm among his fellow repeat campers over the idea -- hinted that the place might make a dandy one to retire to "bye 'n' bye."  He casually relayed this very notion in passing in the official Vista newsletter periodically sent to every member and avidly read by the small segment of involved co-owners of the new-fledged, low-key wilderness outpost at the central top of the golden state, regal crown of Mount Shasta offering constant blessing.


Since practically next door Lake Shastina was springing up, initially as a second-home vacation community, bye 'n' bye came fast. It gave the handful of so-minded Vistan landholders the impetus to follow suit, with a twist: building structures not as second residences but -- as Collins suggested -- as full-on, primary-residence retirement estates.


Like Lake Shastina, the Vista usually got far less snow than nearby Weed or the City of Mt. Shasta, due to the region's phenomenal crazy-quilt of micro-climates, again largely the mountain's doing. Usually just enough powder to enjoy a winter wonderland now and then without getting a sore back or frostbitten hands shoveling snow or needing to put on chains to get out of never-plowed roads. (Long ago the place tried plowing after the rare heavy snowfall; the equipment blade tore up the cinder roadbeds so badly, requiring expensive and laborious repair work, that it proved impractical. Everyone was on their own.)


Con su permiso:

dealing with the exacting building code

Of course it was understood it was up to each would-be resident to spring for the cost of getting power lines extended to their parcels, drill an approved well, and install an approved septic system -- all before the county issued a building permit on submission and approval of exacting plans that met every code requirement and pay for it based on square footage. Only then did one have the option of legally living on the land for more than 30 days, in an onsite trailer, mobile or non-code structure, during the construction period.


While construction was expected to progress "in a timely manner," many made a leisurely effort of it. The writer stretched his own home-building project to 42 months while living in a primitive semi-underground hobbit home that was most decidedly non-code. It tickled me how the inspector would look askance at it as he passed it to check the building site twenty feet beyond; I knew part of him itched to red-tag it on the spot but he couldn't say boo.


The post office would at that point assign the residence a legal street address (or, technically, release the already existing numbers long ago assigned by county planning to every recorded parcel in the county), thereby enabling one to receive mail at the blacktop entrance boxes.  Such an address was also needed to obtain a state driver's license; register to vote; and qualify for FedEx, UPS, and OnTrac home delivery.


As one might suspect, extensive health and building codes included endlessly detailed particulars about everything: permanent foundation; framing method; itemization down to the grade and variety of lumber and size, type and spacing and specific kind and size of fasteners; minimum structure size; electrification, insulation, full kitchen facilities, indoor plumbing, minimum water pressure... Any unconventional design, like a geodome, earthship, cob home or earth-sheltered residence, required hiring a qualified engineer to certify that the submitted plan would prove structurally sound and it had to otherwise meet all general specs. As said, most early Vista owner-builders, hiring contractors to do most or all the construction, didn't move onto their properties until building was completed and given the official county blessing by being duly signed off after a final inspection and 'green-tagged' for legal occupation.


Although the Uniform Building Code (UBC) had been around in the U.S. since 1915, enforcement for ages was no doubt relaxed to nonexistent in rural areas. Primary focus was concentrated on crowded cities, with their close-packed structures built by detached contractors who'd never live in their creations and often tempted to take shortcuts on construction integrity that could result in shoddy results and tragedy for their eventual inhabitants. Accommodating rural owner builders wasn't a concern, as the founder of the UBC, Rudolf Miller, himself stated early on, as he'd apparently never envisioned the new regulations being applied to rural owner-builders:  “…[W]hen buildings are comparatively small, are far apart, and their use is limited to the owners and builders of them, so that, in case of failure of any kind that are not a source of danger to others, no necessity for building restriction would exist."  His commonsense view was obviously abandoned over time, as living densities increased and government’s bureaucratic, power-hungry, invasive powers grew exponentially.

For a long while, country property owners could more or less build cabins and cottages to suit themselves at their leisure, maybe even play it by ear, overall design emerging only half-way through if even then. It was their land, after all, so they could enjoy the freedom to build whatever they dang well pleased. But with bureaucratic regulations' tendency to be adopted by ever greater numbers over time (some might say spreading like a cancer) until at last universalized, government authorities began insisting the same exhaustive guidelines adhered to in teeming cities by contractors be followed deep in even the furthest reaches of rural regions like Siskiyou County, on one's own remote property plumb out in the middle of nowhere.


It was having such heavy-handed ordinances in place in the Vista (and no fine-empowered board of directors able to keep a handle on things for the ostensible greater good of the community) that would over time cause an erosion of respect for certain areas of the rule of law (or, in this case, ordinance) by more than a few residents.

Priced to move

Parcels were indeed priced to move. Writer remembers reading in the old Vistascope newsletter archives how they initially went for between $750. and $975. (In 1969 dollars; adjusting for inflation, that'd be nearly ten times more in 2024 dollars, still relatively cheap). Price varied according to parcel size, location and land features. The developer had relatively low overhead and wasn't out to get rich off the project; he was already successful from urban development ventures and could afford to be generous. Besides, he appeared to hold a genuine affection for the land, as mentioned actually joining others in camping on parcels during the first years. He no doubt wanted lot sales to feel like feel-good bargains (if only good for occasional rec use). There were no steep infrastructure costs beyond putting in and maintaining red-cinder roads, many traced over preexisting logging, cattle-tending and hunting roads; surveying and marking off parcel boundaries; erecting entrance and section corner signs; and planting first-generation, short, 4X4 inch, wooden road sign posts, painted yellow with stenciled black lettering, many soon camouflaged by the fast-growing sagebrush.


All kinds of first-generation buyers purchased the lots for all kinds of reasons. But, again, countless had snapped them up in pure speculation: "Hey, they're not making any more land."  Some never even set foot on them, let alone camped on them. Though a fair minority were psyched at the prospect of enjoying their own campground, arguably the overwhelming majority were only betting on the place. They anticipated making out like bandits once the place grew, possibly becoming something like a giant KOA-style camp village as it were, loaded with amenities and services and attracting a flood of campers tickled at the prospect of owning such by-then wildly popular recreational properties nestled in the vacation-popular Mount Shasta region.


That or, as instead happened, the place segued into a thinly-inhabited, de facto standard that might've actually succeeded and thrived, indeed driving up parcel prices sky high, had every future, would-be resident taken responsibility for meeting their own infrastructure needs before building to code, as had almost all of the first wave of transplants.


Obviously that didn't happen. Pouring heavy investment into such primitive, cheap land could seem counter-intuitive, like trying to turn a lemon into a peach. Something maybe only considered by people reaching retirement age, flush with cash from selling big city homes and enchanted by the land they'd discovered. Those with the willingness (and eligibility) to take on major debt and, of course, having the mindset to deal with the time-consuming, hoop-jumping bureaucratic process entailed in building to code. Understandably, their vision didn't elicit ringing endorsements from later, less solvent parcel buyers -- many of whom would move onto their new lots immediately (or else why buy them?). They'd maybe have only enough to cover the modest down and score a derelict mobile home or trailer, or throw up a makeshift shelter on the fly from scrap materials or a small lumber yard splurge and call it okey dokey.


It seemed cheap land and cheap shelters could go together. Originally branded as simple camp lands, proved difficult to impossible to erase those initial humble aspirations.


Earliest investors and speculators of course never anticipated this major wrinkle happening, how the soon-to-emerge epidemic of non-compliant structures going up would seriously erode property values and the place's desirability to anyone the least bit convention-minded. Between hearing about full-on code-legal homes springing up and developer Collins talking up a rosy picture over the place's bright future, they'd assumed everyone would build to code. When what started as simple vacation lands started morphing into something entirely different, promising even juicier returns, many speculators -- once adjusting to the change of plans for the place, made by a relative few but probably erroneously thinking far more were keen on the intent to build a bone fide community -- no doubt started salivating like Pavlovian dogs.


Convinced they'd made a smart move, parcel buyers -- investors and speculators alike -- sat back and waited for things to unfold. Some of the former soon joined in and likewise built on their property, perhaps thinking only to live in their new structures a while before selling at a nice profit, or maybe themselves becoming so smitten by the land, resonating to the retired dwellers' bonhomie, they decided to stay. But most, having little or no interest in ever getting involved in the place's day-to-day realities or steep challenges involved to ever successfully transition from primitive camp land to functional community, patiently waited for parcel prices to take off.*




* They'd only have to wait a half century. Parcel values would in 2015 start a dizzying flight to the moon: values of unimproved lots skyrocketed from $5,000 to over $150,000 by 2021. This was the combined result of a national red-hot realty market and, of course, the place's discovery by underground cannabis growers anticipating California legalizing recreational pot and what would (perhaps predictably, given the sudden flood of ad hoc, anarchistic pot-growing entrepreneurs state-wide) prove to be largely unenforceable restrictions. The state had decriminalized unsanctioned commercial-level grows to a civil misdemeanor (the only western state to do so). It would make eventual sporadic busts often (but not always) little more hassle than getting a traffic ticket.


Thus lots sold like crazy for reasons totally unrelated to any infrastructure build-up, still almost nil; formal development plans, still nonexistent; or, for most, the desirability as a place to drop anchor at for long.  


The startling phenomenon proved to be in keeping with the chronic extreme boom-bust nature of the place. One that -- due to factors beyond the scope of this writing -- caused unimproved lot prices to plummet in 2022, when there might again be few takers at $10,000 to 20,000. ("Price reduced $80,000.") 


The place's extreme boom-bust nature could be likened to a bone-dry desert that experiences a brief flash flood every decade or two. A deluge of land-hungry people and/or cagey speculators descend on the region, driving up prices of primitive properties, or trying to, then land prices return to default, bone-dry status, market values again softer than a sponge cake.  



In the Vista's late sixties' start, every last one of the lots was snapped up within 18 months. This fact belies a later common assumption that the developer had somehow been stuck with parcels nobody wanted.  People wanted them all right -- or thought they did, at least at first. It was the hundreds of absentee owners and those they sold them to who, in time realizing the development had gone seriously cattywampus, couldn't get rid of them fast enough. But they didn't want to sell at a loss. So the odd lots, though charming to all who valued rustic seclusion and majestic mountain views, had deal-breaker shortcomings attached and in time became a drug on the market. Despite being offered cheaply compared to most other similar regional properties, they often found few takers once their bizarre pedigree -- rife with often gnarly, contentious social climate, daunting lack of infrastructure, and prohibitive cost of gaining then-enforced building code compliance -- became fairly common knowledge. 

With an historic back-to-nature movement ratcheting into high gear, the small minority of Vistan parcel buyers stoked at the prospect of luxuriating in their own unspoiled bit of nature in one of upstate California's more popular recreational regions had become its first residents. The relatively well-heeled, retiring residents saw in the sprawling rural development something of a low-key, backwoods paradise. But they weren't alone in their enthusiasm.


Excited in discovering such an affordable wonderland to vacation at, maybe retire in -- at the least, a sure-fire speculation -- it appeared everyone and their uncle was jumping down the rabbit hole.


The Vista Thru Time
[Part 2]


Mt. Shasta Vista was...well, different


In some ways the Vista was notably different from other rural subdivisions of the region forming about the same time. These included nearby Lake Shastina (3,200 lots, started in 1968); McCloud area’s Shasta Forest (791 lots, launched in 1966); nearby Juniper Valley subdivision (some 240 lots, exact founding date unknown); possibly Hornbrook region’s KRCE (2,050 lots, begun 1967; and Hammond Ranch (launched in 1969, some 430 lots).


One big difference, apart from relative water scarcity, was that the Vista, born a simple recreational development, never hammered out any master plan for residential growth, there being none until years after its launch, when mostly older, repeat camp visitors, retired or planning to, had decided to build on their outback parcels.


As a result, its ruling documents (CC&Rs, or Covenants, Conditions & Restrictions), were basic and general boilerplate. Once the place's first few parcel holders dropped anchor, it rendered the original legal framework inadequate, in time spelling out almost certain disaster without extensive revision being undertaken. Such a re-imagined plan was crucial if it hoped to provide an avenue for building out an actual community with any rhyme and reason, providing guardrails to steer the development in agreed-on directions by volunteer board members and other involved land owners.


It might've created, for instance, the legal power for the volunteer governing board to fine owners for any infractions to agreed-on standards, as had some others, thus (at least ideally) working to maintain a certain desired standard of living and lifestyle. This would've enabled slapping a lien on one's ownership title for chronically blowing off payment for the ticketed infraction, and so work to establish an at least a grudging respect for the rule of law, serving to discourage any non-copacetic behavior by owners.


Of course this is always a two-edged sword. As pointed out in the periodical The Week, quoting reporter Sarah Holder in , "About 74 million people in the U.S. live in community associations, mostly HOAs, [home owner associations] which create their own regulations meant to keep behavior polite, aesthetics consistent, and property values high."  But "...the rules can be capricious and penalties for violations steep...One Colorado couple, Jose and Lupita Mendoza, say that a series of minor violations, like failing to remove a dead tree, snowballed into the HOA's foreclosing on their home despite their never missing a mortgage payment."


In any event, without any overarching plan for residential growth, having no real vision beyond bland boilerplate gobbledygook, Mt. Shasta Vista was forever left swimming upstream against strong currents, subject to the vagaries of the place's latest owners' sometimes arbitrary or inappropriate druthers. Any effort by a fitful, ever-changing flock of civic-minded dwellers to transform the place from its primitive beginnings into an actual, by-God residential community, one its dwellers might take pride in rather than simply "use', would largely prove an exercise in futility.

Interest flatlines

Again, with so many parcel owners absentee and seldom if ever visiting, from the very start it seemed the overwhelming number of Vistan title holders were just betting on the place and the hoped-for actions of a few -- initially that minority of owners who'd vacationed here, and later, the even smaller number who'd actually drop anchor, both of whom would feel inclined to work to further the place along and increase their lots' and the place's livability, and, hence, its overall market value. The former would sit back and let others do all the heavy lifting. Then at some point they'd either begin enjoying the place themselves or -- far more likely -- cash in and make a chunk of change for their trouble.


It would prove more trouble than they could have ever imagined. Holders were destined to lose heart in droves not long after the development's early promising burst of improvement efforts by that first wave of settlers.


Water was crucial. By the early 1970s, visiting repeat campers and residents-to-be rallied and pulled together to establish an informal community well with an impressive flow rate, off Juniper Drive. It had an huge holding tank with giant overhead valve for rapidly filling water trucks, and included a garden spigot, thus serving both campers and initially well-less home builders. (Collins, with his usual largess, had sold the association a water truck for a dollar.) About the same time, many paid into a fund to get electric power lines extended to their lots for their anticipated or already begun dwellings, as we'll get to later. A long mobile home was pulled in in which to hold the first few, state-mandated monthly volunteer-board meetings.


After this initial flurry of activity, enthusiasm for group efforts seemed to run out of steam. New residents had switched gears and scrambled to each carve out their own backwoods mini-kingdom.


As earlycomers built the first county-approved dwellings, the place was momentously shifting from shared camp land to the beginnings of a permanent community. Albeit one spread so thinly amidst the vast acreage that dwellings might've appeared surreally misplaced to any impressionable visitor cruising the labyrinth of backroads, nothing but trees and brush until rounding a bend and -- suddenly! -- a full-on estate jumped out at them. Former interest in enjoying one's parcel for camp vacations doubtlessly nosedived overnight; those who'd camped there most were now building homes, and newbies would find it far less appealing as the one-time wilderness got crowded by such trappings of civilization.


Almost overnight, the place became neither fish nor fowl.

Fast forward and once various unapproved shelters began flooding the scene as well, the realm's fledgling legitimate community  -- one its residents had poured personal fortunes and much blood, sweat and tears into -- was in imminent peril. Without updating the CC&Rs, or at least every future would-be resident toeing the line and meeting county health and building code requirements -- made difficult and extra pricey for the pronounced lack of easy water and power and waste disposal means -- the development seemed at an insurmountable impasse. It would be stymied at every turn, despite whatever efforts were made by the scattered code-compliant residency to morph the place into some semblance of a normal, recognized rural community...or, again, even the faintest facsimile thereof.


At one point early on, the association's few residents did get it together to the extent they appointed informal block captains for each of the seven sections. They then worked to keep informed of all the goings on in their respective sections, driving around and getting apprised of sundry matters by other residents and visiting owners, then relaying reports to board members to suss over at monthly meetings and deal with if action seemed warranted. This phase of organized grass roots government showed that, despite the growing set of unfortunate circumstances, there was a strong sense of community and cohesion among the earliest residents. Even if their primary motivation was perhaps only to try nipping in the bud any health and building code violations afoot, it showed some sort of civic-minded spirit, albeit an exclusive-minded one. One that might've served the place well in the long run had it ever evolved beyond being a punitive, reactive, law-and-order policing into a more positive, fair-minded and cooperative one. But that wasn't going to happen.


Even such rudimentary grass roots efforts as this in time all but disappeared, victim of -- as they saw it -- too many barbarians storming the gates. Some older residents moved on, having wanted to simply enjoy their golden years in peace and not having to endure the  gnarly battles with unruly interlopers defiling the realm without receiving any better support by county health and building code enforcers. While invaders made bold to occupy newly purchased parcels and defied anyone to do anything about it, a soon overwhelmed (and perhaps under-motivated county enforcement staff increasingly appeared unable or unwilling to do much about it after a few sporadic early wins.


Result: the soon-minority, flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants, shocked senseless, legal residency that remained found themselves between the devil and the deep blue sea.


White elephant time forgot

With such a daunting series of snafus and the resulting chaos, outside interest in the wayward development flatlined for decades. After it outgrew its originally intended recreational use but stalled trying to segue into something more, at least by society's accepted high standards, parcel values were lucky to keep up with inflation. 


The development would become an unmanageable white elephant of odd lots. More trouble than they were worth trying to move and earn a paltry commission on to the way of thinking of many regional realtors.


It perhaps became not too unlike other, largely-failed rural subdivisions that various California developers hatched over time. Like the controversial 15,287 one-acre lots of California Pines outside Alturas, in the northeast corner of the state. Or California City, "America's Largest Abandoned City," 204 square miles (launched within a month of the Vista)all platted out and roads made in the treeless Mojave Desert. Like them, the arrested rec-land of Shasta Vista seemed destined to become just another place time forgot...or tried to.


Eventually this suited the few actual residents here just fine -- those who stayed despite all, bought homes from those who bailed...or grabbed parcels and threw together humble abodes on the fly. Various dwellers, doing their level best to ignore the long-simmering, unsettling politics, grew accustomed to the rich solitude and relished the park-like setting which first inspired its brief incarnation as a happy-go-lucky co-op campground. So few residents amid so much nature proved delightful. But it was terrible for investors and speculators. They found it almost impossible to sell holdings no longer having anything going for them to entice would-be buyers besides being cheap properties with great mountain views. Lands no longer dedicated to camping yet requiring huge outlays and serious investments of time and money to live on legally found few 'respectable' (i.e. convention-minded) parties interested.


Again, it didn't help sales efforts any how the place from the start had gotten such a bad rap, deeply resented by the farm and ranching locals for crowding their long accustomed to, sprawling rural domain with invasive urban energy and seen as forever problematic by a provincial-minded county government.  (Many becoming soothsayers: "It'll be a disaster, mark my words; just you wait and see; I'll give you ten to one odds.")


They refused to accept as legitimate the unwanted child left squalling on their doorstep.


"Just a matter of time"

Many parcel owners held onto their apparent boondoggle, even so: in a dime, in a dollar. They doubled down, paying the piper in the guise of ever-increasing annual road assessments through gritted teeth, determined not to lose their shirts on what they first thought a sure bet. In denial, they wanted to believe their investment had to pay off some day.  


After ages, convinced the place appeared to have zero chance of ever pulling itself together, many finally bit the bullet. As fed up owners unloaded the clunkers en masse, resigned to taking a bath, cheap parcels flooded the market.


There were often few takers, even then. This despite, in the late 1970s, the modest $1,200 to $1,750 asking price and easy terms offered. Those who did snap them up were often only themselves other disinterested professional investors making small side bets on the place, parking a bit of extra cash a while, confidant the right suc -- er, buyer -- would  come along sooner or later. Or were yet other uninformed, casual investors, infected with the latest errant round of speculation fever: "It was so cheap, I couldn't resist." Or die hard optimists, thinking they'd enjoy the parcels themselves once the place got itself together or at the least they'd have something interesting and tangible to leave their families (and then let them figure out what to do with the buggers).


Beyond such calculated dice rolling, impulsive moves, and optimistic, "some day" purchases, though, were a growing few buyers psyched at the prospect of actually moving onto the parcels. To them the lots were pure catnip. They were eager to make like Thoreau, to live simply on the land and let the rest of the world go by.  Maybe in time establish a home business or commute to work as the place became a de facto bedroom community of sorts. A few among them were still willing to build to code and thus fulfill an age-old dream of chucking urban life and becoming respectable country gentry.


But others -- entirely too many to the thinking of the ax-grinding segment of code-legal residents --  seemed only to be looking for a cheap place to avoid city rent with its steep first and last plus security deposit costs; or hide out, some probably dodging child support, maybe even have an outstanding arrest warrant or two. No matter that it usually meant drastically downscaling one's lifestyle and hauling in an aging mobile home or trailer, setting up a tent, or fashioning a ramshackle structure from scrounged materials on the fly and generating cesspools, at best, for waste...and haul in every drop of water. And then either fire up a generator or go without go-juice. (Even if a power line teasingly skirted their properties, it couldn't be hooked up to a structure without first satisfying code.)


They'd cross their fingers and hope the powers that be would let them be. With strict law and order thinking and enforcement still holding sway during the first decades of the place, there was fat chance of that.


Round and round...

And so the mirage of a Mt. Shasta Shangri-la, dreamy backwoods realm, undervalued and under-exploited, kept proving irresistible to all sorts for all sorts of reasons. As the land kept seducing detached speculators, hopeful investors and would-be residents alike, a distinct pattern of owner relationship with the parcels emerged.


Sporadic cycles of short-lived buying mania followed by long-term absence of any interest whatsoever became the Vista dance. After decades, hundreds of parcels were -- apart from the occasional campfire stone ring and driveway roughed in, maybe an outhouse or abandoned trailer -- still clinging to relatively pristine states. And so they kept luring new impulsive buyers wowed by the land's subtle charms and dirt-cheap prices. Ephemeral fantasies soon played out and abandoned, a long succession of likewise initially jazzed owners and casual small investors would routinely lose interest in the dreamlike lots or belief in their potential profitability and livability. Some parcels doubtless changed hands over a half dozen times over the half century period, always attracting a new flock of buyers powerless to resist grabbing such bargain property in such a picturesque setting...a place to all appearances securely hidden away from the often troublesome ways of so-called 'civilization.'


As said, the mountain in the place's very backyard appeared to emanate a powerful, almost palpable yet undefinable force. Those embracing new-age mindsets felt it might work to over-stimulate a person's upper chakras if not better grounded on arrival. The thinking went that such people, coming from distant urban places where lower-chakra energies dominated and upper chakras atrophied, suddenly had imaginations and visualizing powers over-amped. Under the mountain's enticing spell the mind reeled, bursting with excited fantasies of what all they'd do with the secluded properties they'd snagged for a song.


In a way, it was California dreamin' full tilt.


And so the forlorn development kept spinning round and round on its own little short-boom-long-bust merry-go-round. Riders reached out for the ever-elusive brass ring of easy country living or fast turnover profits while select realtors, trying to make their nut moving such marginal "road kill" properties, supplied the calliope's shrill if hypnotic melody.


Stymied by disinterested and soured speculators/investors

It probably can't be overstated: Seriously competing with the litany of the place's other problems -- water scarcity, lack of electricity, absence of development plans, embittered locals putting a whammy on the place, and the high cost of code compliance -- was the enormous force of a sea of detached absentee lot owners.They'd invested in or speculated on the place and over time became mostly indifferent or had all along kept disengaged from the place's nitty-gritty realities -- the relative few residents' ongoing and day-to-day concerns. The former realized they'd become stuck with soft-market lemons that required annually shelling out for road assessments, and it left them feeling nickel and dimed to death. Such a feeling of pronounced buyer remorse routinely undermined even the most determined efforts of civic minded residents to try salvaging the realm and move it forward onto any more solid footing. 


For, all other problems aside, how could the Vista ever grow with so many of the 90% absentee owners harboring such chilly indifference, apathetic to the notion of doing anything to hopefully right-side the floundering development? Not if it meant sinking more money, through proposed special assessments to fund community projects. Not even if such projects would in time increase parcel values, making the place more desirable to live in and visit and make the parcels easier to move and at an actual profit. That's how put off and jaded they were by the rudderless ship of a rural subdivision.


Countless lot owners routinely lost whatever faith they might've ever held for the place and its potential to become something more then the chaotic, sub-standard, infrastructure-shy disaster area it was -- which, again, perversely many of its few residents seemed to prefer it being -- if only for in effect having worlds of undeveloped, park-like land all around them, stuck investors effectively subsidizing the few residences' pleasant nature cushioning.


Not another red cent...

Those who opted to keep the all but unsaleable parcels despite everything (or tried to unload them but couldn't at a decent price), along with the latest round of new, soon disillusioned, owners, felt burdened with dud properties in a dead-in-the-water development. They were millstones around their necks. Not another blessed cent would they fork out beyond the association's annual property assessment bite and county's annual property tax. As it was, the former was often only paid amid much kicking and screaming and whines of "I don't even live there or drive on the roads, so why the hell should I pay for their upkeep? Tell me that."


For what it was worth, the annual membership assessment was far cheaper than that of other regional rural subdivisions except perhaps for next door's Juniper Valley's. When the writer arrived in the late 1970s, it was only about $20. a year. (By 2023 it would grow to $240; while having become a bit ouchy, it was still easily one of the cheapest.) No matter. They still felt bled. Shook down for the latest assessment every fall, many no doubt felt akin to trailer park mobile home owners, the structures theirs but having to keep paying rent on the space they perched on lest they get grabbed through foreclosure.


Cynics thought the whole set-up smacked of maybe being some sort of racket.


Left for dead

Perhaps predictably -- due to the many absentee parcel holders' pronounced disenchantment with the stuck development -- "left for dead" in more of the realty world's stark parlance -- the association often suffered late annual payments and nonpayments.  Initial optimism for the place having long ago evaporated and a growing share of absentee owners protesting having to pony up every year, the wording on annual billing statements grew more than a mite testy over time. Key words in large boldface letters defied ignoring the association's demand for prompt payment: "PAY WITHIN 30 DAYS TO AVOID SEVERE PENALTY OR FORECLOSURE", it shouted. Things obviously were a far cry from earlier times' lighthearted communication tone with spiels of carefree vacationing on charmed land. The situation had taken on a decidedly hard, desperate edge. The reason: Board members were grappling with keeping enough revenue coming in to cover the constant maintenance needs of 66 miles of cinder roads that would otherwise return to nature -- and then have angry visiting owners hounding them to get on the ball or refuse to pay. They were damned if they did and damned if they didn't; they were stuck between a rock and a hard place. 


Such chilly exhortations only seemed to encourage some to finally blow off paying altogether. "They're daring me not to pay, huh? Well hell, maybe I'll just take them up on that; they can have their damn parcel back...worthless piece of crap; why I ever bought into this screwy lotus land it I'll never know; 'FUBAR Acres' might be a more appropriate name for the place...mumble grumble..."


Sometimes iffy roads

As more people moved in and the endless cinder roads got more wear and tear, the one-man road manager was often left unable to service them all in any timely fashion. And perhaps none anywhere up the immaculate zen standards of earlier times of very few residents, when the country back roads were so pleasant to drive on at a mosey while drinking in the unspoiled tranquil scenery (and so irresistible to mischievous kids to gouge deep donuts in on their dirt bikes). Regardless, one good gully-washer of a rainstorm could wash away the cinder topping and cut hazardous mini canyons in the sand underneath on downhill stretches, even if it had been nicely groomed just the day before.


Again, this in turn caused more owners to protest paying for roads that weren't kept up -- leastwise not theirs -- the lion's share of effort going to the most heavily trafficked. Like the most problematic one, the long and steep uphill stretch of Perla Road at the front of Section 13, near Sheep Rock; it could routinely gobble thousands of dollars a year to maintain. Most sparsely settled and non-settled regions might not see the road truck for a decade or more -- and then often only because some visiting owner, having driven hundreds of miles to vacation on their remote parcel only to get stuck in deep sand on the home stretch and forced to call a tow truck, raised a royal ruckus. Rightly furious, they held the association board's feet to the fire, demanding they cover the tow bill. Such ire would bestir the board members to at last pay attention to the more neglected roads in the woebegone realm's more remote hinterlands -- and raise the annual assessment fee to cover the increased work load and rising material prices, wages, insurance, workman's comp, gas...


Problems like these didn't make for happy campers.


This in dramatic contrast to the first visiting owners who'd relish camping on their lands and the many who'd move onto them with infectious high spirits. That was, of course, during the extraordinary "God is alive, magic is afoot" times of the late '60s through the early '70s -- a time when waves of feel-good euphoria might wash over one out of nowhere even if your only drug of choice was aspirin or a good stiff martini.


Raise high the roof beam, carpenters

As mentioned, many Vista lots were indeed fairly pristine. Sure, some bore old rotting stumps from lumberman Abner Weed’s harvesting the area’s mature timber in the early twentieth century. And bulldozing needed to make the new networks of roads marred the front of some lands. (The KRCE development north of Yreka was born similarly, recycling tree-harvested lands into rec lots for solitude-hungry city folk.) But a substantial number of parcels, largely left undisturbed for ages, were part of a rich, fragile high-desert woodlands ecosystem. They could feel almost enchanted to anyone appreciating their subtle undisturbed charms, those who didn't always need towering trees and crystal streams before embracing nature. The land held inviting groves of old junipers, some with almost DayGlo-green moss on the north side of aging ones; furry lichen growing on deep-shaded rocks; riots of tiny colorful wildflowers in spring and early summer; occasional stands of tall pine; and dramatic rock outcroppings, sometimes perched on by a mountain lion on the lookout for the deer that occasionally meandered through.


All lent certain areas something of a rarefied atmosphere inviting one to wax poetic over. It struck some as a place where time stood still.


Fresh high-desert air, balmy sunshine, often-profound quietude, plus a giddy sense of freedom for being in such secluded back country reigned over by the majestic mountain...all had combined to inspire excited repeat vacation visits from afar. Enough so to move some to permanently chuck city living and retire here so they could enjoy the tranquility and seclusion of country living full-time. Thus in the late sixties through early seventies the place became, ever so briefly, a respectable residential Shangri-la to every nature-loving retiree making the bold leap...and had the bucks to build according to their accustomed lifestyle, which happily more or less dovetailed with the stringent, then rigorously enforced health and building code requirements.


That said, legend had it that the very earliest comers in the mid to late sixties -- among them one structure on White Drive, another on Heinzelman Drive --  didn't even need building permits to construct either a simple cabin or full-on home, respectively. Code enforcement had apparently yet to establish any solid foothold in the more remote hinterlands of the sparsely settled county. If true, this possibly set a precedent for subsequent owner-builders feeling they needed no more than their own permission to build on their lots. And the building department was then stuck forever playing catch-up, saying in effect, "Hey, you really do need a permit, we mean it. Seriously..." (And maybe in an aside: "Mind you, I don't necessarily agree with the policy, but hey, it's my job to enforce it.)"


No more sketchy subdivisions

Between 1970 and 1972, California would pass a flurry of landmark regulations covering future subdivision formations.


 “...[A] new attitude of comprehensive planning and environmental protection emerged,” noted realty attorney James Longtin. The Vista barely got in under the wire before vast regulatory changes made it impossible to any longer spin out such bare-bones, quick-buck, often problematic rural developments.


From then on, developers were required to make legally binding commitments to provide all basic, over time, they or owner association directors had to spring for public improvements like parks, playgrounds and community centers. It seemed that our place, though grandfathered in under the earlier lax requirements, came to feel intense pressure from the county -- in turn under the gun of the state with its new thorough standards -- whenever a law-abiding owner wanted to build an approved shelter on their one-time campground parcel, bereft of any infrastructure whatsoever.


Would-be Vistan homesteaders, as related, jumped through all kinds of complicated, time-consuming, expensive hoops to earn the right to live on their lots legally...the first and perhaps most daunting being, before anything else, bringing in an approved well...often a fairly deep one...sometimes a really deep one...and hitting water... and hopefully good water. Plus, often having to shell out another small fortune to get electrical lines strung out to one's property. (Code at the time allowed one to build without being made to hook up to the grid if the construction was over a quarter mile from existing power lines, should one opt to, but still had to wire according to code; such was the writer's case, by a few yards Otherwise, one had to pay to have the lines extended.)


Who’d want to live in the middle of nowhere, anyhow?

To build or not build community

Maybe county officials had crossed their fingers, hoping there'd never be any who for some strange reason actually wanted to live on such raw, bone-dry lots, out in the middle of nowhere. For each new building permit okay-ed would mean several long, time-consuming drives to inspect and sign off each of numerous completion stages; they had better things to do.


Jumping ahead decades, residents also had better things to do than foster any dubious notions of organized community. Polarized energies discouraged it at every turn. Bowling alone was in. More people seemed to move here expressly to do their own thing and be left the hell alone. Hermits united (or disunited). Often they'd at most only reluctantly try working together. A visit to a monthly board meeting, where the place's chronic buzz-saw, contentious dysfunctionality or discouraged, what's-the-use? mindset was on full display, invariably offered a fast cure for one nurturing some misbegotten urge to try to help the place along somehow.


Any vision beyond the usual volunteer fire department and rummage sales and such to support it, maybe working to get a grant to fund making the area safer from wildfires, often just didn’t to go along with the dirt-cheap lots with their unabashed lack of infrastructure. One of course paid dearly for such added features in your more developed subdivisions -- paved roads, electricity, water, gas, sewage, security... When you bought land cheap, expectations were low to nonexistent. And some people, craving simple solitude, bought here expressly because it lacked such civilized touches. To their thinking, any hum of structured community, residents trying to get on the same page, only resulted in everyone getting in everyone else's business and soon made simple rustic living all but impossible.


Not so for Vista’s cash-rich, starry-eyed, modern-day pioneers of yore. Bewitched by the region’s allure during simpler times, enough to fully invest their time, fortunes and fondest hopes, they were stoked at the prospect of working together to carve out a rustic retirement community for themselves and any others interested in mustering into their emerging rural enclave. It was an embryonic hideaway sanctuary of decent older folk, far from the madding crowd, where they could enjoy their golden years in peaceful tranquility, sheltered in the bosom of nature. As a song lyric went, they wanted to believe that they were “...going where the living is easy and the people are kind."


Kind of something, anyway, as it turned out.




The Vista Thru Time
[Part 3]


"Welcome all!" 

vs. "up the drawbridge!"


Many of the first and second waves of Vista residents felt blessed. Swept up in the grand pioneering adventure of it all, they were eager to share their good fortune. So they'd offer cheerful assistance to new arrivals, eager to see the fledgling backwoods community grow and flourish. Each new denizen of the sparse backwoods settlement was deemed a potential valuable addition by many during the heady late frontier days of settling and growing the realm. But since there were no real guardrails in place through the CC&Rs to guide it along, in time each new arrival would be summarily vetted and considered one that would either foster the embryonic community along or serve to work against it.


Often, the more altruistic souls seemed to be among the second wave,  residents of homes whose original inhabitants had since moved on after the charm of Vista living wore thin for them. The relative newcomers hadn't experienced their ordeals in complying with onerous health and building codes only to have others blatantly ignore them, or the vandalism by irate and malicious-minded locals during the camping-only years. They were more in the moment, live-and-let-live, sometimes inviting one to share an afternoon 'drinky-poo' on their porch. Whereas others had done all the heavy lifting and paid heavy dues, newcomers were free to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.


Instant homestead

Not so others, mostly among the first wave of resident, bent into pretzels by countless trials but who hadn't given up and moved on; they dug in for the duration. Strict law and order folks, they scrambled to pull up the drawbridge post haste. Huge snarly signs were erected everywhere as they were bound and determined to reverse the trend and get the riff-raff kicked out, come hell or high water.  As said, they fully relied on Siskiyou county's residential code enforcement, whose public-service staff salaries their property taxes paid into, to protect their rural outpost from getting overrun by the misguided souls with the audacity to invade their would-be respectable wilderness paradise on the cheap...especially those revved-up younger folks of threadbare means...most especially the pot-smoking hippies and beer-guzzling bikers (and that new hybrid, the pot-smoking, beer-guzzling redneck hippies) they thought they'd at last left far behind in the cities.

They knew such lot buyers and hopeful instant settlers would be worlds away from ever embracing their strictly law-abiding, ways and thus would thus prove ruinous to their structured order of things if they didn't scramble to get them busted. So they took on a sea of troubles with flinty, full-court determination: damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead. They demanded every property holder earn the right to live on the land, just as they had, by God. They had to meet all health and building code requirements -- no matter the cost, time or effort. If you couldn't afford it, or just didn't want to go down that path, well, too bad; the place obviously wasn't for you.


But the floodgates were opened after realtors had advertised the lots for sale cheap on multi-listings nationwide. When the enforcement system of a relatively poor rural county over time got overwhelmed, various and sundry moving in on the cheap -- despite their best efforts to deter and have various miscreants kicked off -- the strict home guard lost it; they sailed clear around the bend. Such pretenders to the realm -- erecting long-term tents, pulling in derelict trailers and mobile homes, building tumbledown structures and hanging up their hats figuring they were home -- left them frothing at the mouth, fit to be tied. The brazen newcomers, in turn, appeared either oblivious or indifferent to what a few scattered retiree residents might think of their sudden presence. It was either, "Hey, what's the big deal?" or "Mind your own business."  Many clearly didn't seem concerned over the county ordinances they were willfully ignoring or in blissful ignorance of. It seemed being out in the middle of nowhere on such secluded land could easily dull any perceived need to conform to such bureaucratic nonsense.


The happy illusion of one's remote Vista property being a stand-alone lot existing independently of any outside control forces whatsoever -- rather than, in fact, one among 1,641 lots, every last one ostensibly subject to a sea of regulations -- was too just seductive not to succumb to. It might be said one's sense of well being demanded it.


So it went that the growling No this, No that, and No the Other Thing signs thrown up were often dismissed as mostly unenforceable bluff by the well-healed, uptight residents who were selfishly trying to bogart the place for themselves. Newcomers went their merry way "doing their own thing", that vital watch phrase from the rebellious countercultural era being taken to heart by growing numbers with each passing year, as people left behind a former times' fading, over-rigid law-and-order mindset and blind conformity, vestiges of the often horrific World War II era...or tried to.


Whenever being rudely reminded otherwise by unpleasant confrontations with compliant residents gone nuclear, or the resulting all-business county code enforcers they summoned, it did little to make them ever want to comply, even if some could maybe afford to. The firstcomers, in their scramble to preserve their La-la-land-ish, country club enclave from rack and ruin, took such a furious zero tolerance stance against such scofflaw newcomers invading their domain that more free-minded land buyers, scoping their dangerously over-wound headspace, thought, Screw 'em, we'll take our chances.


It was unfortunate, but that was the way it was: the modern day pioneers had conformed to all legal residency requirements and expected every future would-be resident of Mt. Shasta Vista to do the same...or else.


But in time it would seem such rules didn't even exist. Practically overnight, their one-time safe-haven backwoods retirement community would turn into its own madding crowd.


Not all newcomers were brazen anarchists, of course; maybe very few at first. Some of lesser means were by and large law abiding and simply nurtured hopes of living out their own, holding simpler visions of idyllic country living; they were just uninformed, or couldn't believe the sign's warnings of strict code enforcement. While they had no actual intent to buck the system per se, their fondest dreams were nonetheless dashed to smithereens once receiving an antagonistic 'unwelcome wagon' visit from hitherto unknown neighbors from hell, a delegation of overbearing hard-asses who'd swoop down on them out of nowhere and read them the riot act.


Others were thicker skinned. More rebellious,and unconcerned with complying or rendering unto Caesar in general, they dug in and kicked back hard. One time in the early 1990s, an unsanctioned neighbor with such pronounced confrontational tendencies had just been given his walking papers. He responded by one day spotting the current board president driving about and aggressively tailgated him for miles along the otherwise empty back roads, sticking to him like glue. While the man was no doubt alarmed on looking into his rear-view and seeing he'd gained the ire of some crazed madman, one might conclude he was only reaping what he and earlier imperious board members had sown by holding such a zero tolerance stance.


Home in the country

In the early to mid 1970s, after the first wave or two of settlers had settled following the few late sixties' early birds, a sprinkling of maybe thirty or so year-round, mostly compliant, residences dotted the landscape. While the code defiant had yet to gain a substantial foothold, momentum was growing. The genie was out of the bottle: There was incredibly cheap Mt. Shasta region land available, and various and sundry were soon leaping at the chance to make the Vista’s sprawling juniper boonies their home, too. In the bigger picture, the notion of one not just visiting but actually living in nature was seriously taking of in the public's imagination. “Head for the hills, brothers!” was the clarion call, as more and more city-weary, nature-hungry souls, of all sortsk joined the back-to-the-land movement then ratcheting into high gear.


As interest exploded in making an exodus from city living, the Vista soon gained the air of a sort of time-release Oklahoma land rush. In leaps and bounds, excited new arrivals discovered the tranquil, affordable backwoods and settled in or tried to. With the place having no master plan and the once iron handle on code enforcement starting to slip, each newcomer was winging it, flying blind on snapped-up lots and going for it. The land experienced fitful, frenzied bursts of shelter construction, some still to code, but more and more definitely not. Sounds of hammering and whining circular saws and power generators filled the air all day long. Writer guesstimates that by the mid to late seventies, maybe sixty to eighty residences, now of markedly varied degrees of ambition and compliance, sprinkled the seven square miles of remote high-desert woodlands. Woodlands that seemed to be coming its own special world in many ways. 


Those opting to ignore code requirements, playing it by ear in the mad scramble, were intent on getting a toehold as fast as they could. It was always worlds harder trying to tell someone they couldn't be there after they'd already built a shelter, fenced off the property, posted No Trespassing signs, and moved in lock, stock and barrel.


It was the territorial imperative, writ large.


With so many hypnotized by the land, eclipsing any more practical concerns, a strange wonderland at increasing variance with mundane realities had emerged, despite the most dedicated efforts of code-compliant residents to arrest the trend.


CC&R revision?

It's unknown if some of the seriously invested first wave ever gave thought to trying to get the CC&Rs revised. Conceivably this might've enabled an orderly growth into a standard community, one in which things were spelled out so each would-be resident knew the score in no uncertain terms. Before doing anything more than visit, one would realize they had to first bring in an approved well (or share one with up to three adjacent lot owners); pay to have power lines extended if need be; and install an approved septic system -- all before at last being able to apply for a building permit -- and then conform to the exhaustive health and building codes. This was the accepted reality of places like nearby Lake Shastina (and, of course, most any city). Not the Vista. Though first settled by mostly solidly law-abiding citizens, it was, again, during the rebellious sixties, and it could almost seem the extraordinary time's spirit of Anything Goes was predestined to burst their convention-minded, law-and-order bubble. Perhaps things were aided and abetted by the early vacationers themselves for having had such a free-wheeling (if fully law abiding) spirit. Even so, one wonders if such a CC&R revision could assure that the place would've  gained a solid footing and thus remain a 'respectable' that in time might actually have gained at least a grudging respect from the surrounding community.


A moot point. With 98% of the property owners absentee and living all over the nation, many beginning to nurse serious buyer remorse, the heavily invested residents realized they could never get the needed two-thirds vote to tackle such a monumental and costly legal re-structuring. Besides, they were retirees; their days of heavy lifting were over once their home building projects were a done deal.


Bogarting Shangri-la

A more cynical view might've held that the founders, while realizing constructing such a thin scattering of full-on homes amid a sea of raw vacation parcels was bound to create thorny problems down the road, just didn't care. They had theirs, for whatever remained of their time on earth; let the chips fall where they may. Maybe they hoped everyone else would get enthused about the transformation afoot and follow suit. In any event, by golly, they'd earned it after a lifetime of hard work and then complying with every last nit-picky, pricey, time-consuming legal residency requirement bureaucracy had thrown at them. And, after all, wasn't it the developer himself who'd suggested retiring here in the first place? Blame him. So, not unreasonably, they expected the timely enforcement of county ordinances to keep things copacetic.  Later, while still loaded for bear even after realizing the system had failed them miserably, there attitude hardened into, "And if we can't get you out, we'll do our damnedest to make your lives here a living hell."


For better or worse, the emerging neither-this-nor-that place was essentially left a blank canvas. One to be painted on and painted over, and painted over yet again, by whatever the latest in an ever-changing succession of residents aspired the Vista to become (if anything). Each among the more dominant and involved inhabitants in any given period advanced their own notion of how they thought the place should be. They tried convincing others it was the best or only way to go. The situation was maybe not too unlike excited kids building sandcastles on the seashore until the high tide rushed in and erased their most ambitious efforts. Then, later, new castles were built by others, likewise unmindful of the inevitable next high tide. Or, like creating an image on the once-popular Etch-a-Sketch toy, then, with a flick of the wrist, even the most elaborate designs were shaken away, returning the screen to a blank slate. 


While requirements for homebuilding ostensibly fell within the bounds of county, state and federal authorities -- which ordinances and codes the development's eventual parcel owners were legally obliged to conform to as a condition for the place getting greenlit -- these were never easy to enforce by the sparsely populated county's undermanned staff tasked with such oversight. A tiny dwelling amid the sprawling, 66-mile labyrinth of private unpaved roads out in the middle of nowhere was not easy to track...or be aware of even existing -- short of systematically pouring over satellite photos (which in time of course became the accepted method for the county to tax lot improvements). Unless, that is, livid code-compliant residents burned up the phone lines, screaming bloody murder over the latest outrageous noncompliance infraction and demanding swift response in no uncertain terms.


It was a tall order. With the heady sense of freedom living in the secluded back-country enclave lent newly rusticating dwellers, compliant and 'outlaw' alike -- often no one else living within a quarter mile or more  -- a county too poor to hire enough manpower to effectively enforce its own codes, should people simply opt to ignore them, there was something of a pronounced libertarian, even anarchistic, spirit emerging. Especially among the more free-spirited, minimalist lifestyle baby boomer crowd that, fast on the wings of earlier waves, had felt pulled to the mountain like a Star Trek tractor beam. They discovered the plentiful dirt-cheap parcels for sale in the sleepy buyer's market as more and more property holders finally cut their losses, shaking loose of what turned out to be the worst investment they'd had the sorry misfortune to ever get involved in.


Parcels were going for a dime a dozen. Eager buyers didn't seem to stop and wonder why they were going so cheap. It maybe struck them as one of the last few bargain land deals around, and they'd simply been lucky enough to discover the parcels before someone else snapped them up. While it might've seemed an extraordinary bargain too good to be true, some land-hungry buyers no doubt wanted to believe that such pricing was the way things were supposed to be: affordable living


Doing one's thing

Such a free-wheeling spirit might’ve been fine had the place from the start built a solid foundation of infrastructure support and appropriate CC&Rs. But obviously it hadn't. Cheap land really could create cheap intentions. The place's recreational use had run its course and the disparate crowd of instant homesteaders now pouring in were psyched on going their own way and being left alone. Certainly few, if any, any longer bought into the ephemeral retirement community's mindset of how things should be, according to their lights. During the radical late '60s to early '70s -- as different ages, headspaces, lifestyles, incomes, awareness levels, land-use intents and varying respect for the rule of law were all thrown together in the giant cookie-cutter of a primitive wilderness subdivision -- it often seemed the only common ground ever cultivated was everyone agreeing to disagree with everyone else.


It was, obviously, the unwillingness of so many to build to code that became -- along with the overwhelming number of disinterested absentee parcel holders refusing to lift a finger -- the main deal breakers preventing the place from ever segueing into a standard community. The ensuing rebellion from perceived-as-oppressive codes would tear to shreds what little of the place's threadbare social fabric and community sense had been knitted, sparking the long pitched battle between the staunchly compliant who stayed and the merrily (and not so merrily) rebellious. The former viewed the latter as illegal residents deserving the bums' rush; the latter viewed the former as uptight control freaks with too much money and a serious need to chill.


Looking at things from a wider perspective, all factors combined to make for a place so festering with irreconcilable differences, both within and without, that it never had a ghost of a chance of eer transforming from shared camp lands to functional community. A place built on such a shaky footing -- lacking water, electricity and supporting CC&Rs; 'What code?' attitudes, and an overwhelmed county's inability and/or unwillingness to better enforce them; a place rife with contentious energies aimed at it by disgruntled locals with an deep seated resentment it even existed, all baked into the place...such a laundry list of hindrances guaranteed that whatever elusive hopes any and all civic minded residents and property holders might nurture to try turning the place around were forever doomed six ways to Sunday.


Property owner board: hardball with a vengeance

Reflecting, sometimes magnifying, the place's many woes was the property owners association's member-elected board of directors. Formed to fulfill the ongoing obligations of the nonprofit public-benefit corporation that the Vista was -- mostly road maintenance -- it was required by the state to meet monthly. It was normally composed of six volunteer members, each serving staggered two-year terms. Since all members had to live in approved structures and be in good standing to be eligible (or a member in good standing if living elsewhere), the board naturally led the charge in declaring war on noncompliance in trying to save the fledgling backwoods community from disaster. 


Significantly, universal health and building code compliance was also critical if a legal resident decided to move on and wanted to sell at a decent price.  Once realizing the good ship Vista was sinking by the bow, their outrage was magnified for circumstances having touched the money nerve: they knew they'd lose out getting a good return after all their work and expense in creating full-on legal residences as the place lost its brief air of offering an upscale rustic living atmosphere.


In any event, infuriated board members, in doggedly reporting of every last violation found, would create a stony policy of scorched-earth overreach and hardball action that was to become the realm's sorry legacy.


Building a fence without a permit? Report the bugger. Thirty-two days camping out? Get that interloper thrown off. In the course of such efforts they alienated everyone who hadn't made a similar commitment to comply with county ordinances. Sometimes they upset even those who had bought compliant homes and were soon nursing serious misgivings for having moved into such a contentious scene -- one in which it seemed normal for everyone to be gnashing their teeth --lamenting, "What were we thinking moving here?" For decades the place would experience what was in effect a mini reign of terror. Various board members and their minions went about with a sometimes balls-out ruthlessness, trying their damnedest to stamp out the scourge besetting the would-be serene backwoods enclave of respectable, law-abiding folk.  


Such intolerance of course could make the place more than a tad less desirable to want to live in. It doubtless scared off many of your like-minded, would-be code-compliant owner-builders from settling once hearing war stories from spitting-mad residents they approached to ask how they liked living here, or getting grimaces and rolled eyes from health and building department workers the second they spoke the dread realm's name.  


While time ultimately proved the code conformity battle a lost cause, a whack-a-mole effort that did little to stem the tide of unsanctioned building, it nonetheless long remained  a cause celebre, if in time only now simmering on back burner. "The law's the law" remained the hardline stance for what little good it did. The issue swept up everyone into the fray or tried to; there were no innocent bystanders. Those who refused to take a side -- "Sorry, we didn't move out here to get mixed up in local politics" -- were scorned as do-nothing enablers and so part of the problem.


The enforcement system they depended on had failed them catastrophically. It had effectively allowed barbarians to storm the gates, and stay. Shocked over their shattered dreams of tranquil retirement living among kindred souls in the bosom of nature, some came to take a certain grim satisfaction in exacting a pound of flesh from every transgressor, threatening dire consequences if they didn't toe the now-much-faded line. Even when they knew such threats became mostly empty, they must've felt venting such open hostility would make at least some feel so unwelcome they'd start packing, just to get away from such incredibly hostile, clearly bonkers neighbors.


Indeed, a few of your more unwitting transgressors, having no stomach for such testy confrontations, gave up and moved on disillusioned and devastated. Some, who knew they'd maybe be courting trouble, would leave mumbling, "Oh, well, worth a try." But others, having thicker skins and more combative natures, had dug in hard and escalated right along with the enforcers, daring them to do their damnedest. They'd fence off their places and post their own gnarly signs. One of the more chilling: underneath a cross-hairs symbol were the words, "Warning: if you can read this you're within range."  Others, perhaps having too much time on their hands, seemed to enjoy taunting the enforcement crowd; it was a peculiar cat-and-mouse game that at least gave them something to do.


There was yet another reason the code compliant had manned the battle stations, Klaxon horns blaring to wake the dead. Since the Vista was a nonprofit mutual benefit common interest corporation, its volunteer board of directors was legally mandated by the state to make a good-faith effort to have association members abide by all county, state, and federal codes, laws and ordinances. Technically, they could be held liable if neglecting proper enforcement effort; board members could be sued.


As if to show there could be no doubt whatsoever they weren't shirking their duties, board members reported every last infraction their diligent, ongoing searches uncovered to county authorities.


Short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, the place was, again, fully at the mercy of the county powers-that-be to keep things on track. Once Vista's situation started seriously derailing, it was still on them to try to make things right. As taxpayers and association members with no legal fining powers, the law-and-order guard demanded the stretched-thin county enforcement agencies address the out-of-control problem and work to return the realm to 100% code compliance.

For what earthly good were such ordinances if not enforced?


Failing that increasingly impossible dream as an overwhelmed and underfunded enforcement system broke down, at least it'd be on them. (Then maybe they'd get sued.)


Instantly radicalized

While each land buyer signed an agreement to abide by all laws, regulations and ordinances on purchasing of their parcel, it was of course buried in a boilerplate sea of legaleeze fine print. As mentioned, beyond the more flagrant law breakers of latter times were those who, in the rush to pursue elusive dreams of tranquil country living, remained blissfully ignorant of the fact they'd ever agreed to any such thing. They were shocked, then, when told -- often with fire-breathing intensity -- how you couldn't do this or this or that and don't even think of the other thing. People came to feel foolish and misguided for settling in what at first blush had seemed such a delightful, charming, affordable place (apart from the barking signage that one of course tried to tune out), but for some unfathomable reason was giving fresh meaning to the expression 'going off the deep end.'


Such polarized energies and hardball tactics radicalized one against the local powers-that-be in a heartbeat.


The more cash-strapped, instant-sanctuary sort of newcomers hoping to successfully buck the system only knew that they'd snagged a piece of rural California on the cheap, were psyched to do their own thing on it, and wanted to be left alone. Maybe over time they'd try for a well; maybe not. They'd connect with kindred souls who advised them, "Just ignore the board; I do -- hell, everyone does; it's just a toothless tiger, a buncha retired power-freak busybodies with nothing better to do than try telling others how to live. I say, screw 'em and the horses they rode in on."


The very nature of any good-sized rural subdivision, a crazy-quilt grid work of lots tucked away out in the boonies, could be problematic by its very nature, even with supporting infrastructure and CC&Rs. While it enabled any so inclined to buy a bit of rural land affordably -- rather than, say, going bust shelling out for a far pricier stand-alone 20, 40 or 80 acre parcel and then have to deal with road access and maintenance all on their lonesome -- hidden costs in a rural subdivision could be steep indeed. One found themselves living with a potluck assortment of strangers concentrated together in the middle of nowhere, mandated by law to cooperate, yet isolated from the high-density town and city lifestyle that made the same plethora of rules and regulations feel normal. Out in the boonies they felt intolerably oppressive.


It was that same crowded, super-regulated urban reality so many wanted to get away from that led them here in the first place. 


Not sharing the fantasy

The fact that people wanted their own land -- a place where they could live closer to nature and a respectable distance from others -- made it difficult with all the contentious forces afoot to ever warm up to the reality of others sharing the land with them, despite being a world's thinner density than your typical urban scene. While you often couldn't see another house from your property, lending the illusion you had the whole area all to yourself, everyone for better or worse was on the mundane level inextricably bound together by the legal structure and its edicts. It was like the bureaucratic city mindset was surreally superimposed on the untamed countryside.  As a result, thinking the place would offer independent country living often came to feel like a cruel illusion.


Steve Dockter, a late neighbor of the writer's whose laconic manner of speech bore a striking resemblance to actor Sam Elliot, once said it best, with his usual droll delivery, "People need to learn to share the fantasy."  While many could feel like they owned maybe 20 or 40 acres, or at least had one heck of a buffer zone surrounding their two to three acre parcels, they needed to enable others to enjoy the same feeling by being considerate and mindful of their needs and rights as well as their own. Otherwise, the potential for ceaseless territorial squabbling and indifference could -- and often did-- result in a chaotic, wild-frontier climate that ruined it for everyone.


The Vista's laundry list of neighborhood grievances at times seemed endless.


Between barking dogs, roving packs of same, discharging firearms, blasting stereos, gunning vehicle engines, driving too fast and/or recklessly, vandalizing and stealing road signs, burning toxic materials in one's backyard rather than haul them to the dump, tree poaching epidemics, juvenile dirt bikers roaring about on devices loud as chainsaws and tearing through the unfenced lots of absentee owners, epidemic roadside littering and flagrant garbage dumping, letting strong winds blow one's property detritus to the four corners with zero concern over it despoiling the landscape...  Between all these and more there was usually always something going on to raise one's hackles.


In sheer exasperation, residents kept complaining to the largely powerless board, mostly to no avail. And to county authorities, who in turn were often so caught up in the swamp of slow bureaucratic procedure and reflecting an older populace's set rural ways that they themselves might also feel powerless and/or disinclined to work to try resolving such chronic problems. Among the more benumbed and burned out on elected public service were those practiced in the fine art of the two-step avoidance dance in response to constituents'  wails of "Can't you do something?!"  It seemed the buck never stopped anywhere, but rather kept circling endlessly: "Well, unfortunately, there's not a lot we can do"; "Sorry, but it's not our problem"; "Ya see, it's complicated"; "You might give Neighborhood Watch another go"; "You could try suing"...


Beyond the element in local government wary, indifferent to the Vista's plight, for others it possibly wasn't so much supervisors and code enforcers not caring per se as it was the county's rural population, embracing a relaxed, stand-alone country lifestyle and Code of the West, that hadn't the inclination to want to play cop over fellow residents; they thought people should work out any problems on their own. Some in government beyond law enforcement seemed to lack the disposition one cultivated living in often stress-filled urban climates to grab the bull by the horns and confront such thorny problems routinely faced by residents living out in the boonies which were inexorably eroding the charm of country living.


Critically, they depended on the vast majority being law-abiding citizens. The largely rural county didn't have a big enough treasury to enforce its own ordinances should enough -- for whatever reason --  simply choose to ignore them.


If that happened, it might be in deep doo-doo.






The Vista Through Time
1965 - 2015
[Part 4]


Subdivisions not organic settlements

For anyone whose imagination could sometimes take a surreal bent, it might've seemed that the state in approving such rural subdivisions, which each county then had to deal with, was perhaps employing social scientists to conduct a weird social lab experiment: they wanted to determine how many strangers could live together in the middle of nowhere for how long and deal with a given load of  steep, state-imposed mandates before it drove them all nuts. "Hey guys, I think we might have a new contender here."


People moved to the country for peace and quiet; to enjoy fresh air and quietude and live more simply. And be left the hell alone. They didn't want to deal with any blasted bureaucratic mandates. Naturally, they did their level best to ignore them -- even if the downside was possibly as an unintended consequence encouraging an infusion of, er, less than upright citizens, those attracted to the place as a promising hideaway. Some might say the very word 'subdivision' handicapped such developments from ever becoming thriving communities; the word sounded so...well, divisive.


Historically, when a settlement was founded by one or a party, unless a boom-town it evolved slowly; there was an organic process at work. New residents gained a sense of belonging and measure of empowerment within the slow-growing community in which each played a valued role. The Vista, in stark contrast, was founded by a realtor who lived over six hundred miles away. He had every last bit of land cookie-cutter-platted into 1,641 lots before the first camper or, later, resident-to-be ever set foot on the place. It was his creation, such as it was, designed and aspiring to be no more than simple recreational lands, where one could enjoy roughing it in nature a few weeks a year. When it later segued into an actual would-be community, residential growth was handicapped from the get-go. It lacked -- forget infrastructure -- any formal cohesive growth guidelines or self-determination, or abiding pride for being part of a 'home-grown' community instead of merely sne remote development realtor's vision for cooperative primitive camping vacation lands.


Vista's already quite iffy situation was made iffier still after various one-time residents started leasing out their residences once the blush of Vista living was off the rose for them. Such lessees had zero say in how the place was run as far as board eligibility, even if in time one might've felt a strong vested interest and wanted to get involved and help the place along more than joining the volunteer fire department or doing fundraisers for it, or simply spout one's two cents' worth at monthly meetings (if even allowed to, being a non-owner).


The many problems, again, were hugely exacerbated by the legion of disinterested absentee parcel owner that long constituted over 90% of the association's membership; they dwarfed the number of actual residents, yet they held equal voting power on any formal proposal. To many of the purely speculative it was nothing but a gone-sour investment they'd sell the second they got a decent offer. In the meantime, they'd scream and holler over every cent of annual due increase right along with the scattered residents, many of whom had themselves become indifferent to the outlandish notion of ever helping along the one-time wilderness condo that had obviously lost its way to the point of giving fresh meaning to the word 'dysfunctional'.


Professional association management, in time hired by the volunteer board, was relied on to take care of mundane everyday matters, especially legal and accounting concerns. But by then things had been going wrong so long, many felt there was nothing meaningful anyone could do other than nurse along the wobbly operation the way it was and hope for the best. Cynics included long-established residents who had their own social scene wired, thank you, all too aware how steeply the cards were stacked against the place. They'd reject as naive, if well-meant, the pipe dreams of those who wanted to try redeeming the place.

Cynicism ran so deep, 'hope' was just another four-letter word.


A prime example of how endemic the lack of civic-minded spirit was: One day in the 1990's, dozens of unwanted orange, plastic bagged phone books had been dropped off below the mailbox complex -- or pushed off the box top to the ground by an irate resident -- at the busy Juniper Drive entrance. While it created an eyesore for everyone driving by, over a month went by and no one bothered to deal with it. The disbelieving writer (who didn't live in that part) held off, waywardly fascinated by such monumental indifference. (Finally I gathered them up for recycling.) No doubt many had grumbled to themselves how someone should clean them up, but of course never thought to be that someone. Disheartened and disgusted the place was so untogether, they perhaps got a perverse rush raking the board over the coals for being so discombobulated it couldn't even deal with such a simple matter.


A more far-reaching example: In 1981, association members defeated the proposal made by then board president Eric Prescott. He'd envisioned the Vista building a modest multi-use community center on one of the hundreds of empty lots for the mutual benefit of every resident and owner-visitor at a time when the place, still predominantly code abiding, was growing as a would-be community. Even though it would’ve only involved a modest extra assessment for two years to fund, its cost being spread out among many owners, and undoubtedly would benefit myriad parcel holders over time by fostering an integrating sense of community, therefore likely increasing lot values, the sea of owner majority had their blinders firmly in place. They chorused their favorite refrain: "Not One Cent More!"


Home free?

As mentioned, many embraced the persistent fond illusion that once they'd bought the land, except for annual property taxes -- some no doubt weren't even aware of that recurring expense -- they were home free. So they took strong exception to having to feed the parking meter every year as it were for road maintenance on roads most never drove on, lest their property get towed away by the Mt. Shasta Vista Property Owners Association through legal repossession...for resale to the next, possibly equally clueless, buyer.


Not that there weren't also absentee owners who, despite all, treasured the land. They held elusive hopes its promising beginnings might be rekindled. But such sentiments faced constant headwinds of the sense of overwhelming hopelessness born of the long-entrenched indifference by so many lot holders. Some no doubt entertained wistful notions of moving here someday once it somehow, finally, miraculously got itself together -- or perhaps even as-is and hoping for the best. And a few others still enjoyed periodic camping retreats on more secluded retreat lots, located far from the busiest arteries and established homes which were often clustered along the few power lines and relatively close to the blacktop.


But it seemed that most -- jaded residents and disillusioned absentee owners alike -- were apathetic to the notion of the place ever being anything but permanently out of kilter. That is, if it meant one more penny being pried from wallet or purse; there was no hope for the basket case.


Some thought a portion of their annual assessment could surely go towards funding whatever civic improvements the community-minded thought would help the place along. But the budget was almost always stretched to the breaking point over the high cost of maintaining the 66 miles of fragile roads. Plus, the board was repossessing parcels that couldn't be resold readily and their annual county property taxes had to be covered by the association, further eating into available funds. Then there were vandalized or stolen road signs needing frequent replacement (back when that was still done, and in a timely manner). And skyrocketing insurance rates. And thorny legal matters with potential lawsuits, requiring keeping a pricey attorney on retainer. And...


Disinterested association managers &

board presidents with conflicts of interest

In the 1980s, the association began shelling out for the annual salary of the professional association manager. Things had gotten too complicated and time-consuming for volunteer board members alone. Most were not enough versed in legal matters to grasp the intricate procedures required for running the development according to Hoyle, especially once the state legislature in 1985 enacted a flurry of new regulations for subdivisions known as the Davis Stirling Act.


But it would add insult to injury when, over time, one of our salaried managers (the place has had two) -- whom residents might naturally assume would work for the good of the place, helping preserve the Vista's livability and keeping residents' best interests at heart, along with that of the absentee owners -- actually brokered lot sales for private gain by also serving as a realty agent on the side to expedient parties clearly intent on turning aforesaid tranquil lifestyle upside down and inside out seven ways to Sunday


And while some, maybe even most, volunteer board presidents tried to keep the well-being of the residency in mind -- again, balanced against valid concerns of absentee parcel holders -- one (who shall remain nameless), was part of a realty effort aggressively working to move parcels for commission fees to those with ridiculously obvious intentions out of accord with preserving the place's livability. She held that the right of each property owner to do with their lot whatever they damn well pleased trumped any consideration whatsoever for the well-being of the community (such as it was). With such a mindset, resident owners were often left feeling like little more than expendable pawns on the realtors' chessboards.


Though the development was technically a nonprofit public benefit corporation, there was so much strictly for-profit, make-money-anyway-you-can-off-the-lame-ass-dead-in-the-water-parcels hustling going on by self-interested parties that it beggared belief. 


No there there

Many residents, having low or no expectations going in, accepted the fact there wasn't any more there, there. Nothing beyond the trees and sage and simple roads and signs. Maybe even relieved; it suited some just fine. Various parties used the place as a temporary perch, ready to move along when or if something better came along. Again, to the thinking of many, trying to foster any real community seemed to hold negative potential for becoming an intolerably intrusive force. One spearheaded by a bunch of bored power-hungry busybodies hellbent on trying to tell others how to live. Any virtuous cycle that now and then emerged by the more determined, clear-headed board members was soon swallowed by the usually prevailing civic indifference.


Many people the realm attracted seemed far from your conventional sort (if there ever was such a thing). They'd moved here to get as far away from over-complicated, peace-eroding bureaucratic urban forces as possible yet still not be too far from town. As a late section 13 Pilar Road resident, then president of the Siskiyou Arts Council, said gleefully of the place during a public radio interview, "We live out in the middle of nowhere and we love it!"


Those who'd conformed to code requirements, or bought places that had, ostensibly had the peace of mind with which to enjoy them, being dutifully law abiding citizens. But even those who hadn't and were hunkering down, hopefully under radar, seemed to feel they had the same inviolable right to enjoy their parcels any way they chose to and not get hassled, ignoring any and all laws and ordinances that didn't strike their fancy and seemed unlikely to be enforced anyhow.


Handy place to perch

The Vista, an arrested recreational subdivision that spectacularly failed to segue into any stripe of 'normal' community, remained an embarrassment of mostly empty lots. Because of this, it struck all kinds of refugees from urban living as a dandy place to perch. Cheap and remote, but not too remote. The compliant among them could enjoy simple stand-alone country living while the non-compliant more than likely could get away with not conforming to code, or suffer singed feathers at worst. Both paid the mandatory annual dues (usually) and as a popular idle pastime demonized the volunteer member board as the source of all evils. With a shortsightedness living in the place seemed to cultivate, it was the fly in the ointment preventin any more carefree country living.


The more cynical felt the board setup was bogus, probably illegal. Corrupt as hell anyhow. "Someone oughta sue", "Why I ever moved here...", "This place would be just fine if it weren't for...", "They can't do that, can they?", ad infinitum. Unfounded, idle rumors of corrupt board members dipping into the treasury were rife.


Though such gnarly energies weren't always evident, it often felt that way. There were in fact respites, pleasant lulls, when the dread fire-breathing beast of contention slumbered. During such times -- especially during gentle springs and early summers -- a peaceful, laid-back spirit prevailed over a land that seemed blessed with rich tranquility. Grateful denizens relished the solitude living amid sunshiny, largely unspoiled nature, polarized energies checkmated and a tenuous live-and-let-live attitude prevailed. 


Such idyllic periods, alas, seldom lasted.


Perennial joker in the deck;

Intolerable years of the mid '70s through the mid '90s

While there was something that made everyone feel like a king or queen of their own regal, rustic bit of wild land, their own little backwoods hideaway bought for a song, one had to keep tuning out the perennial joker in the deck: that never-ending battle over code compliance. It could make said would-be royalty feel instead like rebellious serfs living under the yoke of the would-be oppressive overlords who'd met county legal residency requirements and so were duly vested in maintaining Law and Order -- sometimes succeeding, other times coming off like Barney Fife.


Alas, this joker, like some rude Jack-in-the-box, kept popping up to crimp the lives of non-complying dwellers during the Intolerable Years that roughly spanned between the mid 1970s and mid 1990s. While domains tucked away furthest along the endless back roads often had so few inhabitants the inhabitants might've imagined their digs being more pioneer homesteads of yore, rather than any dratted modern-day subdivision parcels subject to a slew of nit-picky, spirit-stifling rules and regulations,  the latter reality would sooner or later assert itself to put a decided damper in one's day.


Some (certainly not all) board members and their cohorts, fondest hopes for the place disintegrating into utter rack and ruin and, consequently, minds unhinged and drunk on the seeming powers being a board member bestowed -- often ran amok like so many little T-Rexes. With barred teeth and razor claws, they tried wielding ruthless authority over the domain, clearly intent on terrorizing into conformity any hapless inhabitant with the gall to dare try moving in amid their established enclave of respectability without having first earned the right.

Fast forward and the latest board members, though still grumbling over the rampant non-compliance going on, seemed to become more or less resigned to enduring a seemingly unsolvable situation. Board meeting members and attendees, many mindful of the brief Shangri-la of yore, often sank into a why bother? depressed mindset during operations. But oddly enough, even with the once iron authority now rusting away, compliant residents often still somehow felt one couldn't do diddly-squat without first getting the board's approval, and then grow old waiting for it. ("Matter tabled til next month (yawn); motion for adjournment?")  The same if one wanted to start a new volunteer service to help the place out.


At a meeting held in then-president Bonnie Jolly's living room, the writer once volunteered to become an unpaid custodian for the subdivision to deal with the epidemic of mindless road litter despoiling the roadsides. Though they apparently thought it a good idea and voted me into the new position, it was all a strange experience, like they were sleepwalking. They didn't  bother to address any details the post would require, like either supplying trash bags or agreeing to reimburse me for them, or gas and dump fees. Nothing. So I 'quit' my post before I started, knowing I needn't even say anything to anyone. Their hearts simply weren't in it. Burned out volunteering to be on a mostly powerless board and used to receiving only grief for their efforts and getting depressed over the sorry state of affairs in general, they just wanted to cover routine matters like road maintenance while coasting on automatic pilot. (I'd continue gathering road litter informally on my own, as did a few others likewise concerned.)


The way board members too often seemed to be just going through the motions, residents sometimes did tackle things as they saw fit on their own, without the board's blessing. Like setting right a road sign that had been struck and was precariously listing or fallen, or repairing a stretch of road in front of their place rather than wait months going through sluggish channels.


Apathy and a sense of hopelessness in the place was so chronic, it could often feel like we were a crew on a foundering ship with barely the will left to do more than bail just enough water to prevent going under.


What rules?

Jumping back again to the earlier, intolerant years now... Despite a seemingly bonkers board throwing its weight around, on constant red alert, remote circumstances still somehow lent a tenuous assurance one could do (or should be able to do) whatever they wanted on their land. No uptight board -- lacking credibility and legal fining power, in time getting less and less enforcement support from the county -- could stop them, regardless how much ruckus they raised.

Private-property rights were sacrosanct, after all. More unruly dwellers blocked from mind the reality of being part of any external world's rules and regulations or, for sure, its mundane, elected board of directors. It just didn't register as anything needed. It was too invasive, too arbitrary, too self-defeating to the very reason they most moved here.


At the risk of overstating the point, the illusion of anything goes manifested in profound measure due to the overwhelming majority of raw-parcel owners living far away and rarely, if ever, visiting their lots. To actual dwellers, they seldom held more than an easily tuned out phantom presence. Inhabitants fairly came to view the thousand-some vacant, undeveloped, seemingly unsellable parcels as some sort of permanent park commons. Dwellers were sovereign over their own inviolate mini fiefdom of two to three acres plus an oftentimes luxuriant buffer zone of dozens of empty parcels; it could make one feel land rich indeed. (Writer, in one of the more remote areas, for decades was surrounded by hundreds of such acres.)


Some residents, beyond board members in contact with absentee owners, vaguely sensed the latter's displeasure over how the place was going. It was a situation that often allowed firewood-selling tree poachers to raid absentees' unprotected lots at will, sometimes parcels harboring actual squatters, and let off-roaders cavalierly tear up their parcels at will. Though perhaps having no one to blame but themselves for being foolish enough to buy into such a baldfaced financial misadventure, it was easier to blame a residency and powerless board that at times gave the impression nobody cared diddlysquat about such outrageous goings on.


Whether or not one sensed this pernicious force, on one level absentees' combined ire over the state of affairs of course added to the overload of contentious forces already at work on the place. Though subtle, it could vaguely gnaw at a resident's peace of mind right along with the in-your-face, code compliant dwellers waging war on the non-compliant and 'outlaw' dwellers responding in kind.  This vast absentee ownership, which as a whole never felt the altruistic urge to try to help the place out of its dire straits by voting for things like a community center, was a serious contender for being the last straw that would break the camel's back.


Early pot grows and vigilante episodes

inside an intractable tract

In the early 2000s, one of the few residents then furtively growing illicit cannabis for the black market, before state pot laws were further decriminalized, one day found himself with new neighbors. They appeared keen on doing the exact same thing as him. Wanting to avoid increasing the likelihood of bringing any unwanted attention to his own operation, he persuaded them to leave by promising violence in no uncertain terms if they didn't.*



* The Vista's early pot grows of course set the stage for later developments, showing yet again how the remote place was an irresistible draw for all sorts for all sorts of reasons.


California had legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the first in the nation to do so. In time, before it legalized recreational pot, in late 2016, and changed the game rules yet again, a few enterprising Vistan residents would pool together scrip from the sea of registered medical marijuana 'patients', entitling them to grow six plants a year for each. In effect, it legally allowed them grow up to 99 plants, thereby ostensibly supplying some 16 'patients', technically being in compliance with state law, before growing any more might trigger undesired county, state or federal interest.


After 2016, the 99-plant figure reportedly became the tacitly agreed-on limit, barring any filed complaints, by a seemingly overwhelmed county sheriff's department, regardless of whether having scrip paperwork or not. The six-plant limit the state specified for all except fully licensed commercial farms was destined to be gleefully ignored by the flood of unsanctioned commercial growers pouring into the Vista -- along with, eventually, the 99 plant limit. The civil misdemeanor fine was the same, whether growing thirty or three thousand plants -- $500. If busted and one's crop chopped, growers would often be back in the saddle the next day, generating a new sea of green.


Siskiyou county, for what little it seemed to matter, had decided not to allow ANY commercial grows in the unincorporated county; that is, beyond incorporated city limits. A town's voters had the option to approve legal, tightly regulated commercial grows and sales dispensaries, or forbid them. While the towns of Weed (naturally) and Mt. Shasta voted for it, commercial grows anywhere else were verboten -- though you'd hardly know it for the lack of enforcement. Many pot entrepreneurs seemed to not care that the state empowered each county to allow or forbid regulated commercial cannabis operations in its unincorporated areas, knowing Siskiyou county was too poor to enforce its own ban.



Between a critical handful of your more anarchistic-leaning residents ignoring any and all rules and regulations interfering with doing whatever they pleased; a county seemingly throwing up its hands and abandoning the place as a hopeless mess, actually deleting its residency-code enforcer post for many critical years; and radically changing times in general -- between these, respect for the rule of law in the Vista got on some pretty shaky ground.


A few more examples. As mentioned, some less than civic-minded entrepreneurial residents (as well as invading outsiders) routinely poached trees on vacant lots to sell as firewood, cutting down scores of standing snags, sometimes even felling living trees, including some of the few tall pines that long graced the region, leaving unsightly stumps and slash piles on once relatively pristine parcels. (A forestry department rep once showed the writer a regional map with a rash of probably over a thousand tiny red dots, each dot representing an illegal cut.) Another party set up a huge dog-rescue kennel on unimproved, treeless land in section 21; neighbors up to half a mile away suffered the endless barking of the unhappily caged residents, often left baking in the sun, for over a year until the operation was finally shut down.


Bolder souls often tried taking the law into their own hands. When a resident towards the top of White Drive discovered a surveyor had made an error decades earlier on his lot boundaries, he tried outright closing off the major through road running by his place by building a sign-posted gate across it -- despite it being ages too late to legally remedy the error. An equally bold neighbor who regularly used the road didn't think twice when encountering the barrier: he just backed up his bad-boy truck, gunned the engine, and smashed through the gate, end of problem.


Yet another neighbor, on McClarty Road, furious over certain parties routinely roaring by his place, raising clouds of dust just to tick him off, one evening furtively dug a slanted trench across the road. That night they sped by as usual, promptly lost control, and ran into a tree. Walking back shaken and furious to confront him, he shot at them, missing, and was later arrested. On another occasion, a resident on Cardinal Road saw red once learning his outlaw neighbor had tried hitting on his young teen daughter. Along with a wrecking crew he rounded up, he descended on the culprit's land late at night when it was known he was away on vacation in county lockup; they vandalized and looted the place to a fare-thee-well. And when a Black man briefly occupied a vacant stone cottage (again,on McLarty) and was discovered by the absentee owner late one night, the latter held a shotgun on him for some 40 minutes until a sheriff deputy arrived.


Obviously, the place's auspicious start during simpler times, its relatively homogeneous, convention-minded, law-abiding dwellers sharing an upbeat bonhomie, had long ago become ancient history.


Blame it on the mountain

One could maybe in part blame the energy of the massive mountain for residents not working any better together. As mentioned, its natural force field, or whatever energy one sensed it emanated, was thought to stimulate one's upper body chakras. While initially revving up one's imagination, in time it could in time also tend to pull one meditatively inward. Bolstered by the development founder, who as fellow camper in the idyllic early days also relished the freedom to do whatever one wanted on the land (within the limits of the prevailing times' law-abiding ways, of course), the mountain's influence could work to make one feel their parcel was in fact their own impregnable Fortress of Solitude.

Long after the honeymoon camping years had faded and an increasingly casual (that is, not code-compliant), quasi homesteading took off in earnest, people for a while actually competed and campaigned to get voted onto the board. Some no doubt hoped to try mellowing the place -- willing to turn a blind eye to unenforceable county ordinances, perhaps, so long as residents were otherwise peaceable, thus trying to make the best of a bad situation. But others kept grinding the code enforcement ax, bound and determined to bolster the by-then largely toothless hardline campaign against unsanctioned dwellings, their dwellers, and pretty much anyone who even looked at them cross-eyed.


That relatively community-active period passed soon enough. Fast-forward a decade and the place was so overwhelmed with non-compliant residents, there was an air of terminal civic indifference. The ungovernable atmosphere, perhaps reflecting the 1990's high national crime rate, was punctuated by helpless wails from the long-suffering code compliant: “What’s happening to this place?”


Lost in a fog, we were like a ship at sea without sail or rudder, aimlessly adrift. "Water, water, everywhere / nor any drop to drink." 


Rambunctious Whitney Creek

This, even -- in supreme irony -- residents on the water-parched lands periodically had to scramble to keep snow melt waters out from next door's seasonally running Whitney Creek; it periodically went on a rampage, flooding areas of the adjacent section 28 lowlands. After many years of floods washing away vulnerable roads and eroding parcels, the Association in the eighties sued the Forest Service. It had allowed the course of the creek -- actually more a snow melt wash -- to be diverted towards the then-new subdivision by removing a dam built above state highway 97 by people in the area who'd owned what later became Lake Shastina and then no longer had need of it, or wanted to deal with it themselves. (Then-emerging Lake Shastina didn't want it, either.)


The development won the suit, and the quarter-million dollar settlement went to funding the massive earthen berms that to this day are kept up along Buck Horn Road and what's left of Rising Hill Road to protect the place from future floods. Between summer bulldozing efforts to repair the latest erosion from the previous year's water action and the creek sometimes cutting new courses through the silt, the waters were mostly kept out of harm's way.*


* But not always. In August 2022, part of the Buck Horn Road berm was again breached after a prolonged, record 100 degree weather generated extraordinary amounts of snow and glacier melt, possibly built up in an ice dam and finally bursting, flooding land on both sides the of berm and prompting a Code Red evacuation alert.



Bored writer joins the board

In the early 2010s, after over 30 years feeling little fondness for the board -- at times being demonized by some of its members in return, short fuses being common all around  -- the writer actually served on it, for all of 18 months. At the time, volunteering for the board had hit an all-time low. It was hard-pressed to fill out more than three of its five seats, three being the legal minimum needed to conduct essential business like approving road maintenance outlays.


They weren't too picky about who volunteered just so long as one was a code-compliant resident or absentee owner in good standing. If not rallying, the place conceivably could go into dread state receivership as a failed subdivision and face monumentally unpleasant and costly consequences. As I was one of only a few who even sporadically attended monthly meetings, one evening in 2012 I got roped into serving on it as secretary by then-president Pamela Simpson before I knew it.


While it turned out the development actually defaulting never posed a serious threat, it seemed to have at least flirted with such an ignominious fate from time to time. It felt like no one gave three hoots in a holler what happened to the woebegone place. Certainly few appreciated or respected how various residents were volunteering time and energy to try to meet the state's mandate to do what needed to be done to keep going some minimum level of functionality (again, mostly overseeing road maintenance). For all their troubles, volunteers were vilified as power-crazed busybodies interfering with residents' would-be tranquility.


With so many members -- resident and absentee alike -- routinely damning the board, or at least being supremely indifferent to it, all but the more determined and thick-skinned members serving on it soon burned out; they got overwhelmed, became jaded and/or embittered in record time. Those who hung in could appear charred remnants of their former selves, sleepwalking through monthly meetings like a dog with a bone, determined not to let go of the reigns for fear no one could or would replace them and do a credible job. Indeed, from time to time the board actually did attract volunteers who had shameless private agendas up their sleeves, wanting to try using the place to selfish advantage or idly seeking the dubious prestige and power being a member bestowed without intending to do any actual work.  


As the writer was to learn, the board's pressure-cooker meetings could be seriously detrimental to one's peace of mind. One had to be in full psychic armor and ready for battle as it were if, say, some outraged residents or visiting owners attended to vent their spleen. Or, more often, endure soul-crushing boredom.  And one could be made to feel like cannon fodder if told by the manager to sign stacks of legal foreclosure papers on property owners who'd either given up on the place, were in dire financial straits, or both.


You struggled to rise above the sea of paperwork and dry formal meeting procedure suffered in the cramped, cold-fluorescent lit, fire station backroom if hoping to accomplish anything to be conceivably proud of. Spirits were often so subdued, we appeared to be a clinical group depression. It was as if everyone felt the thankless grand futility of it all but plugged away anyhow out of some misguided sense of civic duty.


All is futile...

Born under a dark star?

No doubt like many well-meaning board members before and after me, I'd hoped to somehow help turn the place around. The situation just seemed so ridiculously depressing, so needlessly downbeat, so all-is-futility-why-even-bother? that surely it wouldn't take much to reverse its dispiriting downward spiral. You'd think. But of course I struck out like everyone else. While some of the newsletter features and editorial write-ups I penned were appreciated, it was too little too late to make one bit of difference. The boat had by then not only left the dock but sailed half way around the world. The die was cast, the dismal course set. Barring a miracle, it was wishful thinking to imagine that board members could ever pull the place out of the hopeless quagmire it was stuck in.


We were dinosaurs floundering in a tar pit, lamenting our tragic fate.


Though various mindful visitors over time keenly sensed the land's pronounced healing qualities -- some overnighters reported having the best dreams of their lives here -- cynics, not without some justification, came to dismiss the beleaguered realm out of hand: “No water, no trees, nothing but desert and rattlesnakes.” To them it was just a cheap substandard rural bedroom community; a hideout for hard-drinking loners, small-time growers and spaced-out nature freaks; maybe a few respectable, hardworking residents hoping to play out some elusive dream of idyllic country living and obviously picking the wrong place...


The way so many routinely slammed the place, one might've concluded it was born under a dark star, a wicked witch’s cauldron boiling over with gnarly contention, any effort to resist its calamitous destiny pure folly.


Resistance was futile.


And now a bit of esoterica:

Vista's astrology and cardology

Those at all into astrology might appreciate the celestial forces at work the day the place legally came into being, November 3, 1965. The calendar date was the birth day of TV's Rosanne Barr, along with football's Collin Kaepernick and actor Charles Bronson. Some might say the resulting early Scorpio, brooding, super-wound energies imprinted on the development at its moment of birth practically guaranteed the place would always be on the intense side. Then, lightening the mix, both Mars and Venus were in nature-loving Sagittarius, along with a compassionate, dreamy Pisces moon.


Related, there's cardology, or the study of planetary influences forming a unique DNA signature for each day of the year, symbolized by a playing card (some days sharing the same card, but having unique variations of meaning). Its 4 of diamonds birthday, according to the book Cards of Destiny by Sharon Jeffers, created an "innate restlessness, possible dissatisfaction with what one was doing," and could make one "...a dreamer who doesn't always allow dreams to become reality."


That last surely fit the Vista to a T:  It was like a dreamland, not able to deal with waking reality.


Perfect storm

Somewhere along the way, the once openly shared, carefree vacation land would reach a critical tipping point past the point of no return. Anarchistic-leaning residents were determined to do their own thing while hundreds of landholders, filled with buyer remorse, had little to no interest in the place except to cash out the first chance they got. The scene had gotten so sketchy, most would-be residents long ago lost any interest in building to code. Why bother, since the county dropped its residential code enforcer position and a code-built place couldn't fetch enough return if later deciding to sell for being located in such a squirrelly, unity-challenged place?


Countless daunting factors holding the place back were piling up, one on top of the other; in time they'd combine to create a perfect storm.


The situation already let any so inclined have a field day pursuing whatever dubious land uses they might conjure -- junkyards, dog kennels, meth labs -- for being off remote, private dirt roads tucked far away from all but at most the prying eyes of a few nosy neighbors, or concerned residents who seemed pretty much powerless to do anything about it. No matter that such dubious uses upset the peace and quiet the code compliant had dropped anchor here for and invested decades of hard work establishing homesteads, or bought such places from others who had and paid accordingly.


The wayward realm was singing the old Cole Porter's tune "Anything Goes".

Without any more pro-active harmonizing force, one with at the least a semblance of community concern and respect for the rule of law, an anarchistic spirit was gaining an outsize influence. It seemed the majority of less invested residency, used to the place being terminally dysfunctional -- a quirky, cheap, low-key hideaway with a powerless board and unresponsive county authorities -- couldn't be bothered to read the writing on the wall, or read it and felt nothing could be done. As a result, the place left the door wide open for even greater calamity.


One didn't need the omniscience of 20-20 hindsight to realize that by the early teens two things were clear: One, the lotus land was a rudderless ship, vulnerable to drifting into perilous straits; and two, residents either didn't care or felt powerless to do anything to safeguard the (fitfully) tranquil rural lifestyle by then taken for granted. 



The Vista thru Time
 [part 5]




Knowing where the Vista was coming from could go a long way in understanding where it went. Had the place's metaphorical foundation (as it were) gone full circle? First tents and trailers set on sand; then conventional homes built on rock; then trailers again, set on sand. 

Whatever happened, lack of water always played a major role. Klamath River County Estates (KRCE) landowner Will Jensen, in long ago reporting in a blog covering his exhaustive search to find an ideal affordable rural home property with inspiring Mt. Shasta view, noted: “No matter who we talked to we were warned away from Mt. Shasta Vista...we were told repeatedly that Mt. Shasta Vista was bad for wells.”


Wanting to remedy the chronic water shortage, in the early 2000s a few solution-minded residents applied for a government grant to fund a proposed centralized water distribution system. It was rejected, deemed too much cost and effort to help too few.


The realm's need for dependable water was highlighted for being in high desert land that was often baking hot and bone dry in summer, as well as for being volcanic terrain that often made hitting water through lava strata touch and go, and, even if successful, sometimes resulting in water undrinkable without expensive treatment.


One time, an early owner couple drilling for water hit a lava tube. They felt a constant, cool stream of air moving out of the hole and decided to harness the tube's frigid air with a fan to naturally air-condition their eventual home and sank their well elsewhere.  (More on water situation in next part.)


Back to the ‘80s

By the mid 1980s, Vista’s resident population had grown to maybe 150 or 200 residences of various and sundry ambition levels and financial conditions. Scattered over the vastness of nearly seven square miles, it was still a mere sprinkling; the development was worlds away from even beginning to be built out. Most dwellers still felt like land barons. Especially if on parcels far from the relative concentration of structures amid the few power lines that were often (but not always) found closest to the county blacktop road.


It seemed many owners were addicted to only driving on pavement; they couldn't warm to the place's humble cinder gravel roads. Adverse to their nice clean vehicle getting all dusty and ruining the latest car wash, they resisted the very idea of having to regularly drive up to five miles over often narrow and winding cinder roads to reach their properties. A half mile of unpaved back road was more than enough to endure. (A segment of dwellers were so upset by such roads that they were willing to have steep assessments approved to pave them, maybe thinking the cinder roads were the only thing holding the place back from further development.) It seemed that, for some, the desire for seclusion was weighed against the desire for easy in and out, and so a compromise was struck. In any event, with so many less desirable parcels scattered deep in the hinterlands, there was, again, a grand buffer of over a thousand empty parcels in the overall place that lent more remote regions a profoundly tranquil, park-like ambiance for any willing to go the distance and actually embrace the country lifestyle, rather than merely tolerating it while keeping city-centric mindsets intact.


But it often seemed that no matter how much pristine land one might enjoy, a foreboding undercurrent always lurked just below the surface. It could seriously jam one’s peace of mind and any ability to enjoy the oft-heralded joys of country living. Between the regional community never accepting the place and the hellbent resolve of code-compliant residents to forever battle code ignorers and their often primitive lifestyles and dragging down the livability, desirability, and market values of the place for those with conventional tastes, it seemed one always waited for the other shoe to drop. Even if a resident was compliant, an almost palpable tension could fill the air. On the subtle it was like living in a crowded tenement, angry landlord pounding at the door.


This was one of the grand ironies of living in the Vista. Either you detached and became philosophical about it all or you soon found yourself over-identifying with artist Munch’s screamer.


It would drive more than a few to drink.


Missing word sank efforts

About 2012, a long overdue effort was launched by a handful of more civic-minded residents. A committee  got formed to try revising the outdated CC&Rs. Not overhaul them outright, mind you, but at least tinker around the edges some, trying to make them a bit more relevant and fine-tuned. After much slow sledding, a glitch in the progress report sent out to every owner promptly sank the earnest efforts. The pamphlet cover’s title was supposed to read: “Proposed Changes to Mt. Shasta Vista Bylaws”. But the all-critical first word was somehow left out, making the changes sound like a done deal.


This prompted a barely peaceable pitchforks-and-torches crowd to storm the next monthly board meeting. Residents normally avoiding such meetings like the plague were coming out of the woodwork; they thought the board was trying to stage a coup.


The long and winding roads;

Whitney Creek revisited

While you had your own private parcel, the modest annual ‘road dues’ assessments were often deeply resented -- and frequently contested by those not getting their own roads better maintained (if at all). Various absentee owners added to the chorus, claiming they could barely reach their parcels if located in the more remote areas, since the roads hadn’t been touched in years. The most neglected stretches could develop deep dry pools of tire-grabbing, quicksand-like silt, so bad that AAA tow trucks eventually refused to come out to rescue trapped members' vehicles after once having gotten their own rig stuck in turn and a monster tow truck having to be called in to rescue the rescuer.


It didn’t help matters any that the part-time neighbor, Whitney Creek, rambunctious when summer temperatures soared to 90 or 100 degree F. and melted the mountain's sometimes heavy winter snow pack, cut a new course or ate through earthen berms. It once actually put much of Section 28 under up to nine inches of water, forcing an evacuation and making regional TV news, with long-time resident and native Arkansan Bill Waterson hyucking for the camera. The worst of the many floods over time, until a massive earthen berm was at last built, it washed away some roads so thoroughly that the board finally abandoned them and bought the parcels of those who could no longer reach their parcels short of driving a Hummer; they figured it was cheaper than having to keep rebuilding the remote, little used roadways. Three-fourths of Rising Hill Road, the southernmost road in the Vista, no longer exist -- and the area is still vulnerable to flood. Delivery people and first-timers using an obsolete map or over-relying on sometimes inaccurate Google Maps often got confused, if not hopelessly stuck, looking for phantom roads until the Association -- decades after there became an obvious need for them -- installed Dead End signs at the start of roads branching off Starling Road.


Train wreck of a place

Vistan parcel holders were by and large a frugal lot: bought the land cheap, moved in cheap, wanted to keep things cheap. Many harbored pronounced stand-alone inclinations. It seemed futile to even try rallying community awareness and cooperation in such a bare-bones place and ornery social climate. The situation was, as  stressed, seriously compounded by the sea of absentee owners who'd bought parcels solely as investments and came to feel their holdings an albatross about their collective necks for the chronic sleeper-market conditions of what had obviously failed in its effort to segue into any sort of standard residential development. The widespread disenchantment was guaranteed to arrest any errant inclination some might've otherwise held to try extricating the development from its monumentally discombobulated straits.


At some point, having no legal foundation blueprints with which to build any real standard, recognized community, the place -- overwhelmed by seemingly endless adverse circumstances  -- had simply shorted out. It became the broken development first-time visitors routinely dropped jaws over. Such a "left for dead", train wreck of a place, set amid otherwise seemingly peaceful and charming backwoods, struck many as too surreal. It was something like a long abandoned film set for a low budget Western, left gathering mothballs in outdoor storage. Or a place that grew too big for its britches in trying to rise above its lowly station and was left paying the steep price for its rank impertinence.


Those who early on had built their dozen or two full-on, code-approved homes -- almost everyone who first moved onto the land -- were realistic in assessing the situation. They knew it would take everyone following health and building regulations if the development were to continue to emerge as an standard community.


But people swooped on the cheap, some displaying innocent "Hey, I'm just building a little vacation cabin here, no biggie" sentiments; others, a more defiant, "Whadarya goin' to do about it, hee-hee?" attitudes; or "My land; bugger off." Earliest settlers knew their one-time law-abiding retirement hideaway faced mortal danger; its very survival depended on county authorities stepping in with no-nonsense code enforcement.


Failing that, the place was toast.  


Still a nice place to live, kinda sorta

Over time, the realm -- becoming a broad, haphazard, incredibly unlikely mix of full-on approved living structures and unsanctioned makeshift dwellings and derelict trailers and mobiles -- stabilized after a fashion. It became perhaps not too unlike a quarter-risen cake that stopped rising in the oven, partially collapsed, then dried out and solidified. Though left caught between worlds, the Vista was de facto recycled, its residency making like hermit crabs and moving in among the abandoned rec land lot shells and houses sold by disillusioned and repelled owners. Many and sundry came to consider the development a nice place to live, despite its obvious shortcomings and checkered pedigree. Sure, it was a failed subdivision, but hey, it was our failed subdivision.

Living in the Vista was like wearing a comfy if disreputable looking old pair of sneakers that had yet to develop worrisome holes in the soles.


Such kind regard was seldom felt by most of the some eighty percent of property holders as of 2010 -- over 1,200 owners -- constituting the absentee membership scattered throughout the nation. They were clearly not enjoying the land. Some, possibly hoping for a miraculous turnaround, had, as mentioned, clung to title deeds for decades, gritting their teeth and doubling down, shelling out each year for upkeep on roads they never drove on lest their lots be repossessed -- as countless hundreds indeed were over time.  The sentiment was basically, "When I invested in the place, I didn't realize I'd have to keep investing in it."


Others dumped their lots in dismay, taking a loss and feeling bitter disappointment. The churn rate of lot ownership change created extra billing time for the salaried manager processing the reams of legal paperwork, driving up association dues and generating quick commissions for expedient realtors who kept offering the embarrassment of beleaguered lots as sleeper land steals to the gullible, desperate, and flip minded. They often didn't have to say a word; the remote dirt-cheap lots with fabulous mountain views and deep seclusion sold themselves.


Meanwhile, the absentee parcel holders -- like hapless characters in Waiting for Godot -- stood by patiently for values to rise so they could finally lose the clunkers at a decent profit, or at least break even. Or the place improved itself to the point they could actually enjoy visiting, maybe build an approved shelter of some sort as a part-time retreat. Or, if it really got itself together and they could afford it, even build a full-on home.


Beginnings re-visited: 

ten-cent parcels with million-dollar views

Earliest campers in the newly formed, shared wonderland had savored it like fine wine. In spring the realm delighted the senses with surprise splashes of lavender, purple, red, and yellow wildflowers. Rich lichen moss on aging and dead junipers seemed magical, dazzling the eye with bright, near-phosphorescent green. After drenching rainfalls the pungent earthy scent of damp juniper and sage was nature's perfume.


The abundant wildlife included deer; jackrabbits and cottontails; birds of every kind; ever-friendly, curious chipmunks; less friendly polecats, porcupines and, yes, rattlesnakes (now pretty much gone); a rare mountain lion and other wildcats; tiny, endangered kangaroo rats, with their impossibly long tails, hopping about at dusk...


The place's first vacationers had returned home refreshed, anticipating next year’s visit to their new shared wilderness hideaway and all the improvements they’d work on during rendezvous with friends new and old. Everyone was eager to grow the new private retreat for the continued enjoyment and benefit of any like-minded, visiting land holders.


Seldom heard: a discouraging word

Earliest parcel vacationers would gather at night to enjoy campfire get-togethers. Coyotes yipped up a storm in the distance, no doubt time-warping the more suggestible back to the days of the Old West, maybe prompting spontaneous choruses of “Home on the Range”, "Red River Valley" or "I've Been Working on the Railroad." They'd enjoy daytime potlucks and barbecues under the unfailing majesty of Mt. Shasta’s northern slopes, which offered such staggering views that City of Mt. Shasta photographer Keven Lahey in later times raced over to snap the spectacular, almost surreal, lenticular clouds flying off it or an impossibly giant one hovering over it like a visiting mothership from Venus.


Judging by the writings in the association's twice-annual Vistascope newsletters, visitors shared in the euphoric waves of feelgoodness that swept the land during the rarefied purple-haze days of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s (along with the gnarly uprisings, wars and protests, of course).


...and the saucers flew by-y-y all night

Even if one was a hard-line Nam war hawk and hostile to the emerging counterculture, with its outlandish, convention-jarring, free-minded ways, spirits ran doubt aided and abetted by their own mind-altering drug of choice, alcohol. But the group buzz might’ve been further heightened by something quite extraordinary: unknowingly copping a contact high from parties aboard the then-frequent UFOs seen darting about the mountain that briefly made national headlines.


The embryonic community just possibly had gained a rarefied cosmic super-charge from curious advanced beings from other worlds checking out the singing earthlings enjoying the mountain's sleepy side.



To any susceptible to the subtle charms of such high desert woodlands -- magnified for being under the mountain’s spell -- it was a nature lovers’ paradise. One that new parcel holders contentedly worked on to make nicer for all. The light-duty cinder roads were kept immaculately groomed by the membership’s workhorse road truck, flowers were planted at highway entrances, the welcoming archway was lifted up into place. Then group civic improvement efforts seemed to lose steam once establishing the de facto community well and extending power lines to parcels whose owners had committed to drilling wells as the first step to establishing an approved residency. (Both subjects covered in depth in next part.)


It’s said in metaphysical thinking that the imprint of earliest inhabitants on a land establishes a subtle vibration it then forever after resonates with, no matter what later might happen to it. If accepting this as maybe true... Prehistoric indigenous people seasonally hunted game here but didn’t settle, probably over lack of water and not daring live so close to such a powerful and sacred mountain. Beyond them and the first isolated white settlers on the land -- like Eli Barnum by Sheep Rock in the 1850s and later hunters and livestock grazers (including gold rush forty-niner Robert Martin, whose descendant sold the land to developer Collins) -- it might be said the first major indelible imprint on the land was made by none other than those modern-day-pioneering Vistans during the mid to late 1960s to early 1970s.


If so, they'd bestow on the land an euphoric, industrious, conservative, somewhat topsy-turvy energy, a DNA signature the land still resonates with, even though it often gets buried below the surface. (Another example: often wild, free-spirited San Francisco: reportedly in nicest weather its first inhabitants loved nothing better than to roll about in the mud and run around naked.)


Apart from such possible influences, whenever a mindful visitor unwound and tuned into the land, they could sense a pronounced, soft, almost-otherworldly, dreamy quality. In spots beyond earshot of highway wash and no jets droning overhead or freight train rumbling in the distance, the land held such a deep quietude, one might feel they felt the earth breathing. Repeat visitors and residents alike, once adjusting to this rich silence, came to embrace it like a long-lost lover. (Explorers of Pluto Caves, just beyond one of the Vista's border, might've experienced something of the same etheric quality and profound stillness.)


But the dreamy atmosphere came with a downside. Tenuous new residents, wowed by the woodland parcels bought for a song, could get so caught up spinning fantasies that they never integrated being here with doing what was needed to get things squared away with the powers that be, thereby allowing their brainstorms to actually manifest on solid ground. Instead, they often remained just so many pipe dreams the region's rarefied energies could so easily foster.


Over time countless one-time owners came and went, happy bubbles burst after a few months or years of either ignoring or being ignorant of the sundry mundane regulatory realities fitfully enforced by county and state governments, ordinances legally obligating any would-be resident to establish infrastructure like a well and power before then building an abode to an accepted standard...until out of the blue a reality check shocked them awake like a bucket of ice water over the head.


It was a phenomenal pattern. The serene, enchanting land, for sale cheap, kept grabbing newbies all psyched over the parcels' endless possibilities. Then -- like a 'Star Trek' TV episode, where the intrepid space explorers land on a planet that at first appears a wondrous paradise, its a fatal flaw is experienced.


A fine place by George:

further speculations on why things went so far south


As mentioned, L.A. developer George Collins, smitten by the land's subtle charms no less than the earlycomers he sold the lots to, actually joined the vacationers during the place's initial, visitors-only years.  He became the glue that held the place together, serving as midwife, cheerleader, first board president, fellow vacationer and daddy moneybags, all rolled into one. He pitched in with funds and resources to help the place along at every turn. “...I consider myself privileged to be a neighbor to each and every one of you,” he said in an early newsletter, going on to wax poetic how the place was “...our home away from home, our frontier, our Shangri-la...there should be a constant flurry of barbecue parties, coffee klatches and just informal get-togethers all through the year.”


While he might’ve only created a bare-bones recreational subdivision -- one lacking critical infrastructure to facilitate ever growing into anything more, thereby causing endless headache and heartbreak and bitter disappointment for latter-day, would-be and actual community members alike -- at least he wasn't your disinterested land developer who just took the money and ran.


He was central in the place's beginnings on so many levels that other property owners undoubtedly got used to it being in his capable hands. Many perhaps became something akin to passive land tenants, relying on their ambitious overlord to do whatever needed to be done:  "Let George do it."  He'd created the grand turn-key wilderness condo and obviously knew what he was doing. In essence he became the place's benevolent master, doing all the heavy lifting and so sparing everyone else the bother; he was acknowledged as the main man by willing and grateful subjects. So long as he stayed in the picture, few felt much motivated or empowered to take on major responsibilities and make efforts to further organize and grow the place according to their own lights. It was his baby.


When at some point he bowed out for reasons uncertain, the vacationers and new residents, their 'father' having abandoned them, were forced to scramble post haste.  Left to their own devices, they were faced with a steep learning curve, assuming responsibilities and dealing with ongoing issues, some of which they probably never even knew existed, suddenly staring them in the face. One might conclude it was at this point the good ship Vista first began to founder. Property owners had been forsaken by their captain, left struggling to keep their bearings and steer a course under their own steam while at the same time having to bail like crazy just to stay afloat. 


Over time the development would now and then appear to be getting back on track (as much as any track existed) under the guidance of more capable, on-the-ball, more altruistic-minded board members. They scrambled to get things up to speed, once having tackled remedial catch-up chores. Then it'd derail all over again under the endless shuffle of new, sometimes less motivated and/or knowledgeable resident volunteers.  There was always a lot of slow on-the-job orientation involved. By the time new volunteers got a tenuous handle on things, they were often burned out, and so the learning process began once again with other newbies from the ever-shrinking pool of willing property owner volunteers in good standing.


One might've wondered if possibly Collins did have loftier ambitions for the place originally and had considered launching an actual infrastructure-supported residential development. Or if he only decided to try playing catch up by gearing up a power and light fund once seeing how next door Lake Shastina was going full-tilt residential and other Mt. Shasta area rural developments were taking off as well. Maybe fellow vacationers were jazzed at the idea and encouraged him to throw out the idea to 1,641 parcel holders. Perhaps he'd initially thought it too far from town amid a sparsely populated farming community, water too scarce to attract enough people to want to ever live there -- and then changed his mind as he and fellow vacationers brainstormed the possibilities, saying it might be a nice place to retire to "bye 'n' bye"; the pipe-dreaming Mount Shasta influence no doubt had him under its spell no less than others. Then again, maybe local resistance to the place existing on any level was so strong, he figured it was easier to get a foot in the door by starting it as a simple vacation lands and then grow it into an actual community bit by bit.


In any event, at some point he appeared to hope the place might somehow indeed segue into a regular rural community, despite not having any better reckoned with water, electricity and waste disposal needs (let alone appropriate, comprehensive CC&Rs to support and guide organized growth). Then he lost heart when inevitable squabbles erupted after people began dropping anchor and getting territorial, and fell out over the sudden ambition to electrify the entire place -- and got increasingly frustrated over the lack of easily tapped water sources while people just 15 miles away could hit good water at 50 feet or so; Vistans would routinely drill down at least five times that.


It's said it's easy to come and go, but hard to stay.  Those various owners wanting to move onto the land knew they'd have to push ahead under their own steam -- each supplying their own water, power and septic, at great personal expense. Collins' role shrank as people acted more on their own and he became something of a tiresome cheerleader. Owners, facing sudden, complex and costly challenges, possibly started telling him where to get off. Feeling hurt after all he'd done to birth and help the place along, and now seeing divisions splitting the ranks and growing resentment towards him for being the creator of what would become a Franken-land of sorts, he might've finally said the heck with everyone and his blessing turned to a curse.


Or maybe the grand parting of the ways happened later (if still here; writer's not sure exactly when he exited the picture), over the gnarly clashes brewing between code compliant dwellers and outlaw builders. If so, he might've come to the sad conclusion that the county simply wasn't up to keeping a handle on construction compliance, despite the most dedicated efforts of code-legal residents to work with authorities. Possibly he foresaw this thorny, deal-breaking dilemma  -- probably took heat for it somehow for having allowed it to happen -- and so beat a hasty retreat. And his and others' happy vision for the place inexorably began its long fade into oblivion.


In any event, something seemed to have happened between Collins and his one-time fellow vacationing lot owners, then emerging as independent homesteaders, that turned the wine into vinegar. Something -- or series of somethings -- changed the tenor of the ephemeral Shangri-la from pleasant, harmonious dream to something approaching a waking nightmare.  


Lookin' for a sign amid a maze of roads

Vista’s raw parcels on a per-acre basis were some ten times cheaper than those of next door's exurb of Lake Shastina, started a couple years later in 1968. The Vista had first attracted an equally solvent if more rough-and-ready vacationing camper crowd than the second-home buyer group that Lake Shastina's developers initially wooed, with full-on infrastructure, recreational lake, and its relative closeness to Weed's town amenities.


Road signs were crucial inside Vista's endless 66 mile maze. Even longtime residents like the writer could get lost if hazarding off one's accustomed route. One moonless night I was driving about and suddenly realized I had no idea where I was. Disoriented, once getting to an intersection and spotting a stenciled 4X4 wooden road sign post I climbed out and shone my flashlight on it hopefully, expecting to regain bearings with the help of trusty road map. The painted lettering had faded to illegibility, done in by the elements; I was still lost in a place I'd called home for decades.


Second generation signs were equally small, four-foot tall vertical metal affairs that soon rusted out. Delinquents would steal them as well as the third generation's tall, elaborate, rust-proof, reflective green metal signs. Perhaps they especially felt the latter's slick, citified quality clashed with the place's rustic ambiance. Or they just wanted to make it harder for anyone to find them if they didn't want to be found, leaving those unfamiliar with the roads feeling so lost they'd want to give up and switch gears to try finding their way out of the sorry maze.


Place haunted by sheer number

of phantom parcel owners

As said, many lot holders would never set foot on their properties. They'd snap them up in pure speculation -- plus maybe to gain bragging rights for owning a piece of the golden state -- hoping either eventual improvements like central piped water and extended power lines would skyrocket parcel values, or that, at the very least, they'd have something interesting of tangible value to leave their family.


Over the decades property titles traded like baseball cards at school recess. If each parcel on average changed hands just three times over its first 50 years (probably an underestimate), then the place up to 2015 experienced a rotating ownership of some 5,000 individuals, spread throughout the nation. If you included two more family members per parcel getting involved, this number increased to 15,000 people all holding an interest in the place and a personal stake in its development, or lack thereof.  


That's a lot of absentee ownership; it was guaranteed to keep the place more than a little  sketchy around the edges. It often seemed it was always more about being a commercial aggregate of land commodities -- simple stand-alone primitive camping lots, soon all but obsolete -- than ever a neighborhood with a tiny minority, mostly the actual residents, wistfully hoping to see it become a working community. (The saying, "You can't turn a mess into a masterpiece" seems fitting.)


Once the original retiree clique had faded away and a wildly diverse population came to dominate, civic interest seemed to have all but disappeared. Latter-day newcomers who plugged in and involved themselves soon sensed the realm's dread undertow and its daunting Mt. Everest of inertia. Such forces -- magnified by the board, the only one organized group the place had, other than the volunteer fire department and its auxiliary fund raiser -- easily shattered one's dreams and created a sense of futility in ever trying to fix anything. The place was not too unlike a disastrous big budget movie misfire, where everything goes wrong after a promising start, the creative vision never realized. 


Initially involved newcomers had either given up in sobered disillusionment or hastily dialed back any would-be involvement urges. The few undeterred, more thick-skinned and unwavering could appear like so many Don Quixotes, tilting at windmills.


The Vista’s fiftieth anniversary, in November 2015, was a milestone noted by few if any, much less celebrated; the place, perhaps fittingly in some weird way, would that year begin its controversial sea change into illicit pot-growing mecca. Absentee parcel owners, up until the sudden, massive parcel turnover, still outnumbered actual residents by about seven to one. 



Reprise: Setting the standard

The first wave of firstcomers, maybe seven or so couples, were recent retirees flush with cash from selling their city homes and psyched at the prospect of becoming modern day pioneers and establishing their own close-knit, tamed-wilderness retirement community.


They'd nurtured hopes of the place blossoming as other retirees joined them. It would've been one in which they as founding members established a comfortable living standard that others, similarly financially secure, would gladly emulate.  


But its success had hinged on every newcomer generating their own infrastructure and conforming to health and building codes before ever dropping anchor.


“You gotta permit for that?"

Hard to believe now for some is that health and building codes were actually rigorously enforced in Siskiyou County then. The first wave of owner builders, staunch, law abiding citizens, never thought whether or not they'd follow them. They dutifully jumped through every last hoop, albeit some no doubt gritting their teeth and grumbling. So anyone else wanting to stay longer than 30 days a year -- the ostensible legal limit for staying on unimproved property anywhere in California -- had to earn the right, just as they had, by damn. End of story. Full stop.


Seeing how the firstcomers went bonkers as various parcel owners seriously overextended their camp visits and became invasive forces to be reckoned with, the philosophical might've thought the situation more than a tad strange: The place that had started out championing primitive rec properties came to view anyone camping on them with instant concern and suspicion.  It was an incongruous turn of events fraught with irony. The place had turned 180 degrees, wary residents becoming so hostile to anyone camping among them with obviously lingering inclinations that they practically viewed them as wanted criminals. They tracked their permissible days left before zealously throwing them under the bus in righteous fury. 


The place had started as do-your-own-thing recreational lots, then a few owners tried transforming it into a residential community, then its reason for being had become so muddled, that it ended up supporting neither.


The Vista Through Time
[part 6]


Power to the people (some, anyhow)


In the early seventies, Vista’s landholders started up a power-and-light fund. The plan was to extend power lines from the highway to select parcels whose owners had committed to  bringing in a well and then build to code or bring in an approved mobile. To transform the place into a backwoods community, or even just to accommodate power-thirsty trailer amenities, one of course needed to supply that ubiquitous energy elixir so much of humanity was hooked on.


While the initial goal was simply to extend a few power lines, apparently so many got enthused over the idea of building an informal retirement community that ambitions made a quantum leap. Now various property owners envisioned electrifying the whole dang place. A volunteer assessment was levied and while contribution to the fund was optional, the power company, no doubt on the strength of developer Collins’s assurance he’d work to get everyone onboard, made tentative commitment to extend lines to every last parcel in the nearly seven square mile development.


The Vista had reached another critical turning point: If everyone went along, it would be well on its way into blossoming as an actual community. It would've met one of the three crucial infrastructure needs, an adequate water supply and hygienic waste disposal means for each lot still to be reckoned with individually by lot holders wanting to build a residence or vacation cabin.


The backwoods realm appeared on the verge of reinventing itself, if in a haphazard, scrambling to catch up, patchwork sort of way.


But nothing comes easy. Only three in four -- some 1,200 parcel holders -- got on board with the plan and ponied up. While some were no doubt fired with enthusiasm at the idea of building there, and others thinking it would greatly increase parcels' values and sellability, a quarter of the membership flat-out rebelled. They refused to chip in despite a membership newsletter's pleaful pitch from Collins that began, "I know you each bought a lot out in the middle of nowhere that you could do with whatever you damn well please, but...", then going on to try convincing them to reconsider.

To no avail. 


Some who had actually visited their parcels were no doubt fine enjoying the primitive parcels just as they were. They relished roughing it and no doubt felt unsightly power lines and poles would only despoil the scenery and erode the place's relatively pristine charm. They'd bought primitive land cheap for simple vacation use, period. Many probably never had intentions to do anything with their land in the foreseeable future, beyond roughing-in a driveway and building a stone campfire ring, maybe fashioning an outhouse if really ambitious. The whole idea of the place had been to get away from the complexities of modern civilization, like electrical dependency, for a while, get back to basics, push the reset button and recharge; bringing in electricity would only defeat that purpose. It now seemed many were trying to destroy the place as the simple, primitive camp refuges they'd bought them for.


Probably most of those refusing to chip in were among the sea of disinterested investors and speculators. They no doubt were fast souring on the growing boondoggle they'd somehow managed to get themselves tangled up in. Property values weren't increasing as fast as they'd hoped; the anticipated thrill of making easy money had become a mirage, and now some scheme they were being asked to sink yet more money into. Things had gotten confusing with a select few owners suddenly wanting to settle down on their originally dedicated vacation parcels. New residents and possible future residents were inappropriately tryomg to turn the place into a whole new critter, one that would require ever more and bigger special assessments as time went on.


Understandably, they were loathe to sink another cent into what appeared to have all the earmarks of being a money pit. It's possible some reasoned that getting power to every lot in itself wouldn't appreciably increase the parcels' market values, due to the remaining iffy water situation and sometimes problematic waste disposal issue. They'd only be subsidizing residents by contributing to the power fund. Such disenchanted skepticism was possibly in part born of the feeling that not enough would ever want to live out in the middle of nowhere, so far from accustomed city conveniences -- or maybe even want to build a simple electrified vacation cabin for seasonal use -- and so property values would continue stalling out. Since the place was no longer dedicated to recreational use, it would become desirable to neither interest and so likely prove a major hindrance to ever moving the parcels at a decent profit.


Sorry, out of luck, schmuck

As a result, the power and light fund was a flash in the pan. First come, first served, good 'til gone. After a dozen or two parcel owners -- jazzed at the idea of actually living in such splendid natural seclusion (or building structures for others to get jazzed about it after briefly enjoying them and then selling it to them for a pretty penny) -- went for it, the fund were tapped dry. The power company, having anticipated a flood of new power-guzzling customers, then hastily backed out of the commitment. They'd been discouraged anyhow by the frequent drill bit-shattering lava rock strata they encountered requiring expensive replacements. (A similar problem was experienced by various owners trying to excavate workable conventional septic systems on rocky or sloping parcels.)


Before the tide turned and the ambitious plans were aborted, the power company had already planted and connected towering street lamps at all five highway A-12 entrances. The beacons, which gave off an eerie, cold, bluish glow, kept getting shot out by rowdy locals. No doubt, their tribe was still fulminating over the subdivision ever getting green-lit; they must've taken a certain keen delight in the convenience of sabotaging the place without even having to leave the blacktop. After a few persistent rounds of target practice and consequent repairs (and the power fund going bust), the power company gave up; the road lamps were taken out. Every entrance was again plunged into darkness after nightfall.


All told, only some ten to fifteen percent of the 1,641 parcels ever got connected to the power grid. Some owners who'd contributed to the fund, assuming everyone would, were doubtless aggrieved and sold in disgust, feeling they'd thrown good money after bad and wanted to cut their losses. Or they kept the lots, still thinking to build, but became furious over the course of events in which they'd helped fund others to become legal residents while they were left out in the cold. For when they were ready to build, they were told sorry, out of luck, and the power company then quoted them a shocking five-figure estimate to extend lines.


Lot owners had failed miserably to get on the same page.  Add this new teeth-gnashing to the place's already heaping plate of contentious spirit. It was perhaps the first serious squabbling among parcel owners, long before code compliance battles ever became a divisive issue.  You might say that it (along with Martin selling the land without family permission) laid the foundation for all the future apoplexy erupting among residents.


Place didn't catch the solar-electric wave 

Later, the place would miss a sure bet not embracing solar electricity. What with the place's enviable banana-belt micro-climate and solar technology, in time plummeting panel costs some ten fold, it seemed the perfect way to provide go juice. It could be so sunshiny on some March days, one might be enjoying soaking up the rays while in Weed, a mere fifteen miles away, hunched-over snow shovelers were still only wistfully dreaming of spring. The first solar electric system was installed by a 1970s' resident, Brian Green, late co-founding photographer of Homepower magazine, which in time became the premier go-to resource guide for alternate-energy home systems.* (In contrast to the Vista, the McCloud region’s Shasta Forest subdivision was even further off the grid, yet its lot owners, dutifully code-compliant, embraced solar full tilt as an affordable -- not to mention environmentally friendlier -- solution to their power needs.)




*While the later owner of Brian Green's home would lose the place to the Lava Fire of 2021, one thing miraculously survived unscathed: the latest bank of solar panels. Safely perched above on its metal stand in a clearing amid otherwise total devastation (until swiped, that is), it looked like nothing was amiss as far as it was concerned.


Writer in 1989 became one of two Vista residents to fully embrace solar. In my case, it was sunshine or bust -- no backup generator -- which even now powers this online article's periodic reworking. (For anyone curious, a HomePower story on my modest system was featured in issue #30 as an example of a small set-up, showing that you didn't have to spend a fortune to create an off-grid system, if content to have just a few basic electrical amenities and then go with alternate power sources for others like wood heat, and propane for cooking and refrigeration.)



Well, well

While many hit good water between 175 to 350 feet or so, the wells of others could be plagued with iron levels that dyed laundry pink or arsenic levels that made drinking the water dicey.*  And sometimes Shasta Vista’s underground water table proved FAR deeper -- 700 to 800 feet or more -- especially in higher elevation areas like Section 23.


*A retired couple on Gilman, a mile from the writer, had drilled a deep well with water having arsenic levels within then-acceptable health department limits when properly treated. Years later, they both died not very far apart. While writer never learned if arsenic poisoning was determined the major cause of death, not long after the county health department drastically reduced future wells' acceptable arsenic levels.



As related, developer Collins and a group of owner volunteers got together to establish an informal, de facto community well. They constructed the huge holding tank with enormous overhead valve, which all settling land owners were then welcome to use, by filling the community water truck, until their own wells were in. A spigot was provided for filling up containers during one's camping visits. When the truck was later switched to fire use only, those with prohibitively deep water tables still found getting wells in problematic -- one (ironically, named Waterson) alone had three costly drilling misses -- and formed Property Owners Without Water or POWW, and got another water truck together.


Closing down the quasi community well

In 1980 it came to light at the county health department, on the wings of steeper California water-use laws, that the unofficial, never-sanctioned community well was technically illegal. Plus, the water truck wasn't certified for delivering potable water. Department head Dr. Bayuk suddenly capped the 26-resident club membership with an iron fist. He told us at the specially called meeting held at then board president John Shelton's house on Gilman Road that he held discretionary powers to allow a code variance and so would let current POWW members -- but only POWW members -- continue drawing from the well and haul water to their homes. This was done in light of so many members having sold their former homes and built here on the strength of realtors’ assurance there was a community well, so one needn’t bring in a well before building. The health department had taken pity on them. The building department went along with the variance, issuing building permits to any well-less parcel holders who were POWW members, so long as they conformed to health and building codes in every other regard.


He insisted all others needed to drill an approved well before they could get a septic and building permit, and in time be given official blessing to live on their properties. That is, for more than 30 days a year without being made to feel like outlaws for overstaying their welcome by ever-vigilant neighbors, forever wound up trying to keep the rabble out. He foresaw the POWW memberships, which were ostensibly nontransferable to any subsequent home buyers, fading away over time as people got their wells in, died, or their properties were sold to new owners who'd then supposedly had to prove a well before being allowed to move in. 


We were apparently on our honors to comply. But inertia -- ridiculously strong in Vista's dreamy manana land -- reigned supreme. A way of living had been established. Some who were otherwise compliant, rather than spring for a well, were resigned to hauling water as the price one paid for living here affordably. And the fully non-compliant, hunkering down hopefully below radar of snoopy neighbors and the powers that be, kept filling up at the well. People wanted to avoid spending a fortune on drilling efforts that might not even hit water, or good water, or enough water, plus the often prohibitive expense of getting electric lines extended, initially to power the well pump.


As a result, while POWW membership's water-hauling rights were technically nontransferable, they were seldom, if ever, enforced. Decades later, there were still over a half dozen otherwise code-legal homes in one section alone in which water hauling rights had ostensibly been voided ages ago through ownership transfers. Yet current owners were still merrily hauling away. The county apparently didn't feel a need to mess with homes once they passed final inspection; the code enforcers' job was done as far as they were concerned. Never told differently, new homeowners assumed that water hauling rights were transferable.


Unfortunately this lent the impression to prospective new residents that one didn't need to bring in a well before applying for a building permit. It seemed you could build first, then sometime down the road try for a well at your own convenience...or not. This misunderstanding and policy non-enforcement was destined to further add to the world of confusion for many future would-be residents: "Hey, lots of homes never put in a well but got building permits; why can't I?" 


While Dr. Bayuk cautioned Vista board members to prevent anyone from using the well beyond POWW’s now-closed membership, efforts to control access proved sketchy to none. Obviously no one wanted to volunteer for guard duty, and fencing off and padlocking access was likely seen as either unfeasible, impractical. or more work and expense than anyone felt enough civic duty to ever bother with.


Later, board members either lost track of the county's well-use stipulation or simply turned a blind eye to it. Perhaps some felt the well represented the one thing property owners had successfully worked on together towards forging a real community and so it should remain available to all. Amid all the confusion and contention, it  served as an enduring, substantial reminder of the place's promising beginnings as a proto-community.


Hey, it comes with the property

Fast-forward decades and things were still out of control. Residents on the cheap, never intending to drill, kept using the well. Again, they assumed it was an officially sanctioned community well and a permanent water-rights amenity that came with lot ownership.


One neighbor on Placone Road made daily hot-summer drives for a teeming menagerie of thirsty livestock in his ancient Cadillac, backseat removed and crammed full, along with the trunk, with lidded five-gallon buckets and Jerry cans.


Some even reportedly copped showers there. Risking a quick shower at the well, with only infrequent traffic going by 60 feet away, while being in full view, was no doubt felt worth it for the chance to luxuriate in a fast cool down and rehydration on a hot day. As some freer-minded dwellers in warmer weather routinely went about with few or no clothes pn the privacy of their secluded properties, this wasn't as shocking as it might've seemed. It was the kind of place that in other times and circumstances might've made a dandy nudist resort.


Finally, Vista board members, led by then-president George Gosting, were fed up and fearful of getting fined by the state. Well-owning residents were outraged over their annual dues going to replace the pump and cover monthly power bills; they felt they were effectively subsidizing and enabling code noncompliance. So the board came up with a solution: get rid of the bugger. They sold it outright, with no discussion or prior notice to association members. Done deal, end of story. Except for the unbridled fury of countless, suddenly well-less, mostly non-compliant residents, left high and dry.


And they got sued anyhow, by an irate section 23 couple, Alex and Debbie Blume, who had an otherwise code-approved but well-less modular dwelling on Stewart Road, on far-fetched racketeering charges. They'd perhaps leaned on the aforementioned assumption their home came with water-hauling rights from the well. They promptly lost the case and the lawyer got a new, convertible Cadillac signed over as part payment.


“It’s all a big scam, I tell ya…”

Between earlier, fitfully enforced legal-residency codes and the demise of the longtime informal community well, it must've seemed to non-compliant dwellers, suddenly told to get a well or else, that an intolerable building moratorium had been clamped on the place. Of course it was all standard procedure to gain legal residency anywhere in California. But our place always felt exceptional...perhaps for both having difficult water and for being in such remote hinterlands, under Mt. Shasta's spell. And the Vista indeed did seem to be a dreamland; somehow it simply felt beyond the pale of the world and all its sundry nit-picky rules and regulations. It was a realm unto itself, operating on its own unique frequency, penciling in rules as residents saw fit -- and even then they were only suggestions.


So various land-hungry buyers on a shoestring, lured by the bargain lands and not exercising any better due diligence, felt majorly scammed when roused by irate residents and the county and told they couldn’t stay on their properties past a month without first passing a perc test and then drilling an approved well and getting a building permit. They’d accuse the Association board, management and realtors of all being in cahoots somehow, each shamelessly passing the buck, no one willing to give the straight of the situation. To any suspicious mind it surely appeared they were somehow all furtively working in concert to churn the problematic, marginal properties for quick gain even while keeping a power hold over the place.  They'd seemed to be preying on people's desire to own their own land, fully aware how many eager buyers couldn't afford to meet the endless legal residency requirements short of winning the lottery or some rich old aunt dying. But, hey, it's buyer beware.


The unending cycle, as uninformed parcel holders saw it: a lot got sold after the realtor perhaps downplayed the legal problems of living on it as-is, maybe offering a wink as if to say the rules usually went unenforced; then the purchaser, disillusioned after getting hassled by imperious neighbors, the board and county authorities, quit paying their annual POA assessment in protest; eventually the lot was foreclosed on and the Association, repossessing it, re-listed it and realtors waited for next suc -- er, buyer -- to come along.


In later times, many buyers obviously DID know the score but simply didn’t care. In the changing times and altering social climate and sketchy enforcement, they were game to join Vista’s growing non-compliant population. As told, they were further emboldened when the county axed its residential-code enforcer position during a critical five year period starting with the Great Recession of 2008-09, and then seemed to lack the teeth and political will to enforce residency requirements once the position was brought back. By then, the county considered the Vista a hopeless case, best ignored.


Such a situation naturally lent the impression  that anything goes in the remote 'badlands.'


While it was always Buyer Beware, you’d think your more sporting realtors might’ve at least posted the reminder over their doorways.


People with enough resources to maybe pay the $30,000 or more to put in a well and perhaps half again as much to get power extended also had enough to buy land -- and more than any piddly 2-½ acres -- with easier water access and unencumbered by the ceaseless squabbling of disaffected neighbors. Why would anyone spend a fortune to buy into such a discombobulated, sub-standard place?


Cheap land with million-dollar views. after all, could only go so far.


Plenty of room left in Hotel California:

Trouble in River City revisited

Most if not all of Shasta Vista’s founding families had seemed to either known each other from down south or met during their earliest annual summer camping vacations. The mostly retirement-age couples, flush with cash from selling their pricey city digs, built the first full-on legal residences. The territorial imperative being strong, they aimed to re-purpose the one-time rustic camping lands into their own de facto rural retirement community, let the chips fall where they may for angering those who'd bought parcels strictly for primitive camping enjoyment. The former could seem such an over-refined gentility, one having a pronounced, buttoned down, urbane, breezy SoCal sensibilities and full-bore Law-and-Order embrace, that some would view their mindset as surreally out of place at the top of more-freewheeling northern California (even allowing for it being in a relatively conservative, rural part of it).


Anyhow, in ways that counted, the Vista became their place. Their tight-wound influence lingered for decades even after losing their would-be Shangri-la, continuing to shape the development's social climate and collective mindset. They'd spring to volunteer and serve on Vista’s board of directors (which ostensible main duty  --some maintained only -- in the monthly meetings was to decide on budgeting road maintenance and keeping a handle on signage).


The modern-day pioneers had experienced such angst seeing their place lose its incipient legitimate-community status once the flood of non-compliant invaded the realm that they'd gone super bonkers, the board’s appointed duties quickly expanding to include blowing the whistle over every unapproved construction or camp visit they unearthed.


Desperate to preserve their endangered retirement haven, they'd rang the phones off the hook, reporting every infraction diligent searches discovered. Board members and cohorts had demanded the county authorities hold every scofflaw's feet to the fire for having so blatantly tried sneaking into their law-abiding domain on the cheap, especially those with an infuriating, "whadaryagointodoaboudit?" attitude.


If enforcers didn’t do their job and the non-compliant got away with it, it would've amounted to selective enforcement, possible grounds for a lawsuit against the county. And so for many years the stretched-thin code enforcers had dutifully obliged, trying their damnedest to stamp out the growing plague of noncompliance.


At some point they'd had enough, though, and started grinding their teeth over having to keep dealing with the major problem child with its slim tax-generating base. One whose situation, no matter how much they tried getting a handle on things, seemed a bottomless cup of trouble. It was like a boat springing new leaks faster than they could plug existing ones; bailing seemed futile.


Of course this shirking hadproved unacceptable to those heavily invested firstcomers. Gone around the bend, they'd desperately clung to their faith in Law and Order as the proto community's one and only means of preservation. In seeming denial of the apparently insurmountable challenge, volunteer posses had blitzed the land, patrolling endless back roads and running to earth anyone daring to try calling the Vista home while ignoring the residential codes and county statutes that were. to them, etched in stone.  


Their Whack-a-Mole efforts in overdrive, posse members eventually wouldn’t even talk to the culprits. They'd maybe tried earlier, some no doubt in a high-handed, imperious manner, then got huffy when told what they could do with their regulations. They would drive by, stopping just long enough to scope the scene from the road and ascertain lot location, later get the parcel assessment numbers from the master map index and t call in a formal complaint...for every last minutiae of noncompliance the latest bloodhound efforts revealed.


It was for such scorched earth campaigning that the unkind moniker of "the gestapo" got bestowed on the board by Vista's more live-and-let-live residents. Some of them had also gone through the compliance ordeal and knew how unreasonably steep and expensive code demands could be for any wanting to live in the middle of nowhere and simplify their lives. They were stunned such a ugly, zero-tolerance policy had flared up. Playing such ruthless hardball somehow just didn't seem to go with living in a would-be tranquil realm. Even though the place had woefully derailed, one might've thought there had to be a better way to resolve matters. But maybe not, short of changing established legal-residency regulations.


The situation was getting far gone, maybe the only thing for the put-off compliant residents to do was accept their one-time Shangri-la was toast; the system had failed them miserably. But that was unacceptable...even if it appeared to be a more and more obvious fact with each passing year. Like Egyptian fish, they lived in denial. So, as miserable consolation, they took a certain vengeful satisfaction in trying to make things as unpleasant as possible for anyone who had dared to crash their party.


Driving around the neighboring Section 13 long ago, the writer one day met a high-spirited man and his pregnant partner at their parcel. He'd just thrown up a little makeshift two-story crackerbox palace of 2 X 4's and pressboard: instant home. A goat or two grazing contentedly on nearby brush. I returned with a sense of foreboding a month or two later; sure enough, they were long gone. Their shelter had been bulldozed to the ground, looking like it'd been hit by a tornado.


This was far from an isolated incident.


One might say it was a person's own fault for not having first done research on the enforcement atmosphere. Or that they'd likely known the score but rolled the dice anyhow, thinking it was such cheap land it was worth a shot trying to end-run the system. 


Many of the would-be country dwellers’ fondest dreams of cultivating simple affordable backwoods living were obliterated to hell and gone during Vista’s Intolerable Years, that period, again, roughly spanning from the mid 1970s through much of the 1990s. Here and there, half-completed structures of varying ambition and construction stood abandoned and forlorn, radioactive from code-violation busts or builders having run out of cash trying to comply. In time some would get picked off by furtive lumber 'recyclers'. ("Hey, it's just going to waste; I'm doing a service, doncha know.") 


Vista’s seemingly affordable, easy-come, easy-go lands over the decades often instead proved to be more easy-come, hard-go. 



Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista, now leave:

writer's first impression

The large imposing signs planted at each of the place's five  county road A-12 entrances plus every section corner made the board's policy crystal clear in large black boldface that fairly shouted:




Woe betide any poor soul failing to heed such a no-nonsense warning.


So along came your land-hungry writer, a rambling, homeless 29 year-old, would-be nature boy of decidedly threadbare means, burned out living on the road and visions of building a bower in the wilderness dancing in his head. Having champagne taste but a beer budget, I soon warmed to the notion of building in the bone-dry yet unspoiled and super-affordable juniper lands instead of the redwood creekside of my dreams -- to blasted code, if that’s what it took and meager resources and a steep learning curve would allow. Though it would prove the biggest project of my life til then, at least lumber was fairly cheap and the building code a smidgen less onerous -- if then fully enforced -- and costly to comply with. I planned to join the POWW's water-hauling group, thus avoiding having to drill a (likely) deep well, which I couldn't have even begun to afford.


To my impressionable mind, the growling entrance signs were of more than passing concern. Even if lots were cheap -- most then listed between $1,500 and $1,750. with easy terms of $250. down and $25./month -- the place did appear a tad unfriendly. To me, the signage appeared to shout, “Welcome to Mt. Shasta Vista. No this, no that, no the other thing under penal codes such and such; violators will be hung by their toenails; in fact, we DARE you to even enter, bub.”


Or, more concisely, like the town greeting sign posted in the Clint Eastwood western revenge movie, High Plains Drifter, “Welcome to Hell.”


On reading the further warning, in more huge black lettering -- “Private Property -- Trespassers will be Prosecuted” -- part of me felt I might be arrested any second. Like I’d stumbled onto some top-secret government compound and should turn around before it was too late.


But, as was the case with countless land seekers on a shoestring before and after me, cheap lot prices could win out over common sense, eclipsing any first impression screaming red alert.


Such sign wording served many purposes. In time it aimed mostly to discourage any would-be substandard dwellings or, perish the thought, white trailer trash, hop-headed bikers, or scraggly hippie types from trying to settle. But initially it probably was meant more to dissuade any would-be wood poachers, outlaw game hunters, trash dumpers, vehicle abandoners -- or miscreants harboring designs of plundering goods trustingly left in trailers and mobile homes on absentee owners' briefly visited parcels. (Even decades later, with hundreds of residents spread over the land, a huge, 12 X 40 foot, long-vacant mobile home was once snatched in the dead of night from one lot and hauled two miles to another without consequence.)


Maybe they'd needed that loud bark after all.


...with screenplay by Rod Serling

But the working principles of Chinese feng shui hold that the given energy at an entrance sets up a vibration that the place then resonates with. Sadly, the essence of such gnarly wording indeed seemed to ripple out throughout the realm, especially when reinforced by similar huge signs planted at each section corner. Friends visiting me decades later, as if not wanting to tempt fate and risk impoundment, parked their vehicle forward of the barking sign and walked the entire way in, over a mile.


Entering the Vista for the first time could feel like one was walking into the middle of a movie and trying to figure out a plot that seemed in turn scripted by Zane Grey, Rod Serling and J. Edgar Hoover.


That nice welcoming wooden arch that once spanned the main entrance? After the writer was in due course treated to his own 'unwelcome wagon', he felt it might just as well have proclaimed:

Abandon All Hope

Ye Who Enter Here



Vista through Time
[part 7: Conclusion] 


"We can chart our future clearly and wisely only

when we know the path which has led to the present."

 -- Adlai E. Stevenson


Lost cause revisited one last time

It perhaps came as no surprise that the Vista entrance sign's snarly energy was perfectly reflected in its monthly board meetings. Open to all parcel owners and their family members, the proceedings, while dull as dishwater sometimes, were other times a caution. Gnarly shouting matches were not uncommon; a fistfight once broke out on the floor.


It was as if the place had developed a deadly cancer and, left unchecked, was now fatally metastasizing. The tsunami waves of bickering among malcontent dwellers was phenomenal; it would've made great fodder for late gonzo journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson: “Fear and Loathing in the Vista.”


The first, excited residents must've felt something like earliest prospectors during California's 1849 Gold Rush. While briefly having the diggings all to themselves, feeling intoxicated with their great good fortune, things turned to pandemonium the second a flood of fellow seekers of the prized yellow stone descended en masse. Similarly, earliest Vistans briefly luxuriated in having the idyllic woodland domain to themselves, establishing their own lifestyle and having blind faith in local government regulators to keep fair-minded law and order in their de facto rural retirement village.  Like the first miners, they got run over without getting the number of the truck. 


Eventually they became like so many mad King Lears, imperiously shouting law-and-order commands to the winds.


When newcomers moved in and made bold to ignore code requirements, the firstcomers still had the ball in their court; they'd established relations with county code enforcers and had an absolute lock on board membership. They ran with the ball, now clinging to it for dear life. They'd dismiss as idiots anyone at meetings who took exception to their hardball tactics; such people obviously didn't understand the dire gravity of the situation. Beyond desperate, their bottom line was that, come hell or high water, they had to keep county health and building code strictly enforced to protect their fledgling community from otherwise facing certain wrack and ruin.


Desolated and shocked beyond endurance after depended-on county enforcement response got sketchy, the overwrought board members and cohorts, never say die, kept clad in their armor, mace and sword at the ready. They kept engaging in full-on, take-no-prisoners battles, steeled to win or go down trying. For a while at meetings, they'd tried to dodge public discussion on potentially inflammatory proposals by steamrolling the strict law-and-order agenda through, mumbling “public comments?” out of the side of their mouths before taking a fast vote: "Motion?...second?...all in favor...motion carried." They banked on newbies’ unfamiliarity with formal meeting procedure. Shouts of protest once concerned newbies got hip to their trick were countered by simpering yells from board supporters: “Robert's Rules! Robert's Rules!”


Despite the most dedicated efforts, the well-heeled firstcomers’ dream of forging a conventional backwoods retirement Shangri-la was turning into a nightmare. The Vista was coming apart at the seams before their eyes.


As yet more settled in the junipers and sagebrush lands -- many of such modest means and free-spirited mindsets that the notion of building to code wasn't even considered -- the limited-resource country's code-enforcement officers' responsiveness reached a tipping point. Beyond it they were unable and/or unwilling to effectively enforce the codes and ordinances (the very ones people living in town, nowhere to hide, perforce would toe the line on). This, despite  -- or perhaps because of  -- being duly appraised and constantly updated of the increasingly intolerable situation by the seething legal residency that harangued them with each new-found infraction and demanded swift response. The notion of taking an early retirement must've started looking good to some county staff members.


So it happened that in time authorities all but abandoned code enforcement efforts in the misbegotten realm. One got the impression they liked to pretend it didn't exist (not unlike the place's scofflaw dwellers towards their residential ordinances). That is, not beyond the county's property tax collectors' and property assessors' unfailing attention to every parcel and what improvements, if any, were made so they could squeeze more shekels through annual county property tax assessments.


Before that tipping point was reached, it seemed the only responses made other than for actual emergencies were to the most persistent calls from fuming parties, those who knew the law and perhaps threatened legal action if they didn't respond and earn their salaries. They'd become such pains it was finally easier to drag themselves out and tell the culprits, "Hey, you can't be doing this, you'd better stop or else; we mean it" and hope the admonishment would stick. Some scofflaws would indeed then clear out, fantasies of easy, cheap country living gone bust. Others, more hardened, kept right on living the way they were, devil take the hindmost. They felt that inertia and property rights, plus the county's enforcement resources being overwhelmed, would ultimately win the battle.


As time proved, they were right.


White bread outpost?

Though some might've experienced mixed feelings towards the firstcomers' intolerance over substandard construction and sanitation and their aggressive response, one couldn't help but sympathize with the plight. What a heartbreaking situation, seeing the place they'd invested so heavily in, nurtured fond hopes of enjoying their golden years in, irretrievably slip away. It was maybe not too unlike a predestined romance, shorting out for one being asleep at the wheel at the critical moment. The Vista could’ve, should've, would've been such a nicely settled, enviable, backwoods community of upright, God-fearing residents...


...if still only a white bread one.


For while in later years at least absentee ownership appeared to become racially diverse judging by the file list of owner names, actual residents in 2014 -- numbering by then perhaps 300 to 350 -- were overwhelmingly white. Though there were a few Hispanics and maybe a Native American or two, there were zero Blacks or Asians. Growing up in the polyglot melting pot of San Francisco, the writer didn’t find anything too amiss about this, other than wincing whenever a neighbor dropped the ‘n’ word in casual conversation (and later, the 'c' word). I’d learned to pretty much adapt to any ethnic mix -- or lack thereof -- in a place, given an even playing field and no expedient intentions.


The scene perhaps reflected rural Siskiyou county as a whole, so predominantly white it might've appeared to be -- not without some truth --  a narrow minded, passively (sometimes overt) racist backwater to any people of color arriving from a large melting-pot city with its leaning towards more mutual racial tolerance, inclusivity, and everyday intercultural mingling. A more diverse Vista residency from the start might've made the would-be community more culturally rich and thriving. But it was all a moot point; Wonder Bread it was for half a century.

Fine line

Anyone respecting reasonable rule of law held that a development needed its residents to work together on some level and follow certain established rules in order to keep things safe and pleasant -- the acid test being one’s children -- for all committing to hanging their hats there. Otherwise, weeds of civic indifference and scofflaw attitudes could spring up, filling a social vacuum and choking a place's livability.


But, on the other hand, it could make simple country living all but impossible if ordinances were TOO strict, too expensive, too onerous for the majority of would-be legal residents to conform to. As the poet Kahlil Gibran wrote, noting this eternal dance in his classic book, The Prophet: “You delight in laying down laws / Yet you delight more in breaking them.”


There was a fine line between having enough rules and regulations to keep a semblance of fair-minded order and having too many and courting rebellion. In any event, as mentioned, developer Collins would never have gotten the Vista development greenlit if he hadn't agreed to set up the CC&Rs so that every buyer agreed by signing the legal title paperwork to conform to all county, state and federal rules, laws and ordinances. (A cynical neighbor once told the writer, "Government makes liars, cheats and horse thieves of us all."


The rush of having one’s own land in such a relatively remote region, though, could obscure the reality of there being any such county, state or federal regulations to conform to. There wasn't anyone around to say 'boo' -- especially after the county abandoned its residential code-enforcement in its drastic budget-slashing measure, during the critical Great Recession years, for the first half of the 2010's.




“I say we got Trouble...with a capital ‘T’...”

Writer's own tale


(Note: the reader might opt to skip the following diversionary section; it offers a personal account of the writer's early experiences living in the Vista.) 

In October 1978, just shy of 29, I snapped up a nice, gently sloping lot with an inspiring mountain view for $1,750, with $250 down and $25 a month easy installments for the balance. I'd get by for eleven years with kerosene lamps and candles before going solar in 1989, when solar panels still cost ten times more than now, even adjusting for inflation. (A one-by-four foot, 50 watt panel ran over $400.)


It was an early fall, so I set up a quick camp. While days were still pleasant, overnight temperatures plunged to a bone-chilling 13 degrees F.  During my first morning after overnighting, an older man drove by. Perhaps he wasn't part of the volunteer posse, but he was wound up like most every compliant year-round resident, feeling their place was being invaded. He spotted me heating coffee water and defrosting myself over a tiny rock-lined campfire in a clearing, some 30 feet from the road and slammed his brakes. He climbed out and pointedly looked at my fire.


“You got a permit for that?” he demanded. Thus were my first words of welcome from the would-be community before I'd even had my first sip of morning coffee. Things didn't look encouraging.


Fast forward six weeks and I apparently waited too long to apply for a building permit -- and, crucially, first join the POWW water-truck club in lieu of drilling a well to be able to qualify for getting a building permit. As a result, I was destined to get the full "Unwelcome Wagon" treatment from sundry busybodies in a development that, I was beginning to appreciate, was more than just a little squirrelly around the edges.


I intended to conform all along, if reluctantly, being a fairly timid, essentially law-abiding citizen (if also having a contrary, intellectually radical streak). But I was gearing up slowly. It was a momentous project, by far the most ambitious one I'd ever undertaken. Over winter I planned to leisurely research tiny home design, study construction methods and building codes, and fine-tune a design plan to submit in spring. I was staying in a half-mile distant, 12-by-16 foot cabin that a kindhearted neighbor couple, leaving as the fair-weather season wound down and taking  pity on my situation, out of the blue generously offered to let me winter in.


This so I wouldn’t freeze to death camping out in my tent as I'd first resolved, wanting to stay on my brand-new land and future homeland no matter what. Cold alone could be endured with my accustomed spartan lifestyle plus extreme-weather bedding and jury-rigged wood stove in the tent (not recommended). But, unbeknownst to me, the region was notorious for occasional severe windstorms. They were of such magnitude they beggared description. Coming out of nowhere, they roared through the land like a runaway freight. Seventy to eighty mph wind speeds were not uncommon; in the late 1980s, we'd get hit with a storm punching 100 mph gusts.


December weather assaults kept blowing my tent down no matter how tightly I tried securing the guy ropes. When it collapsed yet again in the middle of a howling blizzard one night, I finally surrendered. Grateful I had the option, the next morning my black cat and I moved into the couple's vacated cabin. Thereafter I made a quarter-mile hike each day to work on my place, clearing brush, roughing in a roadway, and building an earth-sheltered shed which would become my legal onsite construction shelter once securing a building permit.


Before I got it, I was to experience the full wrath of unknown neighbors with zero tolerance for not doing things 100% according to Hoyle. It seemed that ever-vigilant Vista board members and their cohorts had established a pipeline with local realtors for every Vista parcel sale made. Distant neighbors thus soon learned some rambling upstart of obviously threadbare means was daring to invade their domain, presumably with no intention of ever paying the piper. My Strout realtor informed me later that, while he'd admitted he just sold a lot to a young long-hair, he refused to divulge where or to whom.


I found that sporting.


Now a determined posse was hot on the trail of the latest scofflaw, systematically combing endless back roads to run me to ground. (Apparently my Gotta-permit-for-that? visitor didn't report me.) Weeks later they finally found my place when I wasn’t home. They took one look at my thrown-together, mostly underground store shed and verboten outhouse and reported me to the county health department. They didn’t know -- or, I suspect, much care -- that I had earnest intentions of eventually complying and building to code. (Again, not that I particularly wanted to, but I valued peace of mind and knew I'd never have it if I didn't toe the line and render unto Caesar.)


Their scorched-earth policy allowed no such wiggle room. Equal opportunity hasslers, anyone and everyone the least bit non-compliant, especially those they didn't cotton to as one of them and so maybe deserving of some leeway, was thrown under the bus.



Summoned onto the carpet of then head county health department honcho, Dr. Bayuk,  I got the full bum's rush. I wan't even allowed to explain my intent to comply. Assuming the worst, he was loaded for bear and so read me the riot act. He gave me 120 days to get compliant by installing a septic system -- even though I wouldn’t have a completed cabin to connect it to for years -- and build a temporary outhouse over it. Otherwise he'd see to it that I'd be thrown off my land. “And don’t think I won’t!”, he growled, jowls shaking like Nixon's as he spoke. He no doubt felt I needed an extra dose of fear to get me properly motivated.


The only reason he worked with me at all was because at the last moment another kindhearted neighbor came forward and explained how they'd promised to let me join the by-then membership-capped water truck club once I was ready to build. He had grudgingly allowed me to become POWW's twenty-sixth and final resident member.


Being thin-skinned, the experience, happening as it did within months of my arrival overflowing with excitement to fulfill a decade-old ambition to settle on my own land, traumatized me. Before the last minute reprieve I'd all but given up on the place. Devastated and demoralized, I appeared to be gearing up to fade away into yet another homeless sunset. Instead, though fondest hopes and dreams by then felt hopelessly mangled, wind gone from my sails, I dredged up reserve willpower from somewhere, paid the $125 water-truck membership fee, and doubled my resolve to invest the required time, money and effort to get legal and squared away. I'd then at least be able to live on the land with a modicum of dignity and hopefully salvage some of my original anticipation of building my bower in the wilderness and do my best to ignore those who didn't seem to want me there.


I passed the perc test and dug and installed an approved septic system. As per agreement, I built an outhouse over the top of the buried tank with leach field after it passed inspection. In part for the benefit of any busybodies driving by to check out the scene of the troublemaker's almost-bust ("Damn, I thought we had him"), no doubt hoping to find some new reportable offense, I painted on the side facing the road in big, bold, blue letters for their benefit, “Welcome Halley's Comet in 1984.” That should baffle 'em, I thought. Then  I built another outhouse more to my liking until moving into the completed cabin; it was a low-slung squatter affair cleverly disguised as a doghouse, water bowl and leash in front, a piece of plywood and big cushion hiding the hole. No one ever discovered the ruse.


Over a leisurely three and a half years I built a code-approved, 1½ story, solar-tempered little-big cabin. I used only hand tools, wanting the building experience to feel intimate and relaxed. I had energy to burn, approaching my prime. I hired help for the open-beam roofing and electrical work, and scrounged recycled lumber whenever possible. It appeared I was on the verge of becoming a peripherally respectable community resident. Not that I was any longer interested in being accepted as such. It was like the classic Groucho Marx quip made over a restrictive country club's finally offering him a membership despite his being Jewish:" I didn't want to belong to any club that would have me as a member." It'd be decades before I ever warmed to the board and appreciated its potential, at least, to do some good for the chronically floundering, perpetually at odds with itself, would-be community.


Working under the gun of county code enforcers -- who I sensed were trading notes with wary Vista board members and their minions -- proved so depressing it drove me to drink. I learned firsthand how board members and their ilk had a gift for radicalizing the place's denizens in their hell-bent campaign to try returning the place to its former glory of total code conformity -- or, in frustration, demand a pound of flesh by giving holy hell to anyone not compliant.  It felt as if the place was permanently caught up in a negative reactionary spiral, locked into some contention-drenched time loop of gnarly discord.


On the wings of getting my new shelter signed off in early 1983, I was still a timid if yet somewhat rebellious 33 year-old. One by now thoroughly disenchanted with the Vista's imperious would-be overlords.


Rainbow fever

I soon got into worse trouble. It seems I decided to celebrate the return of Halley’s Comet by hosting a months-long rainbow family camp on my land.


In 1984 the annual national alternative-culture rainbow family gathering event was going to be held in California for the first time ever since its start some 12 years earlier. It would be somewhere in an area a two hour drive away in the Warner Mountains wilderness, a ways from Alturas, in the remote northeast corner of the state. Come spring a flood of psyched early-comers, some returning for the first time in decades to their countercultural roots, would be pouring in from everywhere, including overseas. Many had nowhere to go until the exact public-forest site was determined, many months away yet.


Wanting to reconnect with my roots while evening the ledger for all the countless people who'd helped me over my years on the road  -- plus thinking to maybe liberate the stodgy development a bit -- I opened up my land and resources to all comers for the next five months. Like those Vistan firstcomers who built homes amidst an ostensible rec-land development seemingly indifferent to what troubles it might create, I was equally determined to let the chips fall where they may by hosting a motley group that was the very antithesis of the anally strict law-and-order notions some of my 'neighbors' (most lived miles away) seemed to hold so dear.


I solemnly tendered my invite by letter to the rainbow steering committee, then holding monthly steering committee meetings in a City Hall room (of all places) in far away Chico. Word spread fast, and though never recognized or supported as an official rainbow camp for being held on private land, for months hundreds of early-comer wired spirits, often in colorful, glad-rag garb and sometimes outlandish rigs, traipsed in and out of the buttoned-down-and-proud Vista hinterlands like party-hearty aliens visiting from another planet.


Rainbow elders Whitney and Eagle Feather oversaw setting up three 28-foot yurts  -- formerly belonging to the Seattle area's controversial Love Family spiritual sect -- on the parcel's lower back acre. "There's your UFO, Stuart," one told me as the central yurt went up; earlier I'd mentioned how I liked to imagine a scout ship might some day land on the parcel.  I named the land Earth Base as a variation of a former Seattle Capitol Hill fire station that had been transformed into a community center and renamed Earth Station. Earth Base it was for years thereafter. In a way, the scene felt a little like the animated feature Yellow Submarine, when the Beatles' triumphant music turned the dreary frozen black-and-white world into brilliant technicolor.  But it wasn't all peace and love by any means; off-putting power trips would tarnish such a happy impression, humans being humans.


Predictably, when my terminally convention-minded neighbors heard about it, they had a conniption fit. Though a few more liberal-minded retirees seemed tickled by it all, possibly rebels at heart who didn't see anything too threatening about the surreal scene, others were having kittens. No free-spirited long-hair,s with all their flagrant pot-smoking (then still very much illegal), shameless nudity, and unsettling tribal drumming long into the night, would be tolerated...not in their one-time Shangri-la now going to rack and ruin, thank you. One family per parcel; that was a Vista rule etched in stone. (Claims of “Hey, we ARE one family” wouldn't cut much ice.)

Frothing at the mouth, they reported me to every enforcement agency they could think of: county sheriff; health, planning and building department; fire marshal; probably the dog catcher... But, saving grace, earlier on I’d coordinated a meeting between then-county sheriff Charlie Byrd and rainbow elders to be held on my land. Law enforcement was keen to learn what they could expect with 33,000 rainbow celebrants (as it would turn out), soon to flood their turf. The sheriff, at least tenuously reassured our ragtag group seemed basically a harmless if freaky bunch (apart from gleefully ignoring pot laws and enjoying going naked in nice weather), one likely to only cause a temporary glitch in the conventional order of things, must've told apoplectic neighbors to chill a while, grit their teeth, it'd soon be over.


Jaws surely dropped; the system was failing them yet again.


The writer liked to think the ensuing mostly free-spirited scene helped break the ice of the Vista's long-oppressive atmosphere, even if perhaps at the risk of encouraging anarchy to gain some permanent foothold in the land. Rebellious offspring of various outraged residents had visited the scene and loved it; the scene became part of Vista lore (what little there was of it). 


It seemed that over time the place would swing from one extreme to the other: From firstcomers' honeymoon period, happy campers giddy over the endless possibilities of pristine lands, to ruthless, law-and-order minded "No this, no that, don't even think about it" intolerance", then back to "Whoopee, anything goes!" 




Gone eleven months of the year

The firstcomers' control-freak stance had been, as mentioned, in good part born of feeling the need to post serious signs everywhere to protect the place and vacationers' left belongings while living up to 700 miles away for 11 months of the year. Mischief-minded offspring of embittered locals who resented the sudden takeover of their former, longtime stomping grounds had a hell-for-leather field day during parcel owners' extended absences...which of course got them apoplectic on their return, hoped for carefree vacations, anticipated all year, met with rude reality check.


The natives, some third or fourth generation descendants of the region's pioneers and often very set in their ways, were, as related, far from ever welcoming the big city-based, parcel-buying newcomers into their fold. They'd mounted what amounted to a rebellious, "You may think it's your land, but it's still ours; we'll never recognize your damn place" campaign. The endless miles of non-gated groomed backroads were ideal for dirt bikers to gouge deep donuts in, and more delinquent-minded youth engaged in more spirited hell raising by stealing and vandalizing at will.  Unruly youth -- absorbing the perturbed sentiments of their families and carrying on a proud tradition -- geared up their protracted war with the foreign la-la-landers who'd dared to try taking away their wilderness hunting and grazing land. Law enforcement could only do so much trying to work with the absent owners, there being maybe at most a single overseer or two watching over seven square miles of property off season. The actual land owner himself needed to report an incident to get any investigation and some things no doubt had gone missing over a half year before they even discovered it.


By the time civic-minded lot owners started living on their parcels and joining the larger community, attending church services and, in later decades, as younger resident families increased, enrolling children in the local schools and joining PTAs, it almost seemed too late to reverse the long-established vicious circle. Dislike and suspicion of the Vista and its invasive lot owners often seemed permanently ingrained in the DNA of locals, their kids, their grandkids...  


“Permit? We ain’t got no permit...

I don’t need no stinkin’ permit!”

As stressed, through the 1980s and 1990s the county's health and building ordinances were by and large strictly enforced. Unless one didn’t mind being deemed an outlaw and never earning recognition or acceptance as an “official” resident -- as, in time, it seemed more and more indeed wouldn't -- landowners settling on their parcels dutifully complied. Or at least provide the illusion of trying to comply: "See here?  I started my well; I'm fifty feet down and waiting on my next paycheck to drill deeper, cut me some slack here, will ya?" (Hope he's buying this.)


After the Great Recession of 2008-2009 hit and devastated the economy, county supervisors were, again, forced to make tough budget cuts. Among other actions they'd ax the position of residential-code enforcer, which seemed to have little effect anyhow -- leastwise in the Vista. The place was so far gone by then that calling it a lost cause seemed an understatement.


Over the next half decade residential-code enforcement essentially disappeared from the Vista. With no official telling you anything different, it was easier than ever for newcomers to foster the notion that they could do whatever they wanted on their remote, private parcels. The threatening signs that had been erected everywhere were by now seriously biodegrading, dire warnings fading into illegibility. They lent the place the air of being a forlorn, all but abandoned, rural ghost town of a settlement living out its zombie half-life in obscurity.


No legal power to fine; Liberty vs. license;

Can a place center without a center?

Other subdivisions forming in the region about the same time had wanted to assure they established a respectable residency. Accordingly, they gave the property-owner boards legal power to levy fines for infractions of agreed-on rules. If not paid they could slap legal liens on a culprit's property, which then had to be cleared up before land could legally change hands. Examples: in Lake Shastina visible clotheslines, solid fencing and dirt bikes were all verboten; in Shasta Forest one could get fined fifty dollars for changing oil on their own property even if capturing every drop for recycling.


No such legal powers have ever existed in the Vista.


This was always the place's two-edged sword. While its relative lack of sometimes nit-picky, overreaching rules and regulations empowered residents to feel more like lords and ladies of the manor, as it were, such freedom could also attract those with scofflaw intentions who wanted to exploit seemingly unregulated land, not mindful about disturbing the place's peace and quiet or the land's relative pristine nature. Example: the place long ago had a monumental junkyard eyesore surreally surrounded by undisturbed wooded lots; it took the board ages to get the county to condemn it and the place cleaned up.


In a democracy it always came down to giving people the freedom to do whatever they wanted just so long as their actions didn’t interfere with the rights of others to do what they wanted. The greatest good for the greatest number. Liberty vs. license. The flip side of liberty was, of course, the obligation to support the rules of law set up to safeguard the freedom rights, thus serving the greater good. (That the rules sometimes seemed to favor the interests of the wealthier class at the expense of others often getting the short end of the stick was no doubt what always made people want to rebel against the system.)


Few Vistan parcel holders -- especially absentee ones, but even some residents -- ever felt the need to build a community center. So it never did. Though its population grew enough to merit one, there was never enough interest to create a practical facility where residents and visiting lot owners could meet and get to know each other in a central, neutral, relaxed setting and form informal volunteer action groups like community gardens, swap meets, litter patrol. And have the monthly board meetings actually in the Vista rather than next door in a tiny fire station backroom.


But indeed it was held in that cramped, cold-fluorescent-lit backroom space, off actual Vista property. And the annual property owner meetings were held some ten miles away in Lake Shastina, one having to walk through the golf club's bar lounge littered with buzzed or hung over tee enthusiasts to reach the conference room. (In earliest years they were held hundreds of miles away, at places like the many members’ favorite at the time, the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, to make it easier for the dominant southern California ownership to attend.)


At the risk of stating the obvious, it was impossible for a quasi community to ever gain a sense of centeredness without having a center. Needing to leave the place to attend the monthly meeting, drive ten miles away to attend its annual meeting? While it struck more than a few as too weird for words, it reflected the place's total discombobulation as much as anything.


“Wouldn’t give you a dime...” vs. “Only $29,999!”

Due to the place’s sundry shortcomings, sale values of parcels stalled for decades, barely keeping pace with inflation. Interest in the parcels took the meaning of 'soft market' to new territory. Until 2015, unimproved two-to-three acre lots went begging at $5,000. Lacking any easier water, sewage systems, electricity, or any more can-do, fair-minded, empowered board or appropriate CC&Rs, the place fairly shouted, "Beware! Failed subdivision!"


It didn’t strike many as an inviting place to ever drop anchor. Only those enjoying roughing it a while. Or those determined to live on the cheap and who wouldn't lose any sleep being non-compliant, "Screw the system!" being their happy motto. Or those renting houses and mobiles, from code-compliant owners who escaped the disaster area and moved away, for affordability more than anything else, and then tried to tune out the place's glaring shortcomings. Or long-timers who'd known the place in kinder times and had sunk such deep roots that they were braced to weather changes that would make others flee in a heartbeat.


Long ago, I met a former realtor who said of the properties with a heated disdain apparently then common in local property peddling circles, “I wouldn’t give you a dime for any of them!” He said it with such fire-breathing vehemence, you'd think the realm was sitting atop a radioactive waste dump or something. It made one wonder if maybe he and his colleagues had skirted ugly, protracted lawsuits for misrepresenting properties or endured some other such unpleasantness that made it not worth the paltry commission fees the low-end properties generated.


Eventually two out-of-region realtor groups thought differently. Specializing in scouting rural developments deemed undervalued, in the late 2000s they'd snap up hundreds of the bedeviled hinterland's parcels for cheap, properties that had long laid fallow (at least relieving many long-stuck or more recently-stuck parcel owners). Then they mounted slick sales campaigns to try remedying an obviously under-exploited situation while hoping to make a mint.


The first outfit, National Recreational Properties, Inc., hired former "CHiPs" TV star Erik Estrada to serve as their ridiculously uber-aggressive pitchman. Out of Irvine (possibly the same town as Vista founder Collins), it apparently had a penchant for going after failed, “left-for-dead” subdivisions, sharp talons squeezing out any easy quick profit before swooping off to the next rural roadkill. In ad promos "the Ponch" shamelessly enthused how the place was so great he even owned a parcel. (Of course he was given it as part of the deal so he could truthfully say that.) see related article


The outfit reportedly offered to fly prospective buyers in to enjoy a champagne brunch along before the big pitch and grand tour of the prime affordable properties offering such rich solitude, fresh air and dazzling mountain views. When they held a grand open house, balloons festooning highway entrances, rumor had it no one even showed. (They were more successful with their Alturas, California area development, California Pines, which boasted over 15,000 one-acre parcels, though each for some strange reason demanded the installation of a pricey engineer-designed septic system, which hindered its development.)


A few years later, around 2012, another group,, likewise grabbed a mess of raw Vista parcels, possibly taking some off the former's hands. They in turn seemed to aim at gullible, land-hungry Internet surfers. They'd hawk the parcels online, eBay auction style, the 'winner' being the one making the highest down-payment bid when the timer ran out. “Only $29,999!” they gushed. (With low monthly payments and a high interest rate, the final cost could run over $50,000.) Their campaign attracted many living on a shoestring, some soon growing a few cannabis plants no doubt in part to try keeping up the land payments and so avoid losing what various legal residents viewed as being no more than private campgrounds for the homeless. (As of late 2022 they were still trying to hawk a lot or two at $80,000, hopeful the right sucker was out there somewhere.)


By 2015, according to county records the Vista had a grand total of some 80 legally permitted residences. Out of 1,640 parcels, this was one in twenty, or five percent of the lots having homes or mobiles according to Hoyle.  The rest -- some 1,556 lots, or 95%  -- either had unpermitted dwellings, were once informally lived on and since vacated, or, most commonly, were still as relatively pristine as the day the place was launched a half century before, minus the various scars of tree poachers and careless off-roaders.


Hope sprang eternal for at least some of the speculative landholders, still thinking to make a bundle. They set a super inflated price in listing with the realtor, hoping to snag some eager land-hungry buyer with perhaps more money than sense, oblivious to the depressed market and the development's chronic festering problems: "Secluded", "Perfect spot to build that dream home!", etc.  Once during the early teens a sale to a woman was about to close. She was taking one last look at the parcel before signing when a nearby scofflaw resident, determined to keep out his own 'wrong kind of people', strode out within view of her buck naked and pranced about for her benefit. It worked; the deal fell through.


“Maybe if we ignore them they’ll go away.”

It was no secret county supervisors rued the day they ever greenlit the development. One former Vista board president stalwart, Jeannette Hook, who worked with county officials in her career, said they viewed the Vista as "the red-headed stepchild no one knew what to do with."


Meanwhile the place, having no fining power, was, short of extra-legal vigilante efforts, fully at the mercy of county officials and enforcers to keep intact whatever shreds of respect for the rule of law might remain.


But the huge, mostly rural county, on an overstretched budget and often understaffed, had all but completely given up trying to deal with the forsaken realm. Responsible enforcement and policy-making parties grew so numb to the perpetual thorn in their side, they disconnected from the reality that its legal residency was paying their salaries, through annual county property taxes, and not unreasonably expected them to earn their pay.


Despite -- or because of -- the number of non-compliant dwellers increasing, they wouldn't respond short of an actual emergency. They had to appreciate the likelihood that the place maybe was a disaster waiting to happen. Yet county officials kept kicking the can down the road on automatic pilot, determined to avoid dealing with the fool's errand of a place whenever humanly possible...


...until the day of reckoning came at last


In the spring of 2015, a flood of cannabis-growing entrepreneurs poured out of nowhere.  They anticipated the eminent tidal wave of legalized recreational pot in California once voters by ballot measure was sure to change the law in late 2016, reducing illegal grows to civil misdemeanors. They'd snap up the remote parcels which for all but the beginning of the place's fifty year history went begging. The lots were a steal for any willing  to take a chance and bypass the strict but largely unenforceable grow permitting process that involved both state and county agencies. And growers hadn't even the option of complying anyhow, as the state allowed each county to permit or disallow commercial cannabis growing on unincorporated county land (Incorporated cities had the option of its residents voting to permit commercial grows and dispensaries.) Siskiyou would opt out.  


California would become the only western state to reduce the penalty for unsanctioned commercial-scale pot grows from a criminal felony to a civic misdemeanor. "There's gold in California!" became the rallying cry once more as people poured in from across the nation and overseas. County supervisors might just as well have gone fishing for all the non-compliance their new ordinances -- which they no doubt liked to think were chiseled in stone -- would inspire. Hundreds of new instant Vista residents, sensing the ever changing cannabis laws and ordinances were all but unenforceable and a relative slap on the wrist if busted -- $500 fine and crop confiscated -- with lightning speed would roll out seas of green, illicit grows, far exceeding the state's allowed personal-use six-plant plant limit: some sixteen-fold at first; in time, over three-hundred fold.


The phenomenal rush appeared to have caught everyone flatfooted, asleep at the switch, out to lunch, name your metaphor. "No one could've ever predicted such a thing would happen," said one official to the media, head firmly stuck in the sand. 


Studious ignoring of the Vista's long-term plight -- born of a rural county too poor, provincial-minded and/or lackadaisical to keep up with radically changing times or able to enforce its own steep ordinances and regulations should enough people opt to simply ignore them -- had been careening on a collision course with reality for ages...


...until avoiding dealing with it at last proved something of an unwarranted luxury.






Fifth century B.C. Chinese philosophy Lao Tse once said that the cause of anything is everything and the cause of everything is anything.  Though ending the analysis by perhaps seemingly pointing a finger at county officials as the main culprits, it'd be unfair and over-simplistic to try pinning the blame for what happened to the development on any one cause or party.


There was an extraordinary confluence of factors at play over time, countless ingredients in what became the place's recipe for disaster.


A brief recap of the major contributing factors:


The land seller to developer Martin hadn't bothered to first gain permission from the rest of the long-time land-owning Martin family, who were content to have that part of their far-flung holdings stay devoted to grazing and hunting for fellow locals, creating a contentious vibe for the place from the start


Surrounding locals resented the development ever being allowed to happen, no doubt including some county supervisor members who voted against its formation, ostensibly for lack of water


Ambitious efforts of the first residents, each providing their own well, electrical hookup, etc. before building to code and only then moving in, weren't followed by most future dwellers despite such a procedure being crucial to becoming an acknowledged standard community



A sea of indifferent absentee owners, often mere speculators, countless soon nursing serious buyer remorse and, unable to unload the clunkers without taking a bath, loathe to sink another cent in the place


The firebrand property owners board members, along with other heavily invested first-comer residents -- reacting to the rash of lot buyers soon determined to live on bought lots without ever conforming to county health and building code by declaring open war on them, throwing them under the bus by reporting them to authorities -- creating an uber-contentious social climate for decades


Profit-minded realtors who didn't care what one might intend to do with their lots


Limited-involvement association managers, and sometimes board presidents, indifferent to or ineffective in helping efforts of more civic-minded residents to ever grow a harmonious community, some themselves participating in the eventual mad realty boom sparked by California suddenly liberalizing cannabis growing


Stir in:

County officials in time all but abandoning enforcement of the building code and state health regulations for a half decade, starting during the Great Recession


More and more free-minded residents deeming home building-code standards too over-complicated and expensive for simple country living on one's own land and so worthy of being ignored


Mix together and bake 50 years. Result? One giant question mark of a place the public still shakes its head over, dismissing as a hopelessly tangled mess defying comprehension.


Was it any wonder the Vista became such a terminal basket case? All along it seemed as if maybe it was vying for a 'Most Dysfunctional Rural Development' award in some bizarro alternate universe.


Countless influences -- some possibly not even touched on here -- led the Vista to become the way it is now: a former shared recreational land forever left trying to be something more, despite the cards being stacked against it from the start...


...and, people being people and the Vista being the Vista, is still trying to any way it can.






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