The time: 1969
The place: Temple City, California
The idea: “Hands On” is the best way to learn anything, so let's take a group of fourth graders to historic/heritage sites in California for a week so they can get that “hands on” experience of California's history...

The result: The California Heritage Trip

Okay, at first glance, this seems a reasonable idea. But it's got a lot of things against it that you might not notice for another glance or two.

Temple City Unified School District First thing is that, neither the school system nor most of the parents have a lot of money to spend on this thing – which will be a five-day long loop from Southern to Northern California, from the Coast to the Sierras – so the thirty odd kids involved will riding on school bus and spend their nights, not at a motel/hotel/whatever, but at other schools who are willing to loan-out gymnasium or classroom space for said kids and their sleeping bags.

Second problem is, well, they're fourth graders – thirty of them, stuck on a school bus for anywhere up to six hours at a time. You can work out for yourself how good a learning experience that'll be. After an hour or so, they're likely to get antsy – especially when we're still a good quarter-century from a Game Boy and most of them didn't bring books to read (I did – but I'm weird). So this pretty much left them with throwing things at one-another as their sole source of amusement.

Third problem is time – or rather the lack of it. The trip is nominally five days long – but it's also roughly eleven-hundred miles...eleven-hundred miles plus dozens of stops daily for bathrooms and breakfasts and lunches and dinners and – occasionally – heritage sites, all of which involve getting thirty kids off and on a bus. Hopefully without misplacing any of them.

And it remains a School Bus – 1960's vintage – it isn't going to set a spritely pace even when it isn't stopped: Hit sixty, and you're really straining things. And Interstates/Freeways are rather less complete in '69. Thus, the trip across the Great Central Valley, for example, was mostly done via windy, two-lane roads – with the occasional backtrack when a non-bus viable stretch of road was encountered.1 We probably averaged only about forty mph for most of each day's trip

And we have to finish that day's trip by five or six every evening – which with our eight or nine a.m. starting times, gives us a whole eight to ten hours a day to do all our traveling and site-seeing and things like eating.

And, of course, it was still early spring, so snow was available to block some of the planned route through the Sierras...

Schedules, quite naturally, slipped a bit. Less than two-days into the trip and San Francisco gets crossed off the list of “Places We'll See” – and the Monterey stopover gets trimmed to two-hours (mostly spent heading kids).

Fourth Problem, the “Heritage Sites” chosen. Nothing really wrong with them as individual things to see – but four missions in a row (even over two days) just blends into one big adobe blur. And if you're trying to convince fourth-graders that all these really old buildings in Monterey are interesting, you really need better info than that culled from generic “Fourth Grade History Of California” history books.

Other sites, well, if you're ten, Solvang is mostly a place to run around screaming and buy candy. Oroville2 is mostly a place to run around screaming and buy gold-panning pans. Sequoia National Park is mostly a place to run around screaming and throw snowballs. Sacramento is...oh, hell, I can't even remember what we did in Sacramento – but it probably involved running around screaming in some fashion...

...You're probably sensing a trend here.

Last night was at Three Rivers Elementary, where the evening was topped off by everyone being (literally3) hosed down out back so we'd be “clean” for our parents to retrieve the next day after – you guessed it – an eight hour bus trip through valley and mountain and desert.

Thus ended the first – and last (as far as I know) – California Heritage Trip