Saw two episodes of California’s Gold last night, little knowing that the program’s longtime host, Huell Howser, was dying.
In last night’s taped adventures, Huell stomped across the Sierra snowpack with DWR’s Frank Gehrke on one of the state’s frequent snow surveys. No one has ever been so enthusiastic about a steel tube.
In the other episode Huell hiked to Conness Lake for a piece about the lake’s namesake glacier. There were loads of “oohs” and “ahhs” in that one, too, although Huell managed to work in a quick lesson on the consequences of climate change as Sierra glaciers dwindle in size.
Some folks around here have been critical of Huell for failing to challenge the status quo in episodes about serious issues like California water or the Delta (posted above, in which he interviews Stockton levee engineer Chris Neudeck).
But Huell never claimed to be an investigative journalist. At least, not that I’m aware of. His talent was taking viewers on entertaining diversions from their living rooms to places they might never have had the ability or inclination to visit — far-flung state parks, museums, unique and bizarre tourist attractions. Anything and anyone was fair game; he once dedicated an entire episode to Hot Dog on a Stick.
That’s the Huell I’ll remember — the Huell who decided it’d be fun to take a GPS and visit all five geographic “corners” of California (including Lake Tahoe), the Huell who took us behind the scenes at In-N-Out in search of the secret recipe, the Huell who bantered with elderly Hollywood movie stars in sidewalk cafes.
In the world Huell shared, everything was new and exciting.
I wish more of us could see it that way.