In the early 1970s we used to visit this wonderful place called Hee Haw Valley. My parents don't recall exactly when, but the photos I have are from albums dated 1972 and 1974, which would be about right.
Hee Haw who?
Hee Haw Valley was a sort of expanded petting zoo, located on the northeastern edge of Vista, CA at 3343 E. Vista Way. It had donkey rides, a train ride, and numerous farm animals that you could see, pet, and feed. Prices were very reasonable, as this was a family operation done for enjoyment and a sense that kids should have a chance to be close to animals, rather than a profit-making venture. According to the July 1969 issue of Desert Magazine, it only cost 25¢ to get in ($1.60 in 2012 dollars) and 5¢ (50¢) per bag to feed the animals (I converted using the US Bureau of Labor Statistics's calculator). The burro rides were also 25¢, and the train rides probably cost the same (though I haven't been able to confirm that). I was only about six when it closed so my memories of the place are pretty hazy, but I remember us going several times, and how disappointed we were when it shut down. After all these years I think Hee Haw Valley deserves a tribute page, somewhere, so here's my attempt.
History of the place (what I can work out)
The house was built in 1955; I don't know what was there before. Bob and Pat Tupa opened to the public in 1957 as Bob Tupa's burro farm, but they later adoped the name "Hee Haw Valley" as the scale of the operation, and their number of visitors, grew. Around 1970 they added a miniature railroad. Hee Haw Valley closed in 1974 (just as we were getting to know it!) when insurance rates rose too high; his family recalls it was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make. Pat told me in May 2014, though, that it had been an awful lot of work to run the place, and closing it came as sort of a relief to her. Can't say I blame her!
The railroad went quiet, but for years passers-by could still see the animals from afar, or at least their stalls, and the "Donkeys Don't Wear Pants" sign. You could also see the railroad tracks and that awesome tunnel I loved so much as a kid. Bob continued to maintain the yard as a sort of petting zoo, but just for friends and family. In 2002, Bob and Pat sold the property and moved to Nevada; that may have been when the signs came down. In 2011, I think, the property was sold again, and the tunnel was demolished by February 2012. The site is now home to Kindred Spirits, a dog training school.
After Hee Haw Valley closed, Bob took out a trademark on Hee Haw Valley badges, and produced a bunch of them from plastic and/or wood, calling himself The Badge Man. I'm not sure what he put on the badges, but I imagine they had a satirical theme like the signs he had on his property. He was apparently a bit of a thorn in the side of the city council (especially when it tried to take down his signs), and he may have made badges on the subject of his disagreements with the council.
Sadly, Bob passed away on October 17, 2013 (see the guest book). I wanted to call him after I created this tribute site, but as it happened I wrote it that very month--so of course he was gone by the time I worked up the courage to call the following May.
In October 2014, Pat found a pair of old photos of the sign out front that the place was locally famous for. She
was kind enough to share them with me:
Much to my surprise (and dismay), Bob apparently printed the sign with an apostrophe that didn't belong ("DONKEY'S"). It's funny I never noticed it before, but then that was before everyone started adding apostophes to words whenever they feel like it. Anyway, I sure am glad to have these photos here! This tribute page just didn't feel complete without them. Many thanks, Patricia!
Apparently there was a move in the 1960s to cover up animals' hind ends, and this was his response to it. It's an appropriate reaction, I think--covering animals' hindquarters sounds just like the urban legend about people in the Victorian Era covering table legs. (Plus it sounds needlessly messy.) The sign was posted out front on the edge of the driveway and was easily visible to motorists for years after the place closed. Inside the park, Bob had other satirical signs posted, especially at the front of the donkey rides. I don't remember them myself, but I can see them in the old photos my parents took; apparently they said things like "THIS OPERATION IS NOT RUN BY THE CIA". Some of them may have just been silly; I see one that begins "MY SADDLE WAS STOLEN". I guess he had quite a sense of humor.
This was the approximate layout of Hee Haw Valley, as best my family and I can recall, superimposed on an aerial photo from 2012. The topography hasn't changed much, as you can see in this photo from 1964, which unfortunately predates the train. I've only indicated part of the train's path, because I don't recall where it turned and came back around toward the tunnel. I assume it probably made a left in that light area, running through the "m" in the spot marked Animals right in the center--but I can't confirm that. If you know anything about the layout of the railroad, please let me know.
You came into the place on its far left side--and it was here at the entrance that the "Don't Wear Pants" sign used to be. The train and donkey rides would be right there in the front area, and toward the back was a long walkway where all the animals were, basically in a row or two as you made your way toward the far end of the property.
When you first drove in, you would take the bend to the right to a small parking lot they had there. Nearby were the train and donkey rides. I always loved the train, and my favorite thing about the entire park was going through the tunnel! I'm not sure what I loved so much about taking a train through a tunnel, but it seems to be a common theme with children; my kids also have that obsession. For many years after the park closed, the tunnel was still there, and seeing it when we drove past always felt like a tiny bittersweet connection to this place--and this ride--that we enjoyed so much. (For a few years I even dared hope that it might reopen.) Here you can see the train ride, and the tunnel itself, in about 1972. That's me pointing, I think, and my brother next to me behind my arm. I'm not sure, but I think the tunnel was under a bridge that connected the parking lot (left of the photo) to the rest of the place.
Fortunately, someone got more and higher-quality pictures of the train than we did--and with the same
fellow driving, as it turns out! These photos are pasted here with the kind permission of
Dad's Dish (the little boy in the blue hat). Check out that link for another writeup about Hee Haw
Valley, and for a host of comments from others who remember the place--including one from the Steve Henderson,
the fellow in the hat and beard (who worked there from 1972 to 1974, and graduated Vista High in 1969), and
even from some of the Tupas' family.
Then there were the donkey rides. I thought the train was the best thing there, but my parents must
have gotten a different impression since they took lots of pictures of the donkey rides, but only one of
the train. Here are some scenes of the burros in 1972; the riders are my brother, my cousin Missy,
And, here's me on one of those burros in 1974.
Also, here are some pics from Dadsdish's Flickr account, December 1972:
Somewhere in this area they had an old soda machine. Here's Bob Tupa getting some sodas for the kids, 1974.
So then as you turned and headed off to the left of that soda machine, you'd make your way down the rows of
stalls filled with farm animals: donkeys, goats, chickens etc. Here's a view of what it looked like in
that direction, as of 1972. The people in the picture are my uncle Steve and my grandmother (d. 1992),
then me (in blue), my cousin, and my brother.
Unfortunately I don't have many close-ups of the stalls, just this blurry one with a donkey. That's fitting I suppose, considering the place was famous for its burro rides, but I recall they had lots of other animals, especially birds. But you can see the DIY nature of the stalls that Bob had--clearly he built them himself, which added a bit of homegrown charm to the place (Pat confirmed that he built them himself). I have few memories of actually visiting the stalls, which is no surprise since I was always focused on the rides--but I do remember the rows along that side of the property, even for years after it closed, which were neat to see as we drove past.
Fortunately, Dadsdish comes through for us again. Here are some shots from his Flickr account, from December 1972:
There isn't much left of the place as we knew it, as the animals and signs (and railroad tracks?) were removed around 2002 and the tunnel was taken out around 2011 or early 2012. However, the site remains and the topography hasn't really changed--the pond is still there, for instance, and the cut where the train used to skirt the pond. It's currently owned by a dog training place, and they take good care of the property.
Should you wish to visit the site today, you can find it here on Google Maps. If you're driving north on East Vista Way out of the city of Vista, you'll first cross the intersection with Gopher Canyon Road (see right).
A bit past that you'll come to the actual location. Here are a couple shots taken from the driveway, facing the pond, the area above it where the donkey rides were, and the cut in the side of the hill where the train used to run after it came out of the tunnel. I think the tunnel itself was on the left, behind the bushes that obscure the view.
In what was surely a bit of marketing, but which also made for a very nice touch, the realty company
put up a sign in honor of the place. It's likely gone now, but at least I have a picture of it--one
last memory of Hee Haw Valley.