A bronze plaque memorializes John Denver on the shores of Pacific Grove at Monterey Bay. (David Litman)

John Denver’s California memorial

Colorado’s greatest champion is memorialized on a rocky shore at Monterey Bay. John Denver became a folk music hero in the early 1970s with earnest songs about the pleasures of nature at a time of war and rising cynicism.

He lived for much of his life in Colorado, a state whose soaring wilderness became a theme in his music. But in the final year of his life, Denver stayed on California’s Central Coast, where he kept a home in Carmel and indulged his love of aviation over the Pacific.

John Denver, seen in 1979, made a home near Monterey Bay in 1996.
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns

On Oct. 12, 1997, Denver played a morning round of golf with some friends, then headed to Monterey Peninsula Airport to take his new two-seater aircraft, a Rutan Long-EZ, for a spin over the bay. Roughly 15 minutes after takeoff, he was dead.

An investigation concluded that Denver likely tilted a rudder inadvertently while trying to adjust a tricky fuel valve in the cockpit, causing him to lose control and veer into the sea. He was 53.

Denver’s ashes were scattered in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. The plaque at Monterey Bay was added in 2007 and included a few lines from a Denver song about the wind — a symbol, he wrote, “of all that is free.”

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