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Carolyn Elizabeth Adams was born and raised in Poughkeepsie, New York. She attended Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School in Hyde Park but traveled to Palo Alto, California in 1963 with her older brother, Don, shortly after she was expelled from high school.
In early 1964, she met Neal Cassady, who introduced her to Ken Kesey and his friends, one of whom gave her the name "Mountain Girl". Journalist Tom Wolfe described his first impression of a teenage Adams as "a tall girl, big and beautiful with dark brown hair falling down to her shoulders except that the lower two-thirds of her falling hair looks like a paint brush dipped in cadmium yellow from where she dyed it blond in Mexico. She pivots and shows the circle of stars on the back of her coveralls" which one of her hippie companions described as "wild".
Cassady took her to La Honda, California, Kesey's base of operations, where she quickly joined the inner circle of Pranksters and became romantically involved with Kesey, having a daughter by him named Sunshine. Kesey was arrested for marijuana possession in La Honda, in 1965 and fled to Mexico. He returned and nights after being sentenced to six months in the San Mateo County Jail, he was arrested again, this time with Carolyn Adams, while smoking marijuana on the rooftop of Stewart Brand's home in Telegraph Hill, San Francisco.
She had a relationship with another Prankster named George Walker, who would become her husband in 1966. They separated in December 1966 and were divorced in 1978. She took up with Garcia after splitting with Walker, but they did not marry for many years after. While living together over the next decade, they raised Sunshine along with their two daughters. The family had a house in San Rafael, California as well as a beach house in Stinson Beach, California.
Garcia and Adams separated in 1975 after he began a relationship with filmmaker Deborah Koons. Although Garcia and Adams reconciled after the dissolution of his relationship with Koons in 1977, they stopped cohabiting a year later (save for occasional holiday reunions) due to the guitarist's heroin and cocaine addictions. After marrying "partly for tax purposes and partly out of a fond flickering of a once-bright romance" in late 1981, this arrangement persisted until Garcia entered a diabetic coma in 1986. While this led to a lengthy period of cohabitation in which Carolyn Garcia played an integral role in her husband's recovery, they gradually drifted apart once more when Garcia began an extramarital relationship and fathered a child with Manasha Matheson. Jerry and Carolyn Garcia divorced in 1994, but remained friends until his death. During this period, he rekindled his relationship with Koons, who had been largely out of his life since the late 1970s; they would ultimately marry in February 1994. A month after the Grateful Dead's summer 1995 tour concluded, Garcia died at a rehabilitation facility in August 1995.
Following Jerry Garcia's death, Carolyn Garcia was involved in litigation to obtain payments as per their divorce settlement agreement, ultimately agreeing to a $1,250,000 settlement to avoid further legal costs.
Carolyn Garcia wrote a book on marijuana cultivation, called Primo Plant: Growing Sinsemilla Marijuana, first published in 1976 by Bookpeople. She currently sits on the boards of the Rex Foundation and the Furthur Foundation, and is on the advisory board of the Marijuana Policy Project. She formerly served on the board of the Women's Visionary Council. Garcia lives near her daughter, Annabelle, on the Kesey family farm in Pleasant Hill, Oregon.
- Robins, Cynthia. "She Never Got Off the Bus: The hard life and high times of Carolyn Garcia".
- Mountain Girl: Her tale begins in Hyde Park Archived November 11, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, Poughkeepsie Journal; accessed August 8, 2009.
- Wolfe, Tom. (1968). The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
- Charles Perry, From eternity to here, Rolling Stone, February 26, 1976; retrieved January 16, 2016.
- McNally, Dennis (18 December 2007). "A Long Strange Trip: The Inside History of the Grateful Dead". Crown/Archetype – via Google Books.
- Doyle, Jim. (October 15, 1998). "Garcia's Ex-Wife To Get $1.25 Million: "Mountain Girl" had sued star's estate". San Francisco Chronicle. p. A21.
- Ingram, Erik. (December 12, 1996). "Grateful Dead star's death leads to battle where it's… GARCIA VS. GARCIA". San Francisco Chronicle. pg. A23
- Mountain Girl (1998). Primo Plant: Growing Marijuana Outdoors. Quick American Archives. ISBN 0-932551-27-0.
- Rex Foundation Board and Staff page, accessed December 14, 2010.
- Furthur Foundation website, furthur.org; accessed December 14, 2010.
- Women's Visionary Congress speaker biographies Archived November 22, 2010, at the Wayback Machine, accessed December 14, 2010.
- Jackson, Blair (1999). Garcia: An American Life. New York, Viking. ISBN 0-670-88660-2. A biography of Jerry Garcia, which also has information about Carolyn Garcia.
- Wolfe, Tom (1968). The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 978-0-553-38064-4. Describes the early years of Garcia's relationship with Kesey and adventures with the Merry Pranksters.