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Day 194 - Napa Valley (Photo's Added)

I decided to try finishing the trip by driving the rest of the way along the coast (time permitting), so we headed west again towards San Francisco. But I also decided to take a side trip up the Napa Valley to sightsee

sunny 60 °F

This morning, we left Art & Melody's and headed back down towards Sacramento. I thought it might be nice to include a couple of pictures from Hwy 70 as we drove west from Art's place - the scenery in the Sierra Nevada foothills can be quite nice, especially in spring.


Once we got to the valley and started south, we again saw this tiny mountain range. Art says they are the 'San Juan Mountains' and are the smallest stand alone mountain range (in the world?) I couldn't find any reference to them in Wikipedia, so I may need to do some more research if I want to learn more.


We also passed a few fruit stands along the way. Some are closed for the winter, but surprisingly some are open year round - they just carry a different selection of inventory. This one is just north of Marysville. We loved the bright pink road signs - a slightly different touch! They also had several varieties of honey, including wild thistle honey, as well as all sorts of goodies. We stocked up well.


This part of the central valley in California is known for it's agraculture. There are many orchards, but they were just beginning to bud out.


We also passed a couple of crop dusters treating some fields. It looks like this is a modern version of a biplane, they must still be making them specifically for crop dusting, which I think is pretty cool (not the crop dusting necessarily, but that someone might still be making biplanes.)


Then we headed across the Central Valley towards Napa. As we were driving west on I-80, both Mom and I fondly remembered stopping at a famous spot called "The Nut Tree". So we decided early on to stop there again on this trip for good measure. When we got to the exit for it however, the place we remembered was long gone - it had morphed into something totally unrecognizable as "The Nut Tree". Now it's a shopping mall with the same stores that are in thousands of other malls. There's probably still a store buried somewhere in there called "The Nut Tree", but it's hardly a wayside along the freeway, so would just be another store in a mall now. We decided to just get back on the freeway and forget about it.

When we'd visited the Sonoma Visitor's Center before heading east to visit my brother, the folks there had recommended driving up the Sonoma Valley, then back down the Napa Valley for some beautiful scenery. Since we were back in that neck of the woods again, I decided to take them up on this suggestion - only in the opposite direction - up the Napa Valley first.

The scenery is quite lovely, lots and lots of vineyards (some places even had grape vines in the front yards of houses & inns). Being spring, the California hills are also still green, which is nice.


Napa Valley is so famous for it's wine growing that two shots of vinyards are probably in order. In fact, the Napa Valley is the second most visited area of California - second only to Disneyland!


Of course, in addition to vinyards - there are wineries. We saw lovelier ones then these, but I couldn't always pull over to take pictures (or forgot to, which of course I would never admit to). At least they represent the two styles of wineries or wine tasting outlets we passed, traditional old style wineries and fancy, modern styles.


A little farther up the road, I spotted this little Oakville Grocery Store. It was built in 1881 and is still in business. Now it specializes in 'gourmet' foods and picnic supplies, e.g. wine, cheese and breads & crackers. However I had stopped because we needed Milk, for which I was out of luck!


Up the road a little farther is the little town of Saint Helena. This is just west of Pacific Union College, an SDA institution some of my relatives attended. We didn't drive up to PUC, but I thought a shot of St. Helena might bring back some memories to those who've been there?


While the vinyards and wineries were pretty, we didn't really stop at them today as we were just taking in the scenery. Maybe I was feeling the need to stop somewhere and at least see something, so when I saw the signs for the "Bale Grist Mill State Park", I turned off. Turns out this is closed for the winter, but there were plenty of interpretive signs and visitors are free to walk the grounds (where I picked up some poisen oak, Ugh). There are also a lot of moss covered trees in the park, which I found interesting (the area has a very moist climate and just about anything grows there).


This was built by Dr. Edward Bale in 1846 having received a land grant from the Mexican governor for the area in 1841. There wasn't a lot of water in the summer, and the available water came from higher on the hills - so the water wheel was built as a 36 foot 'Overshoot' wheel. This is the largest water wheel west of the Mississippi River.


The building in the background is the Grainery. In addition to storing grain, this was used as a local meeting place and social center. It may even have been used for dances.


Finally, we arrived at Calistoga, where we planned to head west across to the Sonoma Valley. Before we did however, we stopped at a place that bills itself as the "Old Faithful Geyser of California". It is a very tiny geyser compared to the real "Old Faithful" in Yellowstone NP, but it is a geyser none the less. It is also very 'faithful', or regular. The gift shop told us it erupted every 15 minutes, but while we were there it was more like every 5 to 10 minutes due to all the rain they'd had recently. I (slightly) remember visiting this with my great aunt and uncle when I was a kid.


Mom enjoyed this too, but hadn't put her teeth in, so refused to look at the camera (she does know I take pictures on the trip?)


And yes, I realize I haven't uploaded any video's since Florida - I've been so far behind I haven't taken the time to edit them! But I figure this one is simple enough, maybe I can get by without editing?

They also have an assortment of animals on the place to attract visitors (just in case the geyser isn't enough I suppose). We skipped most of them, but I thought these 'Tennessee Fainting Goats' were interesting. They don't actually faint, but have a genetic abnormality so that if they are frightened, their muscles lock up which can cause them to tip over.


Finally, we started across the hills to the Sonoma Valley. The road was quite winding and heavily traveled when we came to a sign directing all RV's to turn onto a different route. Being the fool that I am, I turned of course (although this took us way off the path where we knew where we were going). Along this new road we saw some signs to the Mark West Lodge. Not having any idea what this was, I just plowed on ahead at full speed. As we rounded a curve, we drove under the most remarkable grape vines and arbor I have ever seen. The Grape Arbor spans the roadway and extends for at least 40 feet or so, maybe longer. Even without slowing down, I was really impressed (and kicking myself that I hadn't taken the time to stop, investigate and take pictures). Later while looking at the pictures of some of the signs I'd taken back at the geyser place, I learned that these are indeed special grape vines. They are even in Ripley's Believe it or Not as being the largest and oldest grape vines in North America! (If you have time, follow the link above, at least the Mark West Lodge has a picture on it's web site.)

My goal for tonight was to get to Glen Ellen and try to find camping in that area. However, the RV friendly (?) road through Mark West's arbor took us to Santa Rosa instead. We got there at rush hour and absolutely crawled through town. When we got to the turnoff for Hwy 12 to get back to Glen Ellen, she started pestering me to take an alternate route, Bennett Valley Road, instead - since she'd lived off of it 60 years ago. Things looked a little different then she remembered them, but we actually located the place she'd lived while attending Santa Rosa Jr. College. They had lived at the end of Jamison Rd, which is just off of this portion of Bennett Valley Rd and Sonoma Mtn Rd. This brought back a bunch of memories for her, like the time her headlights died while she was driving on this stretch of road and she just barely made it back home safely.


This finally took us into Glen Ellen, but by then Mom had figured out that the closest camping was at Sugarloaf Ridge SP, back up Hwy 12 a bit. It was almost dark, but we headed back up into the mountains again (slightly different route however) and found an absolutely lovely SP for the night. As I was checking in at the ranger station, a herd of about 13 black tailed deer ambled by on the hill next to us. It was probably too dark to take pictures, but I couldn't resist trying.


One nice thing about staying in State Parks is that they are very peaceful and usually quite lovely. The downside is that there often is little or no cell phone or internet service - so instead of getting the blog updated a bit, I got further backwards. At least folks will have something to keep reading for a bit after we get home?


Miles Driven - 219 (No wonder Mom was tired!), Cumulative - 18,297
Camped at Sugarloaf State Park, off of Hwy 12 between Santa Rosa and Glen Ellen, CA

Provisions - Gas $43.60 for 11.786 gallons at 128,057 and $17.41 for 5 gallons (forgot to write down the mileage)
Milk and other misc. groceries at Calistoga, CA.

Posted by jl98584 17:53 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Sam Taylor Park is lovely. I have been there several times. So you decided to take the coast road! In an RV no less! I'll bet Mom enjoyed seeing some of her old haunts. It always amazes me to see houses I lived in years ago sill standing.

by drque

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