Continuing Wednesday's afternoon adventures ... 01/28/15

One more item on the list to experience ... Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, in Calistoga, another new-to-us point to explore this trip.  We saw the sign as we drove up/down Hwy 29 and vowed to return.  After leaving the Petrified Forest (previous post), this was our destination.  But, first, along the way ...

... leaping bunny wabbit art along the highway -- "Bunny foo foo" -- this stainless steel dude reaches 35 ft, at Hall Wines Vineyards.  Quite the sight, gleaming in the sunshine! 

History Trail

We wanted to check out this park to look at the campground and its cost ($35/nite, no hookups).  Most of the sites are on the smallish side, but Tergel could fit in several.  Sites are in the trees, with quiet Ritchey Creek trickling behind those sites along the back, very bucolic setting.  Possibly we could stop here for a nite, but we can get FHU at the Elks for ten dollars less.  Now we know, and moving right along. 

Bothe-Napa is a pretty good-sized park, with lots of trails leading off into the hills, such as the History Trail.  I have to be VERY careful to stay on any path to avoid the dreaded poison oak scourge. These tiny flowers are NOT poison oak, but I can't remember what they are.  Can't remember everything, right?

A pioneer cemetery is on the grounds, along with scattered rock from The White Church foundations. It was the first church built in Napa County, 1853.  Jimmy stands in front of the plaque (seen in photo lower right).

A grist mill, huh?  Love to examine a grist mill.  We'd passed the entrance to Bale Grist Mill on Hwy 29, but the gate was always closed; this time of year, it's only open on weekends.  However, we were game to hike the one mile and maybe get a closer view than we could get from the hwy.  Besides, it was a pleasant day, sunny, neither hot nor cold. We set off on the History Trail, and met not another soul either going or returning.  However, that changed when we got to the grist mill.

Bale Grist Mill State Historic Site

We could hear hammering before we reached the grist mill, so something was going on.  As we approached, we saw people near the water wheel, with a ladder propped against it.  A camp host photographer was below the house recording the goings-on.  One more time, we stumbled onto a (for us) serendipitous scenario!  Jimmy stood outside at another blocked gate, but he was invited in to watch, at the rail fence (above).  I went to talk to the photog (Kevon).  This is from the Bale Grist Mill website, edited a bit by me:

Visiting Bale Grist Mill in the heart of Napa Valley offers a fascinating peek into Californians’ rural heritage.  Built in 1846 by Edward Turner Bale, this fully restored water-powered grist mill still grinds grain.  In the late 1800's, Napa Valley farmers brought their grain to the mill where it was placed into the boot of an elevator to be mechanically transported upstairs to be cleaned and sifted by various types of equipment – a technical wonder for the Pioneers. The slow turning of the old grind stones gives the fresh meal a special quality for making cornbread, yellowbread, shortening bread and spoon bread. As old timers put it, “When meal comes to you that way, like the heated underside of a settin’ hen, it bakes bread that makes city bread taste like cardboard.”  [I like that line!]  Bags of Bale Mill products, including polenta, cornmeal, spelt, buckwheat, rye, and whole-wheat flours, are available for small donation.  All are organic and stone ground in the mill.

This has to be one of the biggest water wheels we've ever seen (note the helper at the ladder base).  It now operates on a closed (recirculating) water system, no longer dependent on abundant creek water flowing into a millpond.

The grist mill and water wheel were built entirely of redwood, and the "spokes" finally needed replacing.  A mill craftsman (and his helpers) was replacing them with fine new redwood.  I can't give you exact details because I don't know how.

A park ranger appeared (green shirt, above), and she invited us inside the grist mill, turned on the lights, and was nice enough to explain and show and offer info of all sorts.  All the while, the men continued on.  The grist mill still opens on weekends despite the ongoing work, because the workers leave the mill operational by Fridays!  I would've liked to buy a bag or two of flour or cornmeal, but not this trip; maybe next time.

Fascinated and entertained, I'm not sure how long we hung around the grist mill/waterwheel, but, knowing us, it was quite a spell.  Jimmy was in hog heaven watching the process.  Eventually we figured we should hike the mile back to Smartie and head for Napa, one more time, before dark!

What an outstanding day!


A California Petrified Forest ?? Wednesday, 01/28/15

On our way to "Old Faithful" the other day, we passed a sign that read, "Petrified Forest."  We didn't know there was any such thing in these parts and we were intrigued enough to want to see it in person.  We ran out of time on Monday, so we drove back up to Calistoga for a look-see.  Surprised?  Yes, there is a real Petrified Forest.

We arrived at 11 am for the docent-led tour, along with one other couple, and a young man named Danny was our guide.  Enthusiastic and knowledgeable, he had the perfect job, because he liked what he was doing.  First he led us on a delightful upper Meadow Walk, thru Oaks, Madrones and Manzanitas.

The Manzanitas were in full bloom, which attracted bees and Anna's Hummingbirds.  We watched one male hummingbird in his dive display, where he zoomed straight up maybe 100 ft, and then plummeted in a vertical dive that ended with an explosive "pop" made by his wings.  Of course, he was trying to attract a lady by this display. He flew so fast, he was up and down a couple of times before everyone in the group could spot him.  But, you could hear the "crack" each time at the end of his dive.  Pretty cool.

Mount St Helena, in the distance, at 4,334 ft is located 7.5 miles NE, and is what remains of the volcano that petrified this forest 3.4 million years ago.

At the end of the 1/2 mile round-trip meadow walk is a 100 ft high ash fall (tuff), which I'm standing on.  Basically rock.

Next we came to the area of the petrified majestic redwood giants.  A real difference in this forest is these trees are not just in chunks, they're laying where they fell, "in situ."  They're the largest petrified trees in the world! Some are so long that their top or bottom is still buried and not seen.  Witness the tree below.

Enlarge the picture.  In case you cannot read the sign, here 'tis, with stats:  The Monarch (or Tunnel Tree). Exposed length - 105', Diameter - 6', Species - California Coastal Redwood, Discovered - 1919.  The end of this tree is not seen and the tunnel has become too treacherous to be in, so discovery has been halted. Solid redwood fossil, complete with bark!

This 43' long, 2' in diameter tree is most unusual in that it's the only petrified Pine tree found in this forest.  It's called, "The Pit Tree."  The far end of the tree, where Jimmy is standing, is in a large puddle of water.

She is called "The Queen."  65' long and 8' in diameter, this Coastal Redwood was approximately 2,000 years old when she was felled by the erupting volcano (similar to Mt St Helens in 1980), and that eruption was about 3,000,000 years ago!  The old picture, top right, was taken around 1919, showing the oak tree already growing OUT of (a crack in) the fossilized redwood.  Estimated age of the little oak tree in the old picture was 175 years. Petrified Charley is squatting at right with his goat.  We heard he was always accompanied by his goat.  Go figure.

These trees are a different species called Sequoia langsdorfii, now extinct.  This Robert Louis Stevenson tree (above) was the first one discovered by Charles Evans (aka Petrified Charley!!) in 1870.  Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about this tree and his encounter with Petrified Charley in his book, "The Silverado Squatters," and the tree is named in honor of their friendship.

Returning to the visitor center at the end of our one-and-a-half hour tour, we saw this magnificent Live Oak tree, estimated to be 500+ years old.  The petrified forest is privately owned and the VC was once the home of Ollie Orre Bockee, built 100 years ago.  The family of Ms Bockee continues to operate the forest as a family business and it's open to the public every day of the year!  Fascinating stuff and a beautiful place in NorCal's gently rolling hills ... all pretty much in my own backyard!  


Spoiler alert - food pictures involved! Tues, 1/27/15

Something else Jimmy and I wanted to do while in the Napa area was to visit a friend I've known for 50+ years, since 1964! Bethann and her husband, Richard (who passed away last year, I'm sorry to say) lived in one side of a Santa Ana, CA, duplex, and I lived in the other. They were newlyweds at the time.  I worked for the state, tho I was a mere child (haha). Bethann and her hubby moved to Healdsburg CA many years ago and that's where Jimmy and I went today.  Healdsburg is approx 45 miles from Napa, where Tergel is parked. Rain was forecast for today and, indeed, we awoke to gray skies, but -- alas -- no rain fell.

We met Bethann at her lovely home on an oak-studded ridge; their vineyard winds down the hill.  After warm hugs all around, we split for lunch at CafĂ© Lucia in Healdsburg.  Their website reports:  Inventive, contemporary Portuguese cuisine in the heart of Sonoma County wine country.  Neither Jimmy nor I could remember ever eating Portuguese food before, and we were more than willing to give it a try.  Above is an appetizer that was served - gratis - as we studied our menus.  Great start!

Jimmy and Bethann both ordered "Fish and Chips," which they declared very good, and I ordered a Dungeness crab pita "melt," with piri-piri fries, photo above.  ("You're taking pictures of food?")  My melt, full of Dungeness crab-corn salad with melted Sonoma jack cheese, was delicious.  Jimmy and I also shared a bowl of Caldo Verde soup -- yum-yum! Really excellent dishes.  

Apparently the restaurant closes between lunch and dinner, but we didn't know that.  The staff let us sit there undisturbed as we chatted away, filling our water glasses, till suddenly we became aware that we were the only people sitting there.  Jimmy said, "I think they've closed."  Sure enough.  Off we went, returning to Bethann's, where we reminisced some more, looked at photos, glad to be together for the afternoon ... and our laughter filled her home.  We may not have seen each other often over the years, but we try to make it count when we do.  It was good.  Thanks, Bethann!

Back at Tergel, these fragrant flowering fruit trees are all around us and they're loaded with bees.

It was a happy day for us, another gorgeous drive up the valley and across into Sonoma County, and our get-together with a dear friend.  We're sorry no rain fell in NorCal, but the sunset was magnificent.

Tomorrow?  More new Napa County adventures!


California's Old Faithful? Yes! Monday, 1/26/15

I picked up a copy of RV World the last time we were in Camping World, and inside this edition was a write-up on California's Old Faithful in Calistoga, CA.  What?  I read the article and said to Jimmy, "This is so close to where we live, we should go there."  ViolĂ , here we are!  We didn't get an early start THIS morning 'cause the temp was a nippy 38°.

Wine Country -- it's such a beautiful part of the state. Approximately 30 miles from our Elks RV site in Napa to Calistoga, our drive to the geyser was a joy.  Beautiful dormant vineyards line Hwy 29 with their perfectly spaced grids stretching up into gently sloping hills, all painted spring green by last month's rains and covered with flowering yellow mustard, make the drive gorgeous.  Fabulous and stately homes or wine-tasting "castles" perch on hillsides or nearer the road, tho we didn't go in.  Some of them are outrageously pretentious.

The wine train was on the move this morning, and the engineer waved.  We always wave, too!

We arrived in Calistoga at lunchtime and stopped at the fine restaurant pictured above for a yummy lunch. The food was as good as the last time we ate here.  Excellent chips and dip. Calistoga is an historic and idyllic town, known for its mineral springs and the water that comes from its springs, and ...

 So, here we are at last on a delightful afternoon.
We did not know that this "Old Faithful" Geyser is one of only three in the world.

Because of recent rains, this geyser "blew" often, like every ten minutes.  No where near as large or impressive as Yellowstone's Old Faithful, it was, nevertheless, cool to watch it blast hot water up to 75 feet in the air.  

Jimmy with imposing Mt St Helena (4,331') in the background, tallest mountain in Napa County. We know that there are trails you can hike (but not us) to the top where you can see all the way north to Mt Shasta and west to the Pacific Ocean.

The people who own/run Old Faithful are smart by adding the farm animals, because once you've seen the geyser spout, what else is there to entertain you for your admission money?  

Honestly, these were THE weirdest things I've ever seen.

This guy seemed to enjoy Jimmy's attention to its horn ... one of it's FOUR horns!

And then there were these guys.  Cute li'l babies running -- really running like kids do -- fun to watch.
There were a lot of little ones hopping and jumping around.

Typical kids, getting into stuff.

We were talking to the caretaker (above) about the fainting goats.  "Do they really faint?"  It's a phenomenon where they don't lose consciousness or actually faint.  "They're myotonic goats, whose muscles freeze for roughly ten seconds when the goat feels panic.  Though painless, this generally results in the animal's collapsing," sez Wikipedia.  The caretaker said, "watch."  He went inside the large pen, yelled at the goat, and down it went, it's back legs stretched out behind him, for (like they said) about ten seconds.  Then it got up and ambled away.  I hope it isn't cruel, because it sure was funny!

One last look at the steaming geyser, as the sun begins it's descent into the west.

What can I say?  The End?  Nope. (this picture makes me laugh every time I see it!)

We've seen two "Old Faithful" geysers.  Maybe you're thinking, where is the third one?  New Zealand, we hear, tho we cannot find anything else about it.  Two out of three.  Guess we'll have to go to New Zealand to discover the third one for ourselves!

The End!


A January change of pace, why not? Jan 25 - ??, 2015

On Sunday morning, we exchanged our sunny Sierra Nevada foothills home for our other home on wheels and drove down the hill and thru the icky Valley fog to the Napa Elks, where we'll camp for the next few days or a week, however long we feel like staying.  The centrally located Elks lodge offers FHU for $25/nite, which is really reasonable in a high-priced area that has tons of things to do. (You have to be an Elk to stay here.)  That fog you see above showed up at about 400' and socked in California's entire Central Valley.  We were glad to get out of it as we continued south -- Napa was clear. The beauty of it all is we drove from our home to Napa in roughly two-and-a-half hours!

So, what we gonna do here?  We were setup by Noon, and after eating lunch, the only thing we wanted to do was walk (not hike) along the Napa River Trail.  All we have to do is go out the Elks back gate and we're on the 1.2 mile path.  Well-used path, I might add.  We walked it the last time we were here, two years ago. (Huh, where DOES the time go?)  Sunday was cool, but sunny.  Again, I know it's the end of January, but it looks and feels like spring. All the pics below were taken on the path as we walked first one direction and then the other.

 The beautiful blooms of Flowering Quince make it look like spring.

 Lots of California Towhee's were Out and About.

 A perfect day for a pleasant walk along a section of the 55-mile long Napa River.

Spring blossoms!

 Red-shouldered Hawk, seen in the distance, eye-balling the grounds.

This little ornament was just hanging around.

Tomorrow (Monday) we'll drive Smartie north, up Calistoga way.  There are a few things we want to see up that-a-way. Weather forecasts call for one more sunny day before clouds and potential rain move into NorCal. It's been a month since measurable rainfall, so we're keeping our fingers crossed FOR RAIN.  Crazy, I know!  Doesn't look promising, tho ... but at least we'll enjoy tomorrow's sun.


Afternoon on the Independence Trail - West, Friday,1/23/15

After our exciting morning (watching the Solatube installation -- yowza!), Jimmy and I were ready to enjoy the great outdoors.  Matt drove up from Sacramento for an afternoon hike with us on the South Yuba River, about 15 minutes from our house.  We ate lunch before we left, but packed homemade granola to "keep us going."  Back in October of 2013, Jimmy and I hiked the Independence Trail East, a most enjoyable trek.  Today, being warm and mild, seemed like a good time to give the 4-mile loop Independence West a try.

Starting out on the upper path.  Doesn't that look inviting on such a fine day?

The Independence Trail uses the old Excelsior Ditch, built 150 years ago to bring high pressure water for hydraulic mining (think gold).  The ditch tapped the So Yuba River more than two miles upstream from here and ran all the way to what is now the dam at Lake Wildwood.  I don't know how many miles this is altogether, but it's a lot. Above is the remarkable Flume 29 over Rush Creek.  I promise you we were surprised -- and impressed -- to see waterfalls and cascades!  As we neared the creek, the air temp dropped 10 or 15 degrees and we felt chilled.  We haven't had rain in over a month (and this is the third year of "exceptional drought"), but water still flowed.

Ferns lined the rocks.

Rush Creek surprised the three of us by a) being here, b) having a waterfall, and c) how cold it felt at this juncture. 

Even wheelchair accessible.

End of the line?

Some kind of old vehicle or mining junk.

The flumes and old rock work of the ditch makes the entire hike fascinating.

 Budding out in JANUARY!

 Rush Creek is fixin' to empty into the So Yuba River.

 South Yuba River.  Beautiful.

Along the trail we saw mixed hardwoods and conifers, to riparian along the river canyons.  Our trail is oriented for most of its length around Rush Creek canyon, but here we're back up in the sunshine.  Much of the trail is level, but hiking down to the river and back up via steep and rugged Jones Bar Trail left the parents gasping! 

When we finished the trail, we drove to the Hwy 49 bridge crossing of the river.  Since Matt and Jen have lived in Sacramento less than two months, this was Matt's first hike at (and indeed, his first visit to) this clear aqua-colored river and it's massive boulders, and he enjoyed all of it.  (me, too)  South Yuba River State Park stretches from Malakoff Diggins to Bridgeport.  Aren't we lucky to live so close! 

The End!

Wait!  What's next?  Road trip!