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!


  1. You might be able to purchase online? The War Eagle Mill in Arkansas sells their products online... or did in the past. I'm enjoying your blog!

    1. Glad you're enjoying the blog. Thanks!

  2. Isn't it fun that they sell the cornmeal and flour there? I bought some many years ago... I also remember both poison ivy and mosquitos on our hike there. Since we've had so little rain, perhaps there aren't any mosquitos any longer. It IS an interesting place.

  3. Love the old grist mills! Our Memaw used to call them "grits" mills cause they would grind up corn into grits....

  4. ah poison oak....makes me all cringy inside just to thing about it. Nice to see photos of the mill without haven't to breathe air that has poison oak in it. I am allergic to even the thought of poison oak. Sigh. Great times in beautiful wine country. I enjoyed reading every single one of your posts about your trip.


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