I’ve gotta say…..I’ve been coming to Northern California every once in a while for 31 years. And this is the first time we’ve been almost completely rained out. And it was spectacular rain – real moody and windy and pelting at night and just constant drizzle almost all day every day. We dodged some of it on Friday by heading north to the big trees and managed to actually see a little sun peaking out but it was late in the day and we lost it. It did make seeing the big trees moody and atmospheric.
The big news was slightly south where all the rain we received rolled downhill and straight into the Russian River at Hopland which crested 14 feet above flood zone. And there were several other regional rivers also overflowing and sending torrents downstream. Poor, pitiful Napa had to put their downtown dike into use to protect themselves. San Fran and region were mostly affected by wind since it all rolls into the sea by the time it gets that far south.
Today, of course, as we headed south over the mountain and toward the City, the sun came out big time. We’d arrived in drizzle but most of the drive had been in the dark. And we’d only gone further north all week. So it really was the first time we drove through the wine country and it was in full glory. You come over the crest of the mountains on US 101 just outside of Willets and snake down, curve after curve, into the county seat of Ukiah. It’s a geographically big county – about 3 hours north to south and at least 2 hours west to east.
But it was the drive south that really struck me today. Keep heading downhill winding through mountain passes and passing wineries both old and new. Balducci – we learned on Sunday at the Willets Historical Museum the Italians were the first in the region before the gold rush but built their wineries during the rush since there was clearly demand. Fetzer – sold out now but always the last on the way north. A few designer newbies with pretentious names and big buildings – most noticeably the expansive cupolas on the Coppolla estate in Healdsburg.
We drove through the last remaining holdout for a bypass – Hopland which has long been my favorite both for their cheeky insistence of having a designer brewery and for Real Goods solar supply and experimental station which I still regret not purchasing stock in 1990 when I had a chance. Good old Hopland has one light and one school zone forcing everyone to see how non-conformist they are with not one chain name of anything but a quirky batch of general store, a couple B&Bs, at least four wine tasting places in actual walking distance and the huge solar garden area adjacent to Real Goods for picnicking and learning.
And then the road widens again and the speed picks up and you hit the stride of all those industrial grape fields with the leaves still the colors we had in October in Virginia. Those fields ringed with tall firs and evergreens that seem like dwarfs after spending time in the coastal redwoods. Pass Kendall-Jackson in Winsor with row after row of manicured vines and then you’re into the wide, flat Sonoma county valleys turning into cattle ranches and dairy farms. We start to arrive into civilization with 9 exits for Santa Rosa including one to go see the home of Charles Schulz and his ice skating rink and Snoopy museum. We’ve done that before but a lovely memory.
Petaluma brings flats, farms and suburban sprawl being under 20 miles from the Golden Gate. It’s also the turnoff to head east toward Napa which we’ve often done to avoid the City. Petaluma – gritty industrial, working class proudly has a sign at both egress and ingress letting us know they were established in 1858. I smile to myself at the thought of their anniversary celebrations.
And then we hit toney Marin county where I can still see Doris Day driving the curves in her little convertible at the beginning of her tv show in the early 70’s. Yep, it was filmed here. Around the corner comes Sausalito and the marina’s for which it’s famous and the impossible views of the bridge peeping around the hills. The last of the mountain ranges between Rt 1 on the coast and Rt 101 which we’ve driven holds the Muir Woods/Golden Gate Recreational Park lands and we peel off since we have time to take the drive up the hills and see the city and bridge from there. This part of the coast was littered with bunkers in the 1870’s and 80’s and the fortifications still remain as part of the parkland and scenic view pullouts. We hit a gorgeous time of day and were rewarded with warm breezes and lovely light for pics.
Then back down and across the bridge and smack dab into the City. You can’t take that bridge without being deposited in the middle of the City. I don’t know many other places like that – no expressway option at all. So pass crooked Lombard Street, and dodge a couple trolleys and wind past City Hall and the Symphony and the Mission district, glance past the wharf area and keep on heading south on Van Ness til you finally hit the expressway and further south past Candlestick Park to the airport.
And we’re reminded how pretty the place is even when we both need a nap. It’s a beautiful place. But it’s made more beautiful coming from the rural north to get here. We agree we miss the geography – but definitely not the schizophrenia that represents California. There is nothing, no industry or jobs or anything in the north. Marijuana reigns now as the primary source of income. Most of the logging industries are done – either ‘cause they ran out or because the spotted owl, etc have shut them down so all those lovely moist redwood growing conditions are perfect for pot. The local sheriff has declared he isn’t even bothered with the Mom and Pop operations, just wants to get the industrial guys who aren’t declaring income for taxes. Yep. That’s about right.