Photograph by Rory McNamara
Cathedral in the woods: Seeking shade and solace beneath the big trees of Armstrong Woods.
Livin’ Is Easy
‘Best of’ local rest and relaxation (Staff Picks)
“Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading to wherever I choose.”
–Walt Whitman, “Song of the Open Road”
“Drink and sing, an inch before us is black night.”
Best Place for Unapologetic Chimney Watching
Each fall, on the campus of the Rio Lindo Adventist Academy near Healdsburg, one of Northern California’s most thrilling avian spectacles takes place. Just before sunset, 10,000 Vaux’s swifts–they’re birds, for you non-Audubon folks–begin circling the campus en masse, preparing to roost in a single chimney, two stories high. Faux’s swifts, a species that once roosted exclusively in hollowed-out trees and stumps, have taken to chimneys in the last decade or so, mainly owing to declining natural habitat. Since they’ve found the remote Rio Lindo site, the birds have staged this spectacular nightly event with an increasing number of observers. The Madrone Audubon Society has taken to organizing tours to the campus to observe the ritual. Since the campus is a private residential school, visitors must have permission before arriving. Call the school at 431-5100 or the Madrone Audubon Society at 546-7492.–D.T.
Best Place to Let Your Cares Drop Dead Away
Writer/adventurer Jack London picked the tree-studded knoll above the Wolf House–the multistoried Glen Ellen dream house that burned down before London and his wife, Charmaine, could settle into it–as his final resting place. London used to come to this secluded spot–just yards away from a pair of graves for a couple of pioneer kids, and now tucked away amid the twisting, moss-covered oaks and madrones–to watch the red-tail hawks spiraling in the air above his beloved Valley of the Moon, to contemplate his writings, or just listen to the wind blowing through the arching boughs. he died in 1916. In a silent ceremony, his ashes were placed beneath a large boulder–a remnant of the nearby Wolf House. The site now rests behind a well-worn picket fence, spotted with golden lichen, covered with the ubiquitous green garment of velveteen moss, and draped in ferns. Sit on a fallen log, breathe the same air, feel the same breeze, watch the same hawks, and let your troubles slip away. The park is open daily, from 9:30 a.m. (the museum opens at 10) to 5 p.m. Jack London State Historic Park, 2400 London Ranch Road, Glen Ellen. Admission is $6 per vehicle; senior discounts. 938-5216.–G.C.
Best Hangout for Swingers
SAM KEEN–Sonoma’s resident trapeze-swinging philosopher (and author of the bestselling Fire in the Belly)–installed his own trapeze rig on his sprawling ranch. Since then, the place has become a mecca for people seeking a kind of inner healing by facing their fears through the miracle of practiced flight. Keen’s most recent book, the appropriately titled Learning to Fly, is a spirited examination of the healing powers of the trapeze. Fergie herself, the former Duchess of York, has visited Keen’s ranch to test her own resolve; after a few false starts, she flew, and Keen caught her. The 65-year-old author, as usual, practices what he preaches: he works out on the high-flying swings nearly every day. Call 996-9010 for information on upcoming classes and programs.–D.T.
Best Place to Open Your Energy Gates
Is there a single elusive key to cultivating energy, reducing stress, healing your mind and body, and mastering the art of self-defense? Without using drugs, breaking the law, or going insane, that is. Absolutely, according to soulful practitioners of the ancient Chinese arts of Tai Chi and Chi Gung. “By learning the Wu Style Short Form of Tai Chi, consisting of a sequence of 18 choreographed movements practiced in a slow, meditative manner, students will develop calmness, flexibility, coordination, ease of movement, and stamina,” explains local instructor Richard Upton, director of Santa Rosa Tai Chi & Energy Arts. “By practicing the seven invigorating yet calming exercises of Dragon-Tiger Chi Gung, students will discover a sense of energy in their bodies and through this become healthier, more flexible, and more energetic, because Chi Gung exercises stretch and lengthen all the tissues of the body and exercise all the joints.” It sure sounds seductive, and Upton’s loyal students follow him around the county to learn his healing techniques. Upton offers classes in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, and Sebastopol, in a variety of sure-to-enlighten locations, including local parks. 433-5884.–P.H.
Best Tractor Trek
Want a different kind of winery experience than just the ol’ swirl-‘n’-spit routine in some claustrophobic tasting room? Well, grab the camera and head for Glen Ellen. Several times a day, the folks at Benziger Family Winery fire up the industrial-strength Massey 375 tractor and pull a tram-load of visitors through their picturesque vineyards. During the 45-minute tour, which chugs up high along the steep terraced site beside Jack London State Park, visitors get to stop at various exhibits and learn about the history of the property. They also learn about the Benziger clan and the intricacies of grape growing. Oh yes, and as a reward for paying close attention and not heckling the guide too much, sup a little vino al fresco while also drinking in the breathtaking views of Sonoma Valley. 1883 London Ranch Road (off Arnold Drive), Glen Ellen. 935-3000.–P.H.
Best Way to Hoof It to the Valley of the Moon
Secret yearning to be a cowperson moseying atop your sturdy steed forging a happy trail along the ridgetop as the coyotes begin their serenade and the sun sets over the hills? Thought so. So knot your kerchief and grab them grubby boots. Sonoma Cattle Company/Napa Valley Trail Rides offers guided full-moon rides at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park during the summer months. “We start two days prior to the full moon, and our guides time the rides so that we set out at sundown, watch the moon rise, and try to come back before it’s pitch dark,” says Laurieann Nelson, who owns the 16-year-old riding company with her husband. “In the summertime it’s hot, but it’s cool out on the ride. You can observe nocturnal wildlife, and it’s a stargazers’ dream.” To take the Old West fantasy further, smoky barbecues, complete with cowboy poetry and music, are available for groups of 10 or more. Sonoma Cattle Company/Napa Valley Trail Rides also offers day trails for riders of all levels through Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Jack London State Historic Park, and Bothe Napa Valley State Park, four miles south of Calistoga. Yee-haw! 996-8566.–P.H.
Best Place to Take a Zen Time Out
Need to escape the rigors of your own mind? Want to learn to meditate, or just enjoy a soulful retreat for a day, a week, or even a month? Check out the Sonoma Mountain Zen Center high in the hills between Santa Rosa and the Valley of the Moon. For the past 25 years people have been coming to this 82-acre farm to seek the wisdom of Zen practice and understand the Buddhist way of life. Zen master William Kwong, 62, has a calm, reassuring manner that puts beginners at ease. Be aware that you will be required to sit still for up to 30 minutes on your meditation pillow. The center has more than 100 full-time members and hosts students from around the world. Newcomers wishing to dip their toes in the river of enlightenment can attend a meditation class on most Saturday mornings at 9 and are invited to stay for an oryoki buffet lunch. A $5 donation is requested. 6367 Sonoma Mountain Road, Santa Rosa. 545-8105.–B.E.
Best Place to Ride the Rim
It was 10 years in the making, and many would-be Rollerbladers likely outgrew their aggressive zeal for riding the rim–if not their boots–but these days Petaluma Skate Park is quite a fixture. The 14,000-square-foot facility, located behind the city’s Swim Center, boasts a challenging course of cement slopes, ridges, and bowls that attract both skateboarders and in-line skaters. In fact, skating enthusiasts helped design the $103,000 facility to best enable them to legally attempt eye-popping stunts. Posted at the site, a list of rules (which nobody reads) requires skaters to wear protective body gear and helmets. Yeah, right. But be forewarned–skaters use the park at their own risk; the city won’t be responsible for any concussions, chipped bones, or hospital bills. 900 E. Washington St.; Petaluma.–P.H.
Best Place to Play Tee Off in a Deep Fog
Tired of overcrowded Sonoma County golf courses? Want to play 18 holes in less than six hours? Try Bodega Harbour’s golf links on a winter day. This Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed course is the poor man’s Pebble Beach. With dramatic ocean views and roughs cut like the toughest spots in Scotland, Bodega Harbour offers one of the most challenging golf experiences in the North Bay. But beware of the fog and wind. On a recent visit, visibility was around 30 yards and added a surreal element to the game. Still, finding golf balls that have disappeared into the mist must be enjoyed as part of the seaside game. Also be warned that part of the course has to be trekked (no golf carts allowed) on foot and might prove to be too much for those having difficulty walking steep inclines. Bodega Harbour Golf Course, S. Harbour Way (off Highway 1), Bodega Bay. 875-3538.–B.E.
Best Local Self-Guided Tour
At the 100-year-old Foppiano Winery is a charming historical Vineyard Tour–a self-guided walk through the vines–that is as historically edifying as it is pastorally inspiring. In other words, it’s an unhurried stroll through some of the most beautiful country on Earth. Ask for a tour pamphlet at the Foppiano tasting room. 12707 Redwood Hwy., Healdsburg. 433-7272.–D.T.
Best Place to See a New Sun Rising
I KNOW OF NO SWEETER JOY than that of being immersed in the ocean, watching the sun come up. Driving out to the coast at 5 a.m., checking the beaches for just the right combination of wind and wave, I like to stand at the top of the cliff next to the car and meditate on nature for a few minutes. Then comes the wretched removal of the clothes in the wind, a process brightened by the fact that I know I’m freezing my buns, shivering into a usually soggy wetsuit for a greater good, that of giving myself over to the forces of . . . Salmon Creek. After paddling out past the breaks, I like to lie on my board, chin propped up, and stare at the horizon with the new sun and the salty water washing over my shoulders. After surfing for a few hours (or until my hands are blue) and stopping for fatty snax on the way home, it’s still early enough to crawl back under the covers and sleep before my day really starts. And people wonder why surfers are so relaxed. Try starting the morning like this sometime.–S.L.
Best Mountain to Hike at Sunrise
Narrowing Sonoma County’s numerous peaks and pinnacles down to a single suggested hiking experience is tantamount to picking the best mouthful of a four-star restaurant meal. Frankly, it’s impossible. But here goes. Healdsburg’s Fitch Mountain offers some of the nicest views anywhere around. Its trails range from the not-so-hard to the, shall we say, pretty darn rugged. The trails are pretty, the views will make you gasp, and you’ll never want to come down again. From Fitch Mountain at sunrise, or just slightly after, the world actually seems like a nice place to live in.–D.T.
Best Place to Enjoy a Hole in the Head
Sometimes the worst plans of the power-crazed folks at PG&E go awry, and once in a while the public actually benefits from the gaffe. Case in point: In 1963, the huge utility decided to construct a nuclear power plant on Bodega Head. As detailed in a recent issue of California Coast & Ocean, the company acquired easements for power lines as far as Napa County and dug a huge hole–right on an earthquake fault– to hold the containment vault of the reactor core. Local residents learned of the plan, went to court, and spilled the beans to the news media. PG&E dropped the project and sold the site to the state for $1. The huge hole, known to this day as the “Hole in the Head,” is now a freshwater pond, much to the delight of local birds and birders. The site is part of Sonoma Coast State Beaches. Take Highway 1 north of Bodega, West Side Drive to Campbell Cove, and park. Admission is free.–G.C.
From the March 23-29, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.
© Metro Publishing Inc.