Posts tagged taking off:
Color, Color Everywhere
From the coast to the hills, California was awash in color. It’s been a bit of a long winter in Denver—and I love winter!—so the brilliance of all those flowers and trees and waves was welcome. A few favorites …
The sound of water is one of my absolute favorite things in the world. I wasn’t disappointed here.
Wildflowers were everywhere! There were these orange guys above, and at Point Reyes we happened across these enormous thistles.
I had already been going ON about the area reminding me of Scotland, so finding a thistle pretty much confirmed what I wouldn’t shut up about. (I’m apparently not the only one who’s made the comparison—there’s a town in the area named Inverness.)
Ferns! You get ferns a lot in northern Michigan, but they’re nowhere to be found in Colorado (at least that I’ve found). We saw these while hiking around Muir Woods and Mt. Tam.
So that hike. We left the tourism-choked boardwalk of Muir Woods for the Ocean View trail, one-and-a-half miles of steady climbing to a ridge over the forest. Luckily, it was nearly completely shaded, so at least we were cool.
The destination we were headed toward—after about two-and-a-half miles—was a beer garden in the middle of the forest.
What? Yeah. The Nature Friends Tourist Club is a private German beer garden just kind of hanging out—all Hansel and Gretel-style—in the woods. Technically, there’s a road there, but they ask that you hike since that’s kind of the whole mission of the place. It was an awesome experience, but BUT … apparently it was the first public day of the year, and apparently the entire Greek system of some university decided to meet up and generally be annoying. I think a lot of them drove there too, so my feelings of superiority and annoyance are totally justified.
Anyway, it was a beautiful hike and I’m glad we did it but I would totally pay to be a member to not have to deal with a bunch of day-drunk co-eds sporting their carefully planned “hiking chic.” Moving on…
Lovely, lovely. Our last day in California, we drove south to visit a friend who lives in Monterey. He took us on the famed 17-mile drive through posh Pacific Grove toward posher Pebble Beach to poshest Carmel. Mansions, there were a few.
Even better, though, was the shoreline, all craggy and cliffs and weather-twisted cypress groves. The photo above is the “lone cypress,” which I guess has no friends and likes to be all mysterious and brooding. Carmel, by the by, had this whole “ye olde quainte Englande” thing going for it. It actually worked, though.
And then there’s this. A field of purple wildflowers along the sea. A perfect end to what was a pretty perfect trip.
Sonoma, or Drunk and Back Again
Pro tip: It doesn’t matter how diligent you are about eating throughout the day while wine tasting, you will—I repeat, you WILL—be a bit tipsy by winery number five.
But, I mean, with this view, that’s not so bad, right?
We chose Sonoma over Napa because I’d heard Sonoma was a lot more chill. I like wine (kind of a lot, actually), but I’m not one to talk about its legs and terroir and whatnot.
So, Sonoma. We started pretty far north in lovely Healdsburg, and I’m so happy we did. Every twist and turn of the narrow roads opened up to stunning views. Wine dominates, but the area has a rich agricultural past that can still be found in the farms and fields hugging the hillsides.
One such hillside was at Bella Vineyards, our first stop.
Yeah, I totally thought “Hobbiton!” as well.
The views over the surrounding countryside were expansive and expressive. There was a lot more contented sighing going on in my area of the car as we drove up. Even better, the actual tasting is done in a wine cave. Bella Vineyards: Embracing Hobbits and Enticing Jenny.
We bought an inky Petite Sirah and headed back down the hill to neighboring Preston Vineyards. Preston is not only a winery but a working farm that has its own olive grove.
After some necessary petting of cats, we made our way into a beautiful old barn for a tasting. Like at Bella, the tasting was low key, and we chatted with the employees there a bit—I loved that it didn’t feel rushed or at all judge-y.
We picked a rose, which honestly surprised us both. I usually think tooth-achingly sweet when I think rose, but Preston’s was crisp and dry and a perfect summer sipper. Not that it made it to summer: We also picked up some seriously delicious olive oil courtesy the farm’s grove, fresh bread and cheese from the attached farm store and took our treat outside.
Perhaps taking a break from wine tasting to drink nearly half a bottle of wine wasn’t the wisest choice … but it was lovely at the time.
Slowly, we drove* south through the countryside to Sonoma proper, stopping a couple times along the way. We ended up at the fabulous plaza, where I saw a man leading a mini-horse on a leash through the park. Yes. Just yes.
Our final stop of the evening was at the Hawkes tasting room on the plaza. This was such a perfect last stop. It was getting near closing time (most of the wineries close at 4:30, and the tasting rooms close around 6), and our server was generous with the pours. We fell for a big Cab and made our “let it age” purchase of the trip.
The day ended with more cheese, more wine, and generally amazing food on the patio at The Girl and the Fig. Sonoma, I think I’m in love.
(*And by “we,” I mean my husband, who was being a responsible DD. Public service announcement complete.)
I believe it is statistically impossible to visit California and NOT take a photo of a palm tree.
And that’s the whole point here, right? California kitsch: the oh-so-touristy things we embraced. Here the thing, I’m fine with acting the typical tourist every once in a while. It can be liberating to stay on the well-traveled path, at least a little bit.
And there’s nothing more touristy than this:
Yes. We rented a red, convertible Corvette. I’ve never had so many middle-aged men give me that driver half-wave thing. I was kind of mortified at first. A red Corvette is just so obvious. But then once I’d gotten over myself, I had to admit it was kind of fun. Kind of lots of fun. Zipping—wait, not zipping; while the ‘vette was fast, there was nothing about it that cried “zippy.” Okay, so speeding up Highway 1—the ocean on one side and cliffs on the other, sun overhead and hair being whipped into something that can only be described as cavewoman chic—it was impossible not to grin.
Also impossible? To not stop for this iconic snap:
The final kitschy stop was a tourist trap about which I was genuinely excited. As a kid, I learned about the Winchester House and was fascinated. Quick backstory: Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester fortune—aka, “the gun that won the West”—was convinced she was cursed by the souls of all those the Winchester rifle had killed. To keep the curse at bay, she worked on her mansion non-stop for more than 30 years. I’m talking night and day here. The mansion grew and grew and grew with zero cohesion or thought. There are stairs leading nowhere, doors that open to nothing, windows in floors. Crazy, right?
Touring the mansion, I was struck by how plain it all was. It’s definitely mansion-sized, but there is little that is grand about the interior. The hallways zig-zag down narrow chutes, the rooms are modest. It’s a warren of jumbled rooms, confusing corridors, and an overwhelming feeling of being trapped—the way out is not so obvious. I wonder if it felt that way for Sarah Winchester as well.
Can you spot the door leading nowhere?
Oh! The house is supposed to be haunted too! No ghosty sightings on my visit, however.
Next up: learning how to pace yourself on a daytrip through Sonoma.
A Floating Home
It’s California week around here. I just returned home (at the eye-achingly late hour of 1:30 am) from a mini-break around central coastal California.
I was a very happy Jenny…
(I may or may not have yodeled a few bars from “The Hills are Alive” before collapsing to the grass all dramatic-like for this photo. There was a lot of contented sighing going on.)
Okay, so that term. I was saying “mini-break” since it was kind of an impromptu trip, but my husband kept trying to get me to admit it was a proper vacation, since the trip totaled six days. Whatever. It was a break. It was mini(ish). There was a lot of wine and cheese involved.
And … a houseboat! An honest-to-god houseboat! Staying in a houseboat had become one of those things I simply HAD to do, kind of like longing to stay in a yurt. I have no idea where these compulsions come from, but once they hit they don’t go away.
The Sausalito houseboat was docked at the end of a twisty, turn-y warren of floating docks, most of them connected with plywood, crossed fingers and probably used gum. Just like the docks, the houseboats were a jumble of beautiful, unique floating homes and glorified (and many not-so-glorified) dinghies. And it. was. awesome.
My husband (rightly) called it a hippie barrio, but it was exactly what I feel a houseboat commune should be.
Better yet, the bright, adorable houseboat we called home for a few nights came stocked with two friendly cats. I mean, all it really needed was a llama and I probably would have never left.
Yeah, it was painted with a squid, because it was amazing like that. Also amazing, the wonderfully cool breeze, waking up to the sounds of seabirds, a porthole in the bathroom…
A porthole! And this saucy lady waited to hold towels:
We’d both been to San Francisco before, so staying north of the city in Sausalito was perfect. It made it easy to reach everywhere we wanted to (which included an elephant seal colony and a hike-in beer garden) and a chill place to rest each night.
Up next: Embracing California kitsch with a convertible, a bridge, and a museum dedicated to crazy.
They had me at apple cider donut. Ya Ya Orchard was the destination, a tiny farm that I’m pretty sure is the definition of bucolic.
There were mountains as the backdrop, rows of apple trees, friendly horses.
And donuts. So many donuts. If you’ve never experienced a warm apple cider donut, you’re missing out on a truly fulfilled life. That’s not an over-dramatic statement at all.
So we’ve established the donuts, but Ya Ya also was home to my second-favorite d-word in the universe:
Donkeys! So I’ve got this theory that all the other farm animals make fun of donkeys. Obviously, mini-ponies are the worst. Have you ever seen a mini-pony hanging out with a donkey? No. The mini-ponies are probably too busy braiding their hair in the stable mirror. Ugh. Get over yourselves, mini-ponies.
Okay, donkey defense over. Basically, I love donkeys and made sure to spend some time feeding them carrots and giving them compliments. They were appreciative.
With a carload of apples, cider and donuts, we said goodbye to Ya Ya for the pumpkin patch just down the road.
Yes. Just yes. A little red wagon full of decorative gourds. That’s basically autumn, right? To add to the picture, I was stage left with tell-tale donut remains on my lips and the reek of mini-pony on my hands. (I’m sorry, donkeys. I never meant to.) There was also a corn maze, but I can only take so much excitement in one day.
To make up for the fact that I forced my husband into pulling the wagon around as I frolicked, we finished up at Left Hand Brewery.
Pro tip for the next time you’re sampling at a brewery: There’s probably no need to try ten beers. Stop at nine.
To the trees
Summer. Is. Over. I may or may not be doing an interpretive song/dance right this second to celebrate that fact. (Its title: “Screw You, Hot Weather.” It’s a jaunty vaudeville number. I think you’d like it.)
Even the trees are getting in on the celebratory song:
I believe that’s the little-known Aspen Verse to the Hallelujah Chorus.
(Also, that was the view in our deserted campground where we a.) camped next to a river, all idyllic-like; b.) grilled delicious fish over the campfire even though it was probably like ringing a dinner bell for bears; c.) I sat in sap. Again. I partially-ruined another pair of pants, but I loved every second of it.)
I mean, seriously. Fall, I heart you.
So our official Fall Appreciation Tour kicked off with hot dogs. As you do. Hot dogs served out of a giant concrete hot dog bellied up next to a river flanked by trees bursting with color. Just yes. Yes to all of that.
And then. AND THEN.
The Upper Piney River trail is just a few miles outside Vail, but it feels a hundred million miles away. Possibly because of the dirt “road” you need to take to get there. It took us an hour to go about nine miles, but it was worth it. Obviously.
The trail follows a meandering river as it curves through the middle of a long, wide valley. And the entire time, you’ve got those mountains in front of you, getting closer and closer with every step. The air was crisp and smelled of leaves—fresh soil, cold air, a twinge of pungency. There were others on the trail, but it was so quiet you could hear the aspens quaking.
The trail dips and scurries through the trees, climbing closer to the mountains. (And, importantly, it crosses a bunch of little bridges, where my mode of hiking was probably best described as “scampering” and “giggling.”) Finally, you reach giant outcroppings that tumble down from the peaks and lean out over the valley. It was just one of those hikes where my cheeks hurt by the end of it from grinning.