After spending the past two months soaking in the wonders of Oregon, we crossed the border into California. Driving along Highway 199, we were immediately impressed with the state as we were welcomed by the towering Redwood trees of the Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. This park is home to over 45% of California’s old growth Redwoods and the last major free flowing river in California. We followed Highway 199 until it ended at the ocean in Crescent City, CA.
We chose to stay off the major highways and continued south on the quiet Highway 1. We were traveling in November, not exactly prime tourist season in Northern California, which meant the roads were clear of tourists and the campgrounds empty. Unfortunately, campground prices remain the same regardless of the season and at $35/night it was the most we had paid anywhere in the country. Luckily, split between three people, it becomes a bit more reasonable. We chose to stay in the Elk Prairie Campground and were immediately aware of the significance of its name when we came to a sudden halt before we ran into a herd of elk.
We found a pristine campsite, located at the edge of a rushing river and settled in for a few days. The setting was ideal, but the nights were chilly. Even wearing all of our clothes, hats and mittens, we shivered the night away in our sleeping bags. I awoke in the middle of the first night to the noise of splashing water that sounded like a large animal stomping through the river. I tried to persuade Chase to go check it out but he only kept sleeping. The next night, we heard the noise again as we were sharing our campfire with a few new friends and brought our flashlights over to explore. It turned out to be dozens of King Salmon splashing against the river’s current and swimming upstream. Their ancient struggle was magnificent to witness first hand.
Our days were spent with our heads tilted backwards as we tried to peer to the top of the Redwood giants. We walked for miles through the old growth forests and never once felt like we had seen enough. They towered above us at over 350ft, they can live for over 2,000 years and their bark is 12 inches thick. Surrounded by such wise, statuesque trees I felt young, small, and naive. The miles seemed to fly by as we hiked through the forest in awe.
At one point, we found a tree that had fallen years ago and had rotted through from end to end. Alex and Chase, the brave explorers, managed to climb their way through the center, without too much screaming. I struggled behind them, barely breathing as I reached the pitch black center, where I had to feel my way across wet moss and climb up to another level of the tree’s core. I crawled the rest of the way, with the tiny light at the end guiding my way out.
After days in the woods, we decided to increase our standard of living and splurge on a few days in wine country. My handy-dandy California guidebook explained that Napa Valley is the more expensive part of wine country and that Sonoma Valley is reasonable, welcoming and home to a younger crowd.
Day one in wine country found us driving through Sonoma and stopping at the Kaz Winery for wine and olive oil tasting. Kaz was the first organic winery in Sonoma, and has helped usher in an era of winemaking where almost all the grapes in Sonoma Valley are now organically grown. The tasting was only $5 and included a thorough introduction into the winemaking process. We walked through the vineyards, explored the gardens and wished we owned our own little winery in Sonoma.
The next day we said a heartfelt goodbye to our good friend, travel companion, and the best musician we know – Alex Deely. He was off to San Francisco to stay with friends before heading home to Maine. We met him at the Zig Zag Mountain Farm, where we shared a house and worked together. We traveled with him down the West coast and we were very reluctant to let him board his bus and wave goodbye. At least we know that the next time we make it to Maine, we will be staying with one particularly great Maine-man.
Chase and I decided to have a little romantic weekend in Sonoma and booked a cozy cottage at the Glen Ellen Inn. The town of Glen Ellen is located five miles north of Sonoma. It is off of the beaten path enough that prices drop drastically in the off-season and even more during the week. We spent the next couple of days exploring wine country, with stops in the city of Sonoma for a picnic, wine tastings throughout the valley, hiking and relaxing in our beautiful, private cottage – complete with our own personal steam shower, hot tub, fireplace and canopy bed. I wish I could share the entire wine experience with you visually, but somehow we forgot to take a single photo of the weekend. I just blame it on all the free wine tastings we stumbled upon.
Our weeks on the road had come to a relaxing end and we were on our way to the next farm, Lockewood Acres.