Tall Trees and Grape Vines: Road Trip to Napa

Is there anything more American than a road trip?  Earlier in the trip, we rode with my parents from Boston to Minneapolis, and now we were riding across the state border from Oregon to California with my brother.  Untamed forests and mountains scrolled past the windows as we headed towards the storied Highway 101 towards the Redwoods.  Rain squalls slashed us as we passed next to the pounding waves of the Pacific on the far north reaches of the California coast, but calmed to silent misting rains as we headed into the primeval forests.  I adore the Redwoods and can recall every other visit I have made here very clearly (well, not so much the time I was about nine months old, but that was my first really epic road trip!).  We pulled off the highway onto a scenic Redwood loop and were soon dwarfed by the trees that grow right up to the edges of the road.  Our first stop was the Lady Bird Grove in the Humboldt Redwood State Park, an old family favorite.

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One of the most accessible of the Redwood groves and trails, this is a short walking loop with options to go farther into the park, but we kept it short.  Night was coming on and it kept sprinkling, though we were well covered in most of the grove.  It was Sangbyeong’s first time seeing these massive trees and we all just kept staring up to the canopy above.  No pictures ever seem to do justice, nor do words fully explain the sheer size of them.  And the feeling one gets of being a very tiny and insignificant blip on time’s radar while one is standing beneath them.  As the gloaming time set in, we finished our circuit of the path.  Every other time I have been to a Redwood forest, it has been full sunlight in a morning or early afternoon, so the experience of being here in twilight on a drizzly day was new and definitely helped to set the mood that these are truly prehistoric forests…living natural museums that are free for the visiting.

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In the dark, we headed onward to Eureka, where we stopped for the night, as Adam was treating us to our first full-on, first world hotel, now that we were almost finished with the trip.  The three of us dropped our bags in the room and set out to find food to tame our howling tummies.  Without planning it, we found Eureka’s most famous brewery restaurant, Lost Coast, of international fame.  They sell Indica IPA in Korea, to give you an idea of how famous it is…even in the big-box super stores (for about US$6 for a small bottle).  What luck!  We ate, sipped our beers, and then headed back to the hotel for a good night’s rest.  The next morning we were up bright and early for the free breakfast and gave ourselves a free walking tour of Eureka’s historic district, with its quaint Victorian architecture right up against the seaside.  It was especially fun to poke through a couple of the antique shops and take a stroll on the boardwalk before heading back to collect our laundry and check out.

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From there, we dove right back into the Redwood forests, this time driving through the scenic bypass, the Blue Star Highway, in the Redwood National Park, stopping in the Rockefeller Grove, which boasts some of the tallest trees that are accessible to regular visitors.  The sun shone brightly today, dappling the ground below with vivid green shadows.  Despite it being a Saturday afternoon in the spring, we barely saw any other people as we wandered through the grove, crawling up onto fallen trunks and crawling inside the burned out bases of still-living trees.

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We were especially enthralled with the large boles that grew high and low on the trunks…and perhaps posing inappropriately with a few suggestive ones.  HA!  Within this area, we also found the Visitor’s Center, where we explored the awesome exhibits about the age of the Redwoods, the fauna of the region, and the Travel Log, a camper-type car hollowed out from a single log and used to promote Redwood protection in the 1950s.  We also saw a group of guys driving classic cars on their way to drive through the Redwood with the road going through it.  Unfortunately, the cost was very high and the wait very long, so we decided to skip it to head on.

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The road descended from Redwood country into the northernmost regions of California’s wine country, in Mendocino County.  In Santa Rosa, we met up with one of my father’s college buddies, who hosted us in their home and led us on a walk around the local park with his two dogs.  I also got to see his older daughter, whom I had not seen since I was less than a year old (we have amazing retro photos of the two of us doing a 1984 Baby Olympics)!  That night, we pumped him for information about our Dad in his younger years and sat under the stars in the hot tub.  The next morning, we headed further south, towards Sonoma and Napa.  On the way to our next destination, we happened to spot the vineyard and tasting room for one of my favorite American wines, Ravenswood.  Again, what luck!  So we headed up that way for a late morning tasting of their fabulous zinfandels.  We got even luckier!  The tasting menu, per normal, said we could choose five of the nine offerings.  However, the guy who was doing our pouring happened to be the planter…for the whole Ravenswood vineyard and operation!  We started talking about our world trip and tasting wines in farflung reaches of the world and he let all three of us taste all nine items off the menu (plus a bonus taster) for the price of one.  Amazing.  By the time we were meeting my sister’s mother at her house for lunch, we were feeling very relaxed and lucky, indeed.

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Connie lives down a country road right in the middle of vineyards and rolling countryside, complete with donkeys and sheep.  After a light lunch, we had to hug Adam and send him back on his way for the 10 hour drive to Eugene so he could work the next day.  To console ourselves after another goodbye, we walked over to a nearby winery, a gorgeous local secret, and shared a tasting.  The next morning, we had another day of gourmet food and wine lined up.  Connie drove us to Oxbow Public Market, a foodie mecca in Napa town itself, and took us to all her favorite stalls and shops.  Next, we headed to Miner Winery, where they are members, so we enjoyed free tasting of their finest offerings.  On our way home, we spotted Oreo cows, which apparently are a real thing, giggling over the funny name.  That night, we barbequed veggies and Sangbyeong had a chance to make truly flame-broiled hamburgers.  Stuffed from a day of tasting and making rich foods, we fell asleep very quickly.

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The next morning, we repacked our backpacks for our last destination on our world trip…it was time to catch the ferry to San Francisco!

 

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