Tuesday, 10 September 2013

California: redwoods, wine, architecture

I've crossed the state line from Oregon into California

I was up early (for me) on Monday September 2nd and drove just a couple of miles out of Crescent City.  I was looking for Howland Hill Road, a drive through five miles of dense woodland, which would give me my first look at the Californian Redwoods.   

Howland Hill Road, which passes through the center of the park, is one of the best redwood drives anywhere. Depending on how recently it's been resurfaced, this narrow dirt road can be as smooth and flat as a paved road, or it could be a continuous string of potholes. Starting from the south, the road climbs steeply into the park. Shortly after cresting, it enters the redwoods, immediately passing through a remarkable cluster of monster trees. Cut into a hillside, the road provides some nice views of the lushly-vegetated ravine below as it descends through an otherworldly landscape. There's a sense of isolation from the outside world, since you're enclosed by fern-carpeted hillsides on either side and the forest canopy above, but also because the verdent, open woods are so unlike anything else you can drive through

Well there were potholes, it was largely an unmade surface for five miles, the thick mist rolling in certainly suggested isolation, and I saw just two other cars in the first half hour. They were useful, as without them you have no chance of portraying any scale in your photos, any sense of how big theses trees are.

There was some drama as a hefty branch had come down from one tree, blocking the road.  It took a group of us about twenty minutes to clear a single path through.

My next stop was the town of Eureka, the centre of which has some nice old deco buildings, as well as an interesting arts centre, The Arkley Center, with a distinctive mural at the rear of the building. 

Continuing down 101 I came to the Avenue of the Giants, the giants being more redwoods. The Avenue is a 30 mile route, the old road left intact when the adjacent new highway was built.  Just before entering it I came across a lone hitchhiker and gave her a lift.  (I've seen just a handful of hitchhikers on the whole trip). After buying groceries locally, 24 year old Francesca was returning to her camp site within the redwoods, but planned to abandon the site and free-camp in the woods for the next two nights. Brave girl. 

We stopped a couple of times to explore the Eel River and photograph more redwoods. 

Cyclists share the road with a big truck, the driver of which gives them such a wide berth, he is well over into the other lane. 

I'm now about 250 miles down the Californian coast ( the whole coast is about 850 miles, which I'll cover in due course) and shortly after the town of  Albion I turn inland.  I'm going to drive up the Anderson Valley, rich and fertile land for fruit - which means wine country. Although there are many wineries with tasting rooms, I'm not tasting today, just enjoying the scenery.

 Anderson Valley is one of the great grape growing areas in California. What were once large parcels of land supporting cattle and sheep are now being developed into vineyards. Along h 128 you will see new and old vineyards in the valley and on the hillsides. Many of these grapes are sold to wineries outside of the valley. There are 31 wineries in the valley, 28 of which have tasting rooms, a few charge a few bucks to taste but will deduct the tasting amount from purchases.

Lunch on the road

By mid-afternoon I'm in the town of Healdsburg, my stop for the night, and I fall into my routine: find the hotel, check-in, drop the bags, and get out on the bike.  This is a great way to explore a new town or city, especially in this weather. In fact I like the town, and the hotel, so much that I stay a second night.  

The Best Western hotel, Healdsburg

The next morning I drove out of town to find Preston winery which I'd read about on somebody's blog.  If I'm going to taste wine at a vineyard, I like to do it at a small producer, not part of some large corporation, where you meet the people who produce the wine and run the business (see my blog from Felton Road, New Zealand).  19th Sept 2011.http://johndeedesign.blogspot.co.uk/2011_09_01_archive.html

Preston of Dry Creek is an organic farm and winery located in Dry Creek Valley near the historic farm town of Healdsburg, California. Founded in the 1970s by the eponymous Preston family, the nature of the business has changed over time from a conventional estate winery to a diversified farm, counting wine as one of many home-grown and hand-made food products. The Prestons include in their repertoire of concerns and commitments food, environmentalism, and community activism.  You can find us at 9206 West Dry Creek Rd.   At our tasting room, you will be able to sample Lou's bread, estate-grown olive oil and cured olives, organic vegetables, fruits and nuts from our gardens, you-pick strawberries, estate-laid eggs, sauerkraut, salami and local, artisinal cheeses.  We only offer guided tours to our wine club members, but all customers can enjoy a self-guided tour of the farm.  You can enjoy this bounty in our picnic area and when you're done, you can stroll through our organic gardens. Our farm store is now two stores. Your host or hostess takes the time to hear your traveler's tale in exchange for your attention to his recounting of the farm saga. 

Well I loved it, all of it, and tasted, bought, picnicked, and enjoyed the gardens of this small, working estate.  It is so small they have no agent or distributor, ship no wine other than within California, have no wish to expand the vineyards and the output.  

This was the other reason I knew to stay a second night in the same hotel: i had no wish to hit the highway after an idyllic few hours in the sun. 

The tasting room

Picnic lunch in the shade

Estate workers

The farm shop

The Preston estate is just one of many in Dry Creek Valley

I'm only 65 miles now from San Francisco, but have one more visit to make on my way down to t he Golden Gate Bridge.    

One of my "must do's" on this trip is see the work of some significant 20c architects, and there is a very large project, from the 1960's sitting close to the highway as I head south.

The Marin County Civic Center, is the last commission by architect Frank Lloyd Wright,  located in San Rafael.  Construction commenced in 1960, just after Wright's death and was completed in 1962. Located away from the former county seat in downtown San Rafael, the expansive complex stretches across two valleys just east of US 101. Its pink stucco walls, blue roof and scalloped balconies are distinctive. The smaller wing is the county administration building and the larger the Hall of Justice, joined by a round structure on a small hill that houses a county library. The main Civic Center building has been nominated for the UNESCO World Heritage List as a part of ten properties by Frank Lloyd Wright. 

I'm glad I saw it, and internally rather liked it (some suggestions of his NY Guggenheim in those upper levels perhaps) but externally I didn't like it. 

And so, time to drive the last few miles into the Big City on the Bay, San Francisco.

Some other images from these few days in Northern California:

"Grassfed burgers". Er, what?

Good use for an old Coke fridge

Three well restored vehicles used in the vineyards

Coffee and croissant on the road

I expected to see a few decorated VW vans in California: here's the first

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