Redwoods, Wine and the Dirt on Local RC

redwood tree with leaf shadows in dirt underneath it
The Armstrong Tree

Smoky late-summer skies might be the new norm along the west coast, but all that smoke did nothing to detract from our fun in the California wine country, where our favorite drive was through the Anderson Valley. Why, you might ask?  Because the top appellation there is the pinot noir!

Wineries dot Highway 128 like grapes on a vine between Cloverdale and the Pacific Ocean. After a generous pour at our first stop, we decided to limit ourselves to three wineries, so we could finish the day with dinner in Fort Bragg before completing our lovers’ loop via Highway 101 and a return to camp in Cloverdale. We even had time to tour a lighthouse and grab a quick handful of 1920s garbage from Glass Beach.

The three wineries we tried were all recommended by Alicia’s sister, who enjoys almost-annual sojourns to the California Wine Country. 

Lula was surprising in its simplicity, and the wines were excellent. Bring your fur child! Pennyroyal Farm is worth a lengthy tour to take in their goats, cheese and stave creations. They have a wonderfully warm Basque spice mix for sale, too. Toulouse was also excellent, with tables on the veranda and fresh flowers in the pristine bathrooms. Alicia is still trying to figure out if their Gewürztraminer had a hint of her favorite IPA hops, or maybe it was the scent of marigolds they grow and decorate with. Hmm…she needs another sip or two to make sure.

Onward to the coast! We arrived on northern shores just in time to tour the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, a California State Historic Park. We parked up top and walked down a half-mile to the lighthouse, where handicap parking spots were  available for those who need them. The tiny museum was fascinating, and the gift selections inspirational. On our way back up to the parking lot, we imagined what overnight or weekend stays in their cabins would be like.

In central Fort Bragg, we made a quick stop at Glass Beach, then we backtracked to the southern end of town and down a narrow road to the mouth of the Noyo River, where we hoisted ourselves up to Silver’s at The Wharf. From our window seats, we watched the fishing boats, gulls and sea lions while we enjoyed fresh seafood, local draughts and a beautiful sunset.

woman stands inside tree trunk
Feels like a mini me inside the redwood tree.

Closer to camp, a day-trip to Armstrong Redwoods State Park treats one to easy hikes through a spectacular redwood forest. Take a picnic and spread it out on tables beside the parking lot or under the trees. If one is lucky enough to score it, there’s a lone table surrounded by trees in its own little glade.

view of ocean with rock and dirt bluff edged a man hiking in foreground
Day trips to the ocean for hiking and sight seeing are an easy hop from the California wine country north of San Francisco.
The dirt on local RC

A Place to Play is an absolutely fantastic community park in Santa Rosa, and best of all, the all-electric RC track there is free and open to the public. The track is totally volunteer-maintained, so if there’s a hole, fill it. Otherwise, just walk the track, learn the pitfalls and have a blast! There’s a big wobbly table and a couple of milk crates to stand on, otherwise one must bring a butt perch and maybe a step ladder, if a crate seems too flimsy for racing from. The added height gives shorter people a better vantage point over the large track. Also bring some family-style beverages, eats, some shade and plenty of batteries.

Where we stayed to play

The Napa Elks RV Park is first-come for traveling Elks members. There is a host on site who told us there are usually a spaces available midweek. We pulled in at lunchtime on a Thursday, and two more rigs came in shortly thereafter for a full park. Whew! The Petaluma Elks RV Park accepts member reservations, which can be made online here. Both the parks are close to paved multi-use trails perfect for some two and three-wheel adventures. Both are also close to San Francisco ferry stops.  Cloverdale, where we stayed for two weeks, was close to more than one vineyard route, yet far enough north to be outside the hectic Bay Area traffic zone.

The Thousand Trails Russian River RV Campground did not give a good first impression, maybe because we made a whopper mistake. We took the back road in so we could make a left turn into the park. We stopped in confusion, but a passerby said to go on, we’d be fine. That was very stressful in a big rig. Then a spotter was needed in the campground, where narrow rough roads, tight turns, low trees, and vehicles along the edges made for even more stress in our low-slung rig.

There are no full hookups or 50 amps, no matter what the Thousand Trails reservation clerk says. Water pressure was weak, there was absolutely no antenna TV, and Verizon was weak but mostly workable.

Otherwise, site #37 was nice, roomier than most. It was right next to the bathhouse and an easy back-in once one got past all the tight turns and trees. Watch out for the uneven steps up to the bathhouse, which is in need of a deep cleaning. Take a little lantern or something for the dark shower stalls. We wished we had a pick to  gouge out tracks and level the dirty old picnic table, but we made do. We just covered the sun-baked sludge and rough wood with some cheap checked thrift-store fabric. It looked great with a leaning bottle of wine!

The campground was pretty quiet during the week, and skies were dark, but on the weekends, people and RVs were packed in tight-to-overflowing.

bicycle leans against tree with cottages in background
Riding the trail is easy from the Napa Elks Lodge. Some sidewalks and road crossings might be necessary for the more adventurous.

Napa Elks has 30 amp, full hooks, weak Verizon, and good antenna TV. It’s a very nice park with picnic tables in semi-tight spots. There is a spacious pavilion, barbecues, and a children’s playground. The side gate exits to a 1.2 mile trail along Napa River. If one doesn’t mind a little sidewalk or road, connections can be made to miles and miles of paved trails. There are just a couple blocks or so of road between them in spots. Sunday afternoon was a great time to explore them. Traffic was light, and Stone Brewing seemed to be a hot venue for bicycle-in dining that day.

Petaluma Elks isa  busy place! There was usually a boondocking space, maybe two, but very few full-hook spots long enough for a big rig. Verizon was poor, antenna TV was great. The 50 amp was okay, even though on both legs, volts were under 120. Monday night lodge didn’t seem friendly, but Tuesday was good. This lodge does not buy one their first or second drink, but prices were low enough to make up for it. For taco Tuesdays, they have vegetarian beans! So we had two big taco salads and were given a cup of organic guac gratis! The bean lady even brought out the can so we could read the label…we love her for doing that!

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