Dear Family, Friends, and Diary,
We left East Brother bound for our only other fixed goal for the trip. We needed to visit my mom and dad in Ukiah, or at least visit their last resting spot. We chose to go around San Pablo Bay, for no other reason than to see this less-traveled part of the area. In fact, it is mostly flat wetlands, not particularly interesting, but we only do this once every decade or so.
From the top end of the Bay, it was Highway 101 via all the cities and towns I had been passing through for the 50+ years I had gone with family this way. Over those years, prosperity has moved north, town by town. We stopped in Healdsburg and explored it's downtown, which is filled with a wide range of restaurants, shops , and galleries. Thinking of post-Fresno options, we might even consider resettling here, except I'm afraid Bay-area prices have already made it here. Should have bought 30 or 40 years ago.
After a couple of hours, we made it to Ukiah, a town also showing signs of growth. In this case it's a new Costco, clear indication that growth is expected to continue.
We started our Ukiah memory-lane tour with a drive through "Lake Mendocino Estates", the senior mobile home park where my parents spent their last years. Back then, it offered a friendly, reasonably-priced housing option. and maybe it still does. Somewhat surprising, most homes looked nicely cared for, despite twenty years more wear and turnover. (Almost by definition, there would be no one remaining from my mom and dad's era.
From the Estates, we swung by Ebersole Mortuary and Columbarium*. I found the Trotter niche, simple, but in need of new flowers. We bought a bouquet and returned to complete the decoration. It is a basic memorial, and one with few visitors I'm afraid, but it seems respectful. I could not help but wonder when we might pass this way again, probably not for years again.
Our next Ukiah goal was less melancholy: Schat's Bakery, home of the best cinnamon rolls in the whole world (according to Marianne.) On this afternoon visit, there were none left, but we made up for it the following morning when we had cinnamon rolls, a scone, a croissant, and a couple of baguette sandwiches to go. It was good to know that the quality we had remembered from twenty years ago remained. Maybe we should come back to visit the columbarium more often.
On our travels, we try to find art galleries, to keep us away from bakeries and to get some inspiration for Marianne's works. We visited the Corner Gallery in downtown Ukiah and found a pleasant one-room space, filled with work of local artists. With an art outlet, maybe we should move here after Fresno. Or not.
After an overnight in one of the several unremarkable Inns in Ukiah, we headed over the hills to Anderson Valley and Boonville. The highway climbs through the low coastal hills. With all the rain this year, the hills were lush green, with a light frosting of snow on the very tops. I'm not sure I have ever seen snow in these hills.
There was a heavy storm forecast for later in the day, so we passed through Boonville to Philo, a few miles beyond. My mom's dad had ended up here, after a hard life of working in the forest industry. He had been mostly absent from mom's life, and mine, but visiting him had been the reason for discovering Anderson Valley over five decades ago. I still remember those visits and was surprised to still see the ancient two-room shack Jon had called home.
We continued west from Philo for our next "art fix". This time it was Pepperwood Pottery where Doug Johnson has been doing wonderful work for decades. The Pottery has several uber-quaint huts to display finished work.
While we toured the displays, Johnson stayed busy at his potter's wheel. He was working on simple trays that would hold his vases in the kiln, basic products that would be sacrificed in the process, but ones that showed his skill even so. It was fun to watch.
After Pepperwood, we headed back toward Boonville and made a quick stop for another Anderson Valley "art", a winery. There are now dozens of wineries in the valley, although I can remember a time when there were none. Back in the day, it was just sheep on the south-facing hills, redwood logging on the other side, and apple and pear orchards on the valley bottom. Now, most of that is gone, replaced by acres and acres of vineyards.
We chose Brutocao Cellars, simply because we liked the name. There we were hosted by Suzi, and learned of the "new" valley industry. Most of the grapes are pinot noir, although the wineries use other grapes from farther inland for a complete range of California wines. Brutocao is a long-established Northern California vintner, but our hostess also talked about her own vineyard, a 170-acre property she and her husband have been developing and living on over the last ten years. From her, we learned that becoming a vintner may sound romantic, but mostly is is lots of hard work.
After our REQUIRED six sips of wine, we made it back to Boonville and the Boonville Hotel. We had made a reservation at the old hotel just hours before and when we arrived we learned that we would be the only hotel guests that night. Furthermore, dinner was not served on Tuesday evenings and breakfast was also canceled for our stay. We'd had plenty of food from Schats Bakery, so the food was not a problem, and the prospect of an entire hotel to ourselves was intriguing.
A little background. When I was regularly visiting Boonville in the 1960s and 1970s with my family, the Boonville Hotel went through several cycles of being abandoned, resurrected with dreams, followed by business collapse. No one came in with cash to match their dreams. We even considered some way to make it work, but correctly decided not to join the history of failure. About thirty years ago, the Schmidt family bought the hotel and they have managed to make the business thrive. We congratulate them!
When everyone left at about 5:00pm, we made ourselves at home. Outside, the rain was coming down more and more. Inside, we settled in the living room, light a fire in the gas fireplace, and plugged in my diary work station. The storm continued all night, but it did not disturb us or any of Boonville ghosts in the old place. A wonderful stay.
The next morning, we crossed the highway for another bakery breakfast. We are going to have to do a complete detox after this trip. After.
We started from Boonville with no fixed plans, other than one more day on the road. We headed inland, out twisty Highway 128. I remembered this road from my teen years as one that often generated serious car sickness, or, after rains like we'd had, scary detours. This day we were lucky. We made it to the Highway 101 junction safe and healthy.
We chose to head south along back roads, where we could avoid the 101 freeway. Most of these roads seemed familiar. I think we used to do this in the 60s, 70s, and later and the small roads had not changed. Traffic HAD increased substantially as had the prosperity evidenced by the fancy homes and wineries we passed.
We stopped in Calistoga, a small town showing the local prosperity. The buildngs along main street have been restored and converted to restaurants, shops, and galleries. This did NOT match my memoreis from the olden days.
At the Calistoga Art Museum, we saw a fair amount of not-so-very-good paintings and wire sculptures. It was local and expensive, but not very good (according to our in-house art critic.) More interesting were the calcite-encrusted pipe sections from nearby Indian Springs mineral springs. These pipes need to be replaced annually due to the accumulating depisits. This natural process seemed to create better art than the artists.
Lunch at the Serafornia Cafe was just fine. Tasty and not fussy.
After lunch, we headed south, along theose quaint small back roads, quaint, small and crowded. Sonoma was our destination and the slow drive gave us plenty of time to look around. I guess that's what we wanted.
About an hour before we were to get to Sonoma, Marianne called the Sonoma Hotel to see if they had space. They did. In fact, we would be the only guests until one other couple straggled in at midnight. This definielty is not tourist season, even if it was Valentine's Day.
Built in the 1880s, the Sonoma Hotel was even older than the Boonville Hotel from the night before. Three of four of our stays this trip have been at 19th Century hotels. It's not exactly European-old, but a nice break from normal American motels. I settled in to our room to work on pictures while Marianne went out to look and shop - mostly look.
She made it back in time for the hotel's (free) 5:00pm wine. We started a conversation with Cathy, the innkeeper, and they discovered all sorts of commonalities. Both had retired as teachers. Both had lived in Monterey. Cathy had been a teacher at Santa Catalina school, albeit well after the years Marianne was a student there. A very pleasant conversation.
We asked for dinner recommendations. Cathy recommended LaSalette. Since it was off-season, even on almost-Valentine's Day we didn't need reservations AND we got to sit at the open kitchen bar and watch food preparation. I think this is our favorite seating at any good restaurant and LaSalette was good.
The next morning, we started with the hotel's "continental breakfast" and found this really did seem "continental", or at least those continental countries where breakfast is simply coffee and good pastries.
The drive home was long, starting with the back-roads across the Sacramento River Delta. No flooded-out patches, but reportedly we were lucky, since some had just been drained hours before. Connecting to Interstate 5 and then the standard cross-valley Highway 152 the road seem longer than when we were leaving. That happens.
Back home in Fresno, everything was as-before. A good end to a great trip. No we need to think up another one! Stay tuned.
John and Marianne
*columbarium: a place for displaying ashes. I had to look it up in Google.