So long October, and good riddance

So long October, and good riddance

For many in Northern California wine country, October was wicked and haunted indeed.  Today, on the last day of the month, we say goodbye to October 2017 and welcome November with open arms and a spirit of optimism and hope.  Last weekend we took to the car and drove about 250 miles through Napa and Sonoma to visit some of our favorite spots and immerse ourselves in this beautiful place we call home.  We snapped a few pictures along the way that we thought we would share as part of our farewell to October.  Many of our photographs depict Sonoma and Napa in their natural states, untouched by the recent fires.  However, because it would be disrespecting the history of the past few weeks to ignore the images that we saw along the way, we captured some of those as well.

We started our drive by heading up Silverado Trail, one of the areas that was hardest hit by the fires with both winery and home destruction.  Our first impression was that a casual observer might wonder if there had been any fires at all.  On both sides of the famed Trail sat recently harvested vines, their green leaves turning yellow and providing a beautiful backdrop to the drive.

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Along Silverado Trail

As we slowed down to look closer, though, we could see clear and powerful evidence of the fires for many miles along the ridgeline.

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All of the undergrowth burned

We were surprised that the fire consumed all of the brush but left almost all of the trees standing and, in most places, did not destroy the vineyards.  We have since learned that the vineyards acted as natural “fire breaks” by virtue of being green and, in some cases, recently irrigated.

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Fire burned all the way down to the vineyard line

As a result of the extreme heat of the fire and potential damage to root systems, it is likely that many of these trees will not survive.

As we proceeded up the Trail, there were spots where the fire burned all the way down to the road, consuming all of the brush in its path.

 

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Just a few feet off of Silverado Trail

 

As we proceeded up Silverado Trail we stopped in front of the gates at Signorello Estate which burned to the ground the first night of the fires.  Just up the road from there we stopped at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, one of Napa Valley’s most famous and well-regarded wineries.  Although their winery building was intact, they did have damage on the property and we were shocked to see how close the fires came to their main building.

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Charred hills just behind the property

A bit farther up the road is Robert Sinskey Vineyards, the last winery at which we maintain a membership.  From the parking lot we could see how dangerously close the fire came to destroying the beautiful winery building they recently completed.

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Too close for comfort

Vineyards on the hill above the winery were destroyed by the fire and will need to be re-planted; fruit from these new vines will not be available for bottling for 4-6 years.

After driving much of the length of the Silverado Trail, we but over to Highway 29 and drove a stretch but saw no damage.  We then cut up Oakville Grade heading west and also did not see any damage.  On our way home we came down Dry Creek Road and also saw no evidence of damage.  We should mention, however, that when we took the drive around, many roads were either closed or closed to non-residents, including portions of Dry Creek Road, all of Soda Canyon Road, stretches of Partrick and Redwood, and several other locations.  We will plan another drive soon when these areas are safe to reenter and we can do so without disturbing the cleanup and rebuilding efforts of the people who live there.

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A stretch of Dry Creek Road that was evacuated during the fires

Right before arriving home, we saw something that could be interpreted as a sign from above that things are on the mend.  Right in the middle of the road was a glorious peacock.

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A unicorn would have been an even better sign

Our 100 mile loop across and around Napa left us feeling exhausted so we waited two days before our 150 mile trek across Sonoma.  Our plan was to drive to the Sonoma Coast, do some hiking, and then come home driving along the Russian River, all the while snapping pictures of the beautiful scenery.

Before we could get to any beautiful scenery, though, we had to drive through the Carneros region which was hard hit by the fires on the first two days.  The trail of the fire which started in Napa and ended up many miles away in Sonoma could be seen carved along the hillside north of Highway 12.

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Entrance to the winery  (photo courtesy of firenewsfeed.com)

From the road, it appears that the fire swept through much of the Nicholson Ranch property doing damage to both vineyards and buildings; however, it appears that the winery building was not completely burned.  Just across the street, the historic Stornetta’s Dairy did not fare as well – the Atlas fire completely consumed and destroyed the entire operation.

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The mailbox down by the road in front of Stornetta’s Dairy
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A part of the name still visible on the main building
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Just rubble remains
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The fire jumped the road and burned the dairy buildings on the south side of Highway 12

We were sobered by the sight of the burned remnants of Stornetta’s and continued on our way west, gradually putting scorched earth behind us, at least for the time being.  We hit Highway 1 and proceeded to our favorite hiking spot, Bodega Head.

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Don’t we look ready to hike?

It was a glorious day to be outside and we greedily sucked in the clean ocean air and enjoyed the majestic sites from our perch atop the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

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Looking north from Bodega Head

One of the things we love the most about the hike along Bodega Head is the virtual guarantee of seeing animals that make the ocean and environs their home.  Although we did not know it until we arrived, it is whale season in the Pacific Ocean and we were able to spot a family of whales cruising up and down the coast.

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Is it hiding?
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No, it’s waving

As we completed our 3 mile loop we saw a colony of seals and many birds soaring overhead.

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Dive-bombing for food
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Turkey vulture soaring above the cliffs
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In England she would also be a “bird”
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Last look before we jumped in the car

When we visit Bodega Head we always try to squeeze in a visit to the town of Jenner a few miles up the coast.  This trip was no different and we proceeded up Highway 1 for a stop at Cafe Aquatica which sits a hundred yards from the point where the Russian River flows into the Pacific Ocean.

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Cafe Aquatica in Jenner

There are few places that we know of that are better to sit for an hour or two with a cup of coffee and enjoy the sun and the view.

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The view towards the ocean
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The Russian River

After his courageous hike, even Hubert enjoyed himself.

 

When Hubert told us it was time to get moving, we jumped back in the car and headed east along River Road and enjoyed the river views and the vineyards along the way.  At the 101 freeway we turned south and that’s when we were forced back to reality:  a few feet off of the freeway there was evidence of the fires for several miles.  We decided to exit the freeway and drive through two of the prettiest towns in Sonoma County – Glen Ellen and Kenwood – and were devastated by what we saw.

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#SonomaStrong was a constant theme on our drive
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Burned out cars
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Burned out homes

Destruction in Glen Ellen and Kenwood is extensive and this scene was visible for quite a long way along our drive.

As we came back into Napa, we decided to take a look at the area behind our house where fires were raging Sunday night/Monday morning as the wine country fires began.  These were the fires whose orange glow we could see from our backyard that caused us to pack up the car and leave for a while.  About a mile behind our house (as the crow flies), this is what we saw …

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Several miles of scorched hillside
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Nothing left standing
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I think she was black before the fires
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We wonder how she survived as the fire burned in every direction

When we got home we were tired and somewhat somber but glad we made the trip.  As we enter the month of Thanksgiving, we personally have much for which to be thankful.  Not losing our house. Not losing any friends.  The spirit of community that we see in both Napa and Sonoma.

John & Irene Ingersoll

October 31, 2017

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10 thoughts on “So long October, and good riddance

  1. Of course I am still in London as I read this. I fly home tomorrow. I will be at the bloggers conference in Santa Rosa too and I will see what of much you are showing me. It all seems a little surreal. I am told that by our house you can see the burn marks and all along the back road between Napa Valley and Suisun Valley is just horrible. I want to cry. I am not sure mentally I am ready… thanks for this post.

    1. We are looking forward to seeing you guys. Santa Rosa will be an experience – the damage there is mind-boggling. We avoided it because it was too much to handle. Travel safe!

  2. The contrast between the photos is amazing. Some so bright and others beyond grim. The peacock is an amazing photo- yes a unicorn would have been better- but the peacock is quite an impressive statement of beauty to come! Amazing post!

    1. Thanks!!! There were actually two peacocks – I just wish they had opened up their feathers in full plums. That might have been better than a unicorn.

  3. Thanks for the virtual tour. So far inland from this tragedy, its hard to fathom. I simply can’t imagine how people survive such devastation to their property, their livelihoods, their animals,….oh.

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