Connecting with Nature in Sonoma County
I brushed wet, tangled, hair away from my face as I stumbled through the door of what I hoped was my hotel. Flustered, I looked at my phone one last time. No service. I was standing in what appeared to be a rustic, albeit elegant, restaurant perched precariously over a sea cliff on the Sonoma Coast. The restaurant host was starring at me.
“Is this where you check in?” I sheepishly asked. I didn’t see anything resembling a place to sleep. “It sure is,” the host responded. “Our three cabins are just outside, down the drive.”
Relieved, I smiled and explained that I didn’t have any service to check my reservation. He nodded, “No one has service here.”
Grabbing a key from behind the counter the host started toward the door, back into the wind. I asked if there was a password for the wifi. “There is no password,” He replied pausing to unlock the cabin door, “there is no wifi.” Sensing my confusion he turned to face me as the door opened, “It’s for connecting with the nature, and the romance.”
His tone indicated that I wasn’t the first to commit this faux pas at Rivers End - probably not even the first that day. “Of course!” I said catching my first glimpse of the ocean out the cabin window. “Very romantic.” I blushed, “I mean, it’s a very nice view. . . for connecting with nature.” He nodded, apparently satisfied that I finally understood, and handed me the key.
Then he was gone. I sat down on the bed alone with my thoughts, and my very own cabin on the water.
My night at River’s End was the first night of a three day road trip through Sonoma County, just north of San Francisco and the Bay Area. I’d started that morning at The Barlow in Sebastopol. It was early, and only a few shops were open, but I knew I could spend a lot of time wandering around sampling the local food, art, and wine. I contemplated staying longer, but I had places to be, and miles to cover. So I grabbed some much needed coffee at Taylor Made Farms, and headed for the coast.
The Sonoma coastline is not like other coasts. The air feels wild, and untamed. Salt-covered and shaped by the strong onshore winds, the trees appear as though they were modeled after a Dr. Seuss character. The land itself rolls gently west and then breaks off suddenly, forming dramatic sea cliffs that run for miles along the coastline. Highway 1 winds it’s way up, over, and around this rugged stretch of the Pacific, delivering a rollercoaster of stunning views around every turn - a road trippers dream come true.
Almost the entire stretch of coast from Bodega Bay to Jenner is comprised of the Sonoma Coast State Park. Because it is public land, most of the coast is accessible by simply pulling off the road and following a trail down to the water. And that’s exactly what I did - one coastal park after another. I walked along the beach to the sound of crashing waves, marveling at the solitude I’d stumbled across such a short distance from San Fransisco.
Standing on my deck at Rivers End I snapped a few photos as the early morning sky slowly brightened into another day. Below, the inlet was glass. Hypnotized by the serenity, and with no distractions, I watched two young otters playing in the otherwise calm water. Wishing I had more time—at least another night—I stuffed my belonging back into my suitcase. I wasn’t finished connecting with “the nature,” or “the romance” for that matter. But it was time to leave the coast and head for the woods.
That night I stayed at AutoCamp just outside Guernville overlooking the Russian River. A collection of luxury Airstreams positioned around architecturally stunning common area complete with bonfire, I found myself once again longing for another night. As the rain bounced off my metal roof, I flipped though a copy of Walden from the warmth of my bed. My eyes locked on a familiar passage. Familiar both because I’d heard it before, and because it so accurately captured my second day in Sonoma County. In the passage, Thoreau noted:
We need the tonic of wildness...At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.
I fell asleep wondering what Thoreau would have thought about this little community of Airstreams tucked away under the Redwoods.
The tiny platform I was standing on moved under my feet as the tree it was attached to swayed with the wind. Widening my stance, I tightened my grip on the safety harness and took a deep breath. The tree rocked again. I thought about one of the placards I had read the day before at Armstrong State Reserve - something about Redwoods having unusually shallow root systems. Pressing closer to the trunk I closed my eyes and listen to the trees, but this time only heard screaming in the distance. The scream turned to laughter, and I opened my eyes just in time to see the last member of my zipline crew come gliding into the arms of our guide.
Over the course of our two and a half hour adventure at Sonoma Canopy Tours, our group of eight had bonded over shared fears and treetop selfies. Drunk off adrenaline, 200 feet off the ground, we swapped stories. They asked what I was doing, who I worked for, and why I was ziplining by myself. I told them about my road trip, Sonoma County Tourism, and Instagram. “Sooo are you visiting a bunch of wineries for your trip?” They asked. I started to tell them about my tasting at Korbel Winery, but stopped. I thought for a long moment before answering: “My trip is actually not about the wine. It’s about connecting with the nature. . . and the romance.”