The mountains between Calistoga and Santa Rosa, leading through the Anderson Valley, are full of petrified forest rocks, but the best place to appreciate this geology is at the privately owned Petrified Forest. See the link below. This place has the distinction of having been visited by Robert Lewis Stevenson and is described in his "Silverado Squatters".
Robert Louis Stevenson and his new wife moved here right after getting married. The future author of Kidnapped and Treasure Island could not yet afford a nice house in town. So he built a small cabin here. It's still a wilderness, now named for him. Mt. St. Helena (not to be confused with Mt St Helens in Washington) stands over 5,000 feet above sea level. It's a long, hard hike to the top. On a clear day, the view is tremendous.
I was among the first crew of hospitality workers here, taking tour groups around the winery, explaining my philosophy of winemaking. What makes this winery worth the visit though is the architecture of the building designed by Michael Graves, a Post Modern architect from New York who also designed part of the Whitney Museum. Jan Shrem, the eccentric Jewish-Japanese publisher had plenty of money and lots of artwork to put into the new winery, so he arranged a design competition judged by an impressive panel of well-known artists from San Francisco. Graves put a lot of effort into his design, envisioning a neo-Grecian waterfall tumbling down the knoll that was on the property. Shrem had full intentions of doing the entire plan, but the local established heirarchy of other deep pocketed winery owners didn't like the idea of deforesting a knoll of old growth oak trees, and so put the kabash on that part of the plan. On top the knoll, the Shrems have their home which resembles the winery in having relatively high and small "picture" windows framed in Honduran mahogany that also carefully framed what would be seen outside. The Winery building has a lot bright colored stucco with massive columns that tends to rebell against the modernist simplicity, elegance, and open feel of many other winery buildings of the valley. Despite it's apparent size, the Shrem's run the winery with a love of art and mythology, and as a small business. Naturally, I didn't last long in such an environment, as Shrem was himself rather modest in his tasting ability. I have however frequently used Clos Pegas for tours and the wine in tastings with my wine appreciation classes. The wines are nicely packaged with Jan's artwork on the label, and for the most part are accessible early on with little need for bottle aging. I have in the past been quite fond of the Sauvignon Blanc, a varietal that grows well in the warm climate of the upper Napa Valley. The tasting room is open daily from 10:30 to 5pm. There's a place to picnic there as well.
The famous Old Faithful at Yellowstone National Park is NOT the only one. Calistoga has one, too. Not as powerful, but nearly as regular.
Another feature is the Fainting Goats. They appeared, due to a genetic defect, in the 19th century. Since they were susceptible to fainting when stressed, they were often put out to pasture with sheep. If a predator came along, the goat would pass out, making it easy prey. That enabled the rest of the herd to escape. A handful of these still survive here.
Every time we visit the wine country in California, we come across new wineries that have sprung up since our last visit. August Briggs Winery is one of the new kids on the block, having just opened up in 2004 its tasting room in its present location near Calistoga on the Silverado Trail.
We enjoyed the August Briggs wines we tasted - and by the way, they do not charge a tasting fee. August Briggs produces only small lots of red and white wines. Small lots are often the best.
Clos Pegase Winery, just east of Calistoga, has always been a favorite of mine. The winery itself is architecturally interesting, the setting is beautiful, its art objects give you the feel of visiting a gallery, and the wines are excellent.
We bicycled here from Yountville, and stopped in for some wine tasting. We were a bit worried that we might mistake a $500,000 art object for a bicycle rack, so to play it safe we locked our bikes to a tree.
Yes, that thing in the picture that looks like a meteorite that just fell from the sky is a very valuable work of art, no doubt worth millions of dollars.
Clos Pegase, like many Napa Valley wineries charges a fee to taste. If you are a member of their wine club, they waive the fee.
A popular road for bicycling in the wine country is Napa Valley's Silverado Trail. This is not a mountain bike trail; it is a well-traveled country highway, very scenic and relatively flat. The shoulder is decent and you will encounter only a few road rage psychopaths.
We started from Yountville in mid-Napa County, and rode to Calistoga and back -- a 40 mile round trip. The weather was perfect in September. We visited an art gallery in Calistoga and had lunch at the Wappo Bar & Bistro near the town center. On the way back to Yountville, we stopped for a taste of vino at a couple of Calistoga area wineries.
No trip to Napa Valley should be without a ride up the gondolas to Sterling Vineyards, perched 541 feet above the valley floor. One can taste this vineyard's specialities among the architectural styles of the Greek island of Mykonos.
This is more in the way of a 'must do' activity!
Calistoga is a spa town, which has attracted visitors for a century or more with its naturally heated waters, filled with minerals. There are many different establishments purveying all manner of relaxation and beauty treatments, but we were really keen on a mud bath.
The mud is kind of a mixture between peat and clay and water, and it is, of course, extremely warm. You don't stay in there all that long - after a while, you'll find yourself feeling very drowsy! - but then you get into a jacuzzi, and after that other treatments if you have requested them.
The blanket-wrap seemed like a gimmick, but we both found it extremely relaxing and cooling; we really let go of any tension lying there like two mummies! And the massage afterwards was just perfect...
There are lots of spas locally but we found that Golden Haven Hot Springs had competitive rates; see for yourself, depending on what you are interested in.
Wine tasting is a must, you are in the middle of wine country. We stopped at several wineries, we did not taste at all of them, Clos Pegase winery pictured is worth visiting just to see the many art works on the grounds.
Calistoga is a spa town. For points of contact of spas and resorts, go to the Chamber of Commerce website below. Lodging tends to be very expensive here; I stayed at nearby Santa Rosa.
We rented a tandem bicycle and rode around to the small wineries. The day we went they were having Open House so each place had free tasting, music, and food. It was a wonderful day!