We spent last Memorial Day weekend in Monte Rio with a good friend and his little dog.
The weekend was just hot enough that the slightly chilly river water felt good—a nice little shock to the system after a long winter out of the water. We took our friend to many of our favorite outdoor spots, including, of course, Monte Rio Beach. We loved watching his dog run around as she enjoyed the beach and greeting other dogs there.
This is a favorite moment that we happened to capture that weekend. It was late afternoon after a nice long day of relaxing at the beach. We had packed up our towels and chairs, heading to the car, and looked back at the beach as we walked away.
Weekend and vacation days always seem to go so fast, and although we didn’t want to see the day end, this was also a wonderful moment of looking ahead. This particular day might be coming to a close, but there was a feeling of potential, knowing that the whole wonderful, warm summer was yet to come.
Part of the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge—Evanescent
Spring is speeding towards summer here in the Bay Area, which inspires us to start dreaming about how we might spend some of those lazy summer days … when we get a chance to be lazy!
Beaches along the Russian River officially open on Memorial Day weekend. We really don’t have much time left to wait, but on a cool, cloudy day like today (definitely chilly for May!), we do feel anxious for the return of those hot days last summer when we cooled off with a nice, leisurely kayak trip on the river.
Of course, springtime in the North Bay has its own beauty, too, that we wouldn’t want to wish away. So for now, we’ll happily revisit last summer in photos and enjoy the late spring blooms and the feeling of possibility in the air.
As beautiful as the mornings are around here, we have to admit: it’s rare for us to get up at the crack of dawn (when we don’t have to), and rarer still for us to be in Guerneville, the neighboring town (four miles upriver from Monte Rio) as the sun is just coming up.
But we’re so glad we woke up early one recent morning and decided to go out. We ended up riverside just as the sun was rising.
A light mist swirled atop the water’s surface and the trees slowly began to glow brighter and brighter green as the sun’s rays hit their leaves.
We were still a little sleepy, but the slight chill in the air was bracing. The river seemed to be just waking up as well.
Although we were near the main highway, the morning was almost silent, except for some birdsong and the splashes of fish in the river, marked by slowly spreading concentric rings on the otherwise glassy surface. And occasionally, small caravans of ducks swam or flew by, but with little quacking.
The river is always full of life, and with all this wildlife keeping us company for the sunrise, we were surprised, and a little amazed, at the morning’s perfect stillness.
As one of the (blessedly) least developed regions in the San Francisco Bay Area, Sonoma County remains, in some places, more than half-wild, with redwood-forested mountains, grassy valleys and open meadows. We’ve certainly seen plenty of local fauna around: fish in the river, beautiful birds soaring above, mischievous raccoons and coyotes prowling the neighborhood and so many lovely deer roaming the hillsides.
But one day, along the roadside, we spotted a truly unusual specimen that we know to be a one-of-a-kind local native: a giant bee that’s about the size of a small deer. This fun, friendly creature, perched along the highway in downtown Sebastopol greets passersby and visitors alike to the Ceres Project.
(The Ceres Project is a nonprofit providing healthy meals to people in need in an innovative way—an organization which offers another reason to love this area.)
Their upcycled “junk art” pops up in many spots around the area, offering glimpses of a whimsical world populated by angular, comically proportioned humans, fantastic creatures like mermaids, and all manner of animals.
One of the most obvious Amiot-Laurent landmarks—and another rare, native creature—is a teardrop camper transformed into a massive yellow duck that sits along the Gravenstein Highway. The oversized avian marks the spot of the artists’ sculpture garden, which you can visit. The quirky character of these artists’ joyful works, which pop up at local restaurants and in residential front gardens alike, strikes us as a perfect example of an only-in-Sonoma-County thing that just makes us love the area even more.
To enjoy more local art, check out this article, which includes links to a map of other Amiot-Laurent works around the area, as well as a link to a sculpture trail featuring outdoor works of art created by other local artists.
The unofficial end of summer may be upon us, but we still have a few weeks until it’s officially fall—and about a month before rentals at Russian River beaches close for the season. We’re going to make the most of that time whenever we get a chance.
But when we can’t get to the river, we’re going to reminisce about a trip earlier this summer to Monte Rio Beach with friends that found us lazing around the beach, swimming and tubing in the Russian River.
We brought a picnic (splitting a couple big sandwiches from Big Bottom Market) and made a day of it, swimming, lounging in our beach chairs and taking turns going for a float in the large, colorful inner tube we bought last summer at the Guerneville 5 & 10.
Wading into the river, inner tube in tow, and unceremoniously plopping down into the middle of the inner tube, the brisk river water immediately cooling but not chilly … it was the perfect summer day’s combination of silliness and relaxation.
What we all enjoyed perhaps as much as the actual floating was the big, clumsy production when one of us tried to get out of the tube. There doesn’t seem to be a graceful way to get out of a floating inner tube, and that can be pretty entertaining for friends to watch. There’s a lot of splashing, maybe a little bit of struggling … maybe once there was even a flipped-over inner tube … but always a lot of laughter.
It’s those somewhat less-than-expert moments that are sometimes the very best at the river. It’s why the river is so special, because everyone can participate—and be a little silly.
That same day at the beach, we saw a canoe with three elementary school-aged girls seated in the middle and two beleaguered—but amused—dads repeatedly trying to launch the canoe. Every time the fathers tried to push the canoe off from the shore, as the craft would hit the water, it would list a little, threatening, just ever so slightly, to tip, and the girls would giggle and joyfully shriek like mad. They’d shriek so much, in fact, that the dads would bring the canoe back to shore, wait a couple minutes and try again. Same result.
We don’t know how far they did eventually get from shore—or if they did ever launch that canoe—but it was obvious that the whole party was having fun trying.
Another day, while we were out kayaking, we paddled past a couple on an inflatable raft laughing loudly as they paddled in a circle and jovially bickered about what side they should paddle on in order to make their raft go to the left.
There are plenty of those expertly piloting their watercraft—that’s not really us, though we do love it—but something we especially appreciate about Monte Rio Beach and other Russian River beaches like it is that, in these areas, the river is wide and gentle enough to accommodate both the knowledgeable and the first timers.
We know that both our artless tubing and our semi-decent kayaking skills fit right in. Even if we look a little silly—and sometimes get a little soaked—doing it.
Because whether they are giggling and splashing and not getting very far, or gliding through the water on a peaceful kayak journey, everyone we see is having a good time. They are making memories at the beach and out on the water—as we are, too—and it’s fun to be part of that.
We love the redwood forests around the Russian River—and all around Northern California—but sometimes when we see something a lot, it can start to become part of the scenery. It’s scenery that we love, of course, but not something that we always notice as much as we used to, when we were first coming to the area. Or so we thought.
Sorting through some of our photos the other day, we realized how many shots we’ve taken over the past two years of the redwood trees around the house, Monte Rio, and just the Russian River area in general. So apparently we’re still enjoying the local landscape, even when we’re not consciously doing so.
But our surprisingly large cache of redwood forest photos offered us a good reminder to just slow down more often and really think about the beauty of these trees all around us: the shaggy fibrousness of rust-colored bark, the almost primeval look of the simple, frond-like leaves, the gentle sway of the towering trunks as they flex, ever so slightly, with the wind, and the glow of the sunlight filtering through the leaves.
So the next time we’re out on a walk, or even driving on the Bohemian Highway or Hwy 116, we’ll try to notice all that our cameras have seen, and really appreciate the forest—and the trees.
Sonoma County has long been known for its agriculture, but at the turn of the previous century, the area wasn’t known for wine, but for apples. We don’t have a road in these parts called the Gravenstein Highway for nothing, after all.
Vineyards are everywhere now, but plenty of sweet remnants of the apple’s heyday in the area remain: certainly Sonoma County is still home to apple orchards, including places where you can pick your own fruit in the fall, and there are also apple trees in many a yard, probably a combination of volunteer trees and those that were planted by homeowners.
The old apple tree in our yard must be of hardy stock—with our location in the redwood forest, the tree doesn’t get the hours of full sun that most fruit trees need to really produce. There aren’t many orchards in the forest.
Nevertheless, our tree keeps soldiering on—it gave us a little more than two dozen apples last fall. And it looks like we’ll have apples again come September, because the tree is blooming right now. Of course, we always look forward to the apples, (even though they’re small and a little sour, they’re homegrown), but right now we’re just enjoying the beautiful blossoms and watching the bare branches of winter come alive again with snowy flowers and bright green leaves.
One of our favorite things about Monte Rio Beach that makes it unique is that it’s spanned by a historic bridge. The Russian River runs through the middle of Monte Rio and this truss bridge, built in 1934, connects the two sides of town. It also connects Highway 116 and the Bohemian Highway, two of the main roads in Western Sonoma County.
The bridge, along with other historic architecture nearby, gives the town a sort of vintage vibe and a timeless quality all at the same time, so a black & white filter for these pictures seemed like a fun way to play up the bridge’s historic character.
Right now, the river is still running fairly high, but in the summer, when the shot below was taken, the river recedes, exposing the wide flat banks that make up Monte Rio Beach. Hanging out under the bridge can offer a little bit of a shady respite on a really hot day.
Most mornings here do start out in a fog (and isn’t that sometimes true of mornings in general?), but when the mist burns off, the sun comes flooding through the trees.
Because there are redwood trees all around, the yard has a lot of shady spots—perfect for ferns, which don’t tend to thrive in direct sunlight. Because this fern grows under the stairs in the front yard, it especially doesn’t see much sun at all, but it really seemed to glow when the sunlight did catch its fronds.
So many of the mornings in Monte Rio start off as misty, maybe because we’re not that far from the ocean. Overnight, a light fog creeps in over the hills and in the morning lingers in the trees, leaving tiny dew drops on every leaf, frond and petal in the garden.
Usually, the fog of the morning gives way by noon to a bright, beautiful sunny day. We always welcome the sunshine, but there’s something peaceful—almost magical—about the morning mist.