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
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.
Every time we’ve gone kayaking on the Russian River has offered a different adventure—always fun, but always its very own special kind of experience.
Sometimes the river is full of other happy vacationers splashing and floating around, and there are plenty of cheery waves and hellos to other folks paddling by, and we can hear the laughter and conversation of picnickers enjoying a leisurely lunch on a beach or a sandbar. Sometimes it’s a serene paddle on a stretch of river so quiet that the water’s surface almost looks like glass.
But even during the area’s busiest times, there are peaceful moments at some quiet bend in the river where it seems like we have the whole place to ourselves.
Whether the river is bustling or calm, the scent of the surrounding redwoods always seems to drift down to the water, and the hotter the day, the more refreshing the light splashes from the paddles dipping into the water.
It was a quieter time at the end of last September when we went out for one last kayak trip of the summer, before Monte Rio Parks and Recreation’s beach rentals closed up shop for the season.
We rented a double kayak, left Monte Rio Beach and headed upriver towards Guerneville—the current isn’t very strong in the summers, especially the past couple years when the river has been so low.
Not long after we left, we realized we had some company on the river. We were so excited to see a beautiful blue heron just hanging out on a dock along the river, watching us in the kayak. It was a thrill to see this big, beautiful bird. We stopped paddling, and after a few minutes of observing the heron, and the heron observing us, we zoomed in the cameraphone as far as it would go—we didn’t want to disturb this beautiful bird (and so this shot is not as close to the heron as it might seem. We’d never want to get too close: it’s important to us to admire, but not to disrupt the local wildlife in any way).
We passed the heron and continued our trip upriver for a couple miles before we turned around and brought the kayak back to Monte Rio Beach. We were a little sore the next day (and a little sunburned—sunblock works better if you don’t just forget it in your bag!), but so glad we went for one last paddle of the season. It’s always worth it, and now we’re looking forward to another amazing summer of kayaking on the Russian River.
To plan your own kayak trip:
Monte Rio Parks & Rec’s rentals will reopen on Memorial Day weekend—simply head to the building at Monte Rio Beach to rent canoes, double or single kayaks, as well as inner-tubes and beach chairs.
There are also a number of other rental companies and kayak/canoe tour operators in the Russian River area, including King’s Sport & Tackle in Guerneville and Burke’s Canoes near Forestville.
Part of WordPress’ Weekly Photo Challenge—Jubilant
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.
Monte Rio Beach isn’t just one of our favorite spots on the Russian River because it’s the beach closest to home (though we’re not gonna lie—that’s great), but we love it because it’s a big, wide beach on a bend in the Russian River; it’s right in the middle of town, with a view of it all: whether it’s the beautiful trees on the hills surrounding Monte Rio or the cool retro movie theater and other vintage architecture in town, the beach is central. There’s a big family of mallard ducks always hanging around—we see them on every visit and they make the beach even homier. It’s also one of the less-busy beaches in the summer and has been our go-to place for wading, swimming, tubing and kayaking.
In the warmer months, and really, year-round in the past couple drought years, the river has been especially shallow at Monte Rio Beach. It wasn’t hard to wade out to the middle before the water would even come up to our hips. But now, with the winter rains, this is a different river: it appears much deeper and wider and has a noticeable current (in the summer, it has been just as easy to paddle a kayak upstream as it has to go downstream).
The beach was almost empty on this evening except for a couple people fishing. It was a different place than we’d seen it before—just as beautiful as always, but with an added peacefulness. Definitely, we’ll need to make more winter visits to this beach.
It’s always fun to see friends and family, and one among us has been known to relish the fully booked weekend, chock-full of parties or visits with friends, dinners with family, or just a day-long hike we’ve planned. Perhaps, ideally, all of the above.
But sometimes the best weekend days are lazy ones, with no plans, no deadlines and nowhere pressing that we have to be. It was on such a Sunday that that photo was taken—just out for a stroll around the house. The roads in the neighborhood don’t see a lot of traffic, allowing for a relaxing walk right down the middle of the street.