Nancy's Travelblogue

... there isn't a train I wouldn't take, no matter where it's going. -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

Location: California, United States

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Howard Creek Ranch - Mendocino County

Like everyone else, this year we responded to the gas crunch and spent our vacation close to home. In miles, that is, but we traveled far from every reminder of our everyday lives.

We went to the northern Mendocino County.

First, I have to say that the California coastline is the most beautiful I've ever seen in the world. Highway 1 from Big Sur in the south to Mendocino (more recently to Ft. Bragg) in the north is sprinkled with wineries, Victorian Bed & Breakfast Inns, upscale restaurants, boutiques, galleries, hiking, biking, spas and anything else a discerning tourist could possibly wish for.

All of that pretty much ends at Ft. Bragg. The country north is rugged and sparsely populated, but equally as interesting. We made our base at the Howard Creek Ranch, picked at random on the Internet. Since we had no expectations we weren't especially disappointed to find out that the Ranch was not the typical Mendocino B&B. The Ranch and the surrounding land (60 acres now, but at one point there were about 2000 acres attached to the property) was once a prosperous farming and logging operation, but it eventually was abandoned and came into disrepair, reemerging as a hippie commune in the 1970s. Two of the commune members, Sally and Sonny, stayed on, purchased the ranch, and have operated it as a B&B once the commune dissolved.

The photo at the top shows the main farmhouse on a typical foggy morning. To the right is a photo of the "carriage barn" where many of the guest rooms were. "Carriage Room," where we slept the first two nights was on the top floor with views of the ocean and the mountains. It was beautifully restored in craftsman style, with a wood stove, lots of light and lots of space. I would be happy living in that room for the rest of my life. Then we moved to "Blue Balcony" on the first floor. This was less luxurious. The room itself was very small and the bathroom was squeezed between the bedroom and the common area. But we had a nice balcony and could visit with all the guests and staff as they crossed our paths.

Sally and Sonny, the innkeepers, are quirky, talented and very interesting, so much so that I'm dying to learn more of their story (OK, I'll admit it, I'd really like to do a book, or at least an oral history of their lives). We actually never saw Sonny, though evidence of his talent and love for the property is in every structure and throughout the land. Sally was present at breakfast and throughout the day, happy to regale us with stories of the property and her life. She has a green thumb, which she says is "just another way of saying you remember to water and fertilize" and her flowers are wonderful. The image at the left hardly does justice to the garden, but it's the best shot we got.

We are served a scrumptous farm-size breakfast of an egg dish, a meat dish, biscuits or French toast, three fruit dishes, coffee of course, and mint tea from the garden. All the guests eat together and breakfast was, at least for our crowd, quite a social occasion. (For the rest of the day, guests pretty much stuck to themselves.) There is a "food problem" for the rest of the day. Though rooms are equipped with a small refrigerator and microwave, there are not facilities for serious cooking, and the Ft. Bragg -- the center for restaurants or groceries -- is a good half hour away on winding, sometimes foggy roads. And everything about the place says " don't get in your car, don't go anywhere" but then we have to eat.

Jonathan, in his ever friendly way, solved the problem one night by sweet talking the staff into letting us use the farmhouse kitchen to cook pasta and salad. In return, we invited them to join us for dinner. A very interesting group: one couple had been transient for some time before bedding down at Howard Creek; another young woman was a physics major transitioning from college to the real world with hope of a career in solar power; another was a college student from Belarus here on a work internship.

The setting is the best part. The Ranch is about 200 footsteps from one of the most gorgeous segments of the California State Beach. In the mornings I walked down Howard Creek and under the highway to the beach, and then along the coast which has a path for a mile or two. Often it was foggy in the morning, and sometimes it cleared up, sometimes not. One thing for sure is that we weren't sizzling like the rest of the country.

It was a great getaway. More photos.

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