Eco-Touring – December 2007

Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “Eco-Touring” December 2007.

Napa Valley Marketplace Eco-Touring Article Photo: December 2007: Wide Open Spaces

Wide Open Spaces
Ramblin’ On by the Napa Nomad, Eco-excursions in the Napa Valley
By Arvis Northrop

Sometimes I feel surrounded by traffic and noise. All the progress and construction going on in Napa! Maybe it’s good to just get away from it all, alone in wide open spaces to stretch our legs, our minds and perspectives. I know just the place to do this, out on the edge of the Carneros.

The Carneros is the largest of the Napa Valley wine growing regions and shared, as well, with Sonoma County. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are its most famous grapes. Others include Merlot and Syrah and it was the first region to be designated an appellation in 1983.

Beyond all that, literally beyond the southernmost edge of the vineyards is the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area. This area is a preserve for a delicate ecosystem of vegetation, water ways and wildlife. As noted on the Department of Fish and Game website, the area covers “over 13,000 acres of saltwater ponds, tidal marshes, and wetlands. Just north of San Pablo Bay, this area is made up of levees and sloughs. Many waterfowl species and shorebirds including the California clapper rail can be found here. Most of the area is accessible by boat only.” Thanks to the collaboration of Ducks Unlimited, Napa County, the Fish & Game Department, and the Carneros wineries, this area has been painstakingly preserved to provide a sanctuary for humans too. A friend of the Friends of the Napa River pointed out the area to me on a map. “Just drive out Buchli Station Road”, I was instructed. Buchli Station? There was a station; what sort of a station? An adventure was unfolding before me, a mini-road trip.

I carefully navigated the maze of roads through the Carneros region and finally turned left onto Buchli Station Road. I passed Bouchaine Winery on the right and continued for about a half mile until the road looked like it might end at a chain link fence; I kept on, having been told it was okay to continue. Past this point my car began to dip and rock in the road which was pitted with the widest, deepest pot holes I had ever encountered! I zigzagged slowly, crossed an abandoned train track and finally descended down a nicely paved, gentle slope into the parking lot of the preserve. A clean “Porta-potty” is available too; how convenient! After locking up my car I entered the marshland, observing a path going right and one straight ahead. I chose the path straight ahead to begin my walk and proceeded to a sign with colorful illustrations and maps highlighting the points of interest of the area. Next, I came upon a small shack; a bird blind! Later I learned that in 2001, employees of Acacia winery constructed the bird blind using recycled lumber. It sits right next to the tall grasses, taller than the windows of the shack. The shack is camouflaged with reeds for hushed birders who, as devoted voyeurs, peer through the grasses to witness intimate scenes of Nature. As I continued around a bend I discovered that my path was part of a large loop, connecting with the other path I had noted back at the start. This was a comfort to me because although I intended to be adventurous, I didn’t want to wander off into the tule and maybe step into the wrong place. You know, like quick sand or some prehistoric pit. Obviously a vivid imagination can be both a blessing and a curse.

Taming my mental gremlins I allowed the warmth of the sun to relax me and the 360° panorama of Carneros splendor to soften my eyes. To the north the vineyards roll back to the Mayacamas mountain range. To the east are the Napa hills beyond the Napa River. Looking south and west I took in the expansive view extending to the San Pablo Bay and Mt. Tamalpais; and not another person in sight. This was an opportunity for solitude and discovery. I wanted to soak up all the beauty, quiet and calm, and breathe in the odors of fish, mud, or grass; whichever scent happened to drift past my nose.

I’ve talked about how void of Man this area can feel but there are all sorts of evidence of “modern” activity through the last two centuries. Out in the middle of the marshland sits a solitary, two-story, concrete building. Could this be the station that had piqued my curiosity? It seemed too far off the road. Another path showed the way to this building, so I bravely investigated.

What remains are plain concrete walls, a dilapidated roof, broken window frames without glass, and ragged, open doorways on each end. Everything about the building is disintegrating, with piles of rubble inside. Not inviting to walk through and being prudent, I circumnavigated it, looking for any signs of identification. Who would come all the way out here to this building. When, and what would they be doing? Indeed, very mysterious. I contemplated the possibilities as I strolled back to my car. My time out in the marshes had cleared my head and given me new, fascinating things to think about. Back home I searched the internet for all things Carneros. For example, the old railway I crossed at the entrance was built in the late 1800’s to transport fruit, milk, grain and cattle to San Francisco. I had mistakenly considered the Carneros to be distant and somewhat disconnected from the activities in the valley but, now I understand its bond with the heart of Napa’s history, connecting people and industry while continuing to evolve in our changing culture and environment. An excellent resource for the history of the Carneros region can be found at the Carneros Wine Alliance’s website: http://www.carneros.com. And, about that ramshackle building? It took some digging but for a brief explanation take a look at: http://wikimapia.org/3449592/Abandoned_Press_Wirecast_building.

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