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The Bohemian's Best of the North Bay 2005
Photograph by Jason Baldwin
Best Geological Oddity
The two sizable rocks that lent their names and identities to the tiny town of Two Rock, just west of Petaluma, clearly rank as Sonoma County's most famous--and least understood--boulders. Some think of them merely as the largest wild boulders currently in captivity, which is more or less how they appear when you see them on the cow pasture, just off Bodega Avenue, surrounded by wandering bovines on the other side of a long fence. People on this side; cows and boulders on the other side. A whimsical mind might interpret the two rocks as a breeding pair newly introduced to a preexisting herd. Actually, breeding is out of the question, since another fence seems to be running right down between the two towering icons, separating them from doing more than flirting. Historically, the two rocks are a significant part of the local landscape, since the highly visible blobs once served as a point of orientation for those approaching the region from afar. There is even a nearby historical marker with information about the rocks and how important they've been, not just in providing a name for the tiny town, but as guideposts along the way for hundreds of thousands of travelers, once upon a time. Geologically, they represent what scientists call "exotic blocks" or, when those geologists happen to have had a few too many beers, "knockers," which usually show up as big boulders sticking out here and there along a field or plain. This occurs when rocks that are highly resistant to erosion begin to emerge among less resistant geologic material, which then makes them appear to stick up from below or else to have been hauled in from somewhere else. In such a way did the two rocks emerge to stand as icons and exemplars, stony representations of how it is possible to become beloved and useful while never having done anything but stand there and look fabulous.--D.T.
Best Place to Sink Your Boat
A former Navy man, I take all nautical matters seriously. Perhaps that's why the family eyed me nervously when I returned home one day with the Flying Seaman 300, a four-person rubber raft I picked up for $25 at a used sporting goods store. Using the handy air compressor provided with the raft, I began pumping it up. "Tomorrow," I announced gleefully, "We'll go down to the Russian River and test it out!" "We're not going anywhere with you in that thing," mother, daughter and son replied in unison. "Nonsense!" I said, pretending not to notice the array of makeshift patches that had been used to plug previous leaks in the craft. It seemed to be holding air just fine. The next day (I slept very little due to excitement), we took the raft down to the landing just below the Cloverdale bridge. The plan, if the vessel proved seaworthy, was for me and the boy to float a few miles down the river to Asti, where mom and sis would pick us up. "You first," the boy said. Attempting to climb aboard, I slipped on the gravel bank, fell into the raft and was immediately launched into the swift current. "I guess I'll see you in Asti," I yelled as they drove off. That's when, one by one, the ancient patches on the vessel began giving way. Years of naval training were erased by the sudden fear of drowning. I was in real trouble. "Help!" I screamed to a man on the bank some 50 yards away as the raft began sinking. He shouted something back. "What?" I yelled. "Stand up!" he shouted. So I did. The water barely came up to my knees. I arrived home soggy and waterlogged just in time for a fresh helping of humble pie. Russian River from Ukiah to Jenner.--R.V.S.
Best Hard-to-Reach Hiking Spot in Plain View
Olompali State Historic Park, which overlooks the Petaluma River and the San Pablo Bay, is one of the few public parks free of crowds. This is partly because it's so darn hard to find. If, driving south from Petaluma on Highway 101, one misses the entrance, it will take many miles and a hellacious turnaround to reach it again. Despite the precise navigation required to get there, the park offers a choice of trails for the athletic or the sluggish. Rumor has it that the Grateful Dead used to party out there in the '60s. While there are no bits of hippie memorabilia left over, there is a neat replica of a Coast Miwok village. Olompali itself means "southern village" in the Miwok language and used to be home to those water-seeking Native Americans. Olompali State Historic Park is located three miles north of Novato on U.S. 101, southbound side of the freeway.--J.E.R.
Best Place for Hit-and-Run Nudism
When it comes to nude beaches, something funny happens when you cross the Marin County border when traveling north up the coast: suddenly, you're in Utah. I kid only slightly. The clothing-optional laws in Utah may be slightly less stringent than those of Sonoma County, which annually earns the scorn of the San Francisco Bay Guardian's guide to the state's nude beaches ("Long regarded as harsh to nudists," the SFBG said of Sonoma County in 2003; last year Sonoma wasn't even included on the list). For the amateur North Coast nudist, it's irritating. There are all of these nice nekkid beaches in Marin--such as Muir, RCA, Red Rock and Limantour--but thanks to the accidents of mindset and geography, Sonoma County nudists are confined to a few worn-out mud holes along the banks of the Russian River. This just won't do. To truly experience the joys of communing naked with nature, one must expose his or her nudity to the awesome power and beauty of the sea. That's why I'm currently working on a legal defense for ocean-going skinny dipping based on the actions of Baring Witness, the naked war-protest movement that got its start--where else?--in Marin. If public nudity can be conceived as legitimate freedom of expression against war, it seems to me it can be conceived as legitimate freedom of expression against just about anything, even decency laws. However, I am not a lawyer, my research is in its infancy and public nudity on the Sonoma Coast remains, at this point in time, strictly illegal. Short of lobbying the county supervisors, the one not-so-legal option that remains is what I call "hit-and-run nudism." Find a nice, secluded beach on the Sonoma Coast (the public beaches situated around Sea Ranch are perfect, particularly on weekdays), shed your clothes, hit the water, then run like hell before someone sees you. Remember, it's only illegal if you get caught. And if you do get caught, tell them you're protesting against the war. You never know . . . --R.V.S.
Best Spa Treatment That Could Be Mistaken for a Fine Dessert
How does a cranberry and pomegranate body-butter polish sound? I'll take two, with a glass of your best Pinot. Sorry to disappoint those whose mouths are now watering, but the cranberry and pomegranate body-butter polish is a seasonal spa treatment featured last winter at the new Stellar Spa in Corte Madera, where a whole "menu" of spa treatments is offered, all sounding like something you'd just as soon eat as soak in. That, it seems, is the defining trait of a good modern spa experience. The pomegranate thing, which runs $100, is described in Stellar Spa's elegant brochure as "a mind-relaxing, body-rejuvenating, creamy, skin-refining body scrub." It is designed to leave a client's skin scented with spice and bergamot, while serving as a natural exfoliation and hydration treatment. Making it sound even more like a snack, it has a tasty list of ingredients, too: sugar, salt, cranberry seeds, vitamin E, aloe vera, shea, cocoa and macadamia butters, and the whole experience is polished off with a vitamin-infused milk and honey body lotion that, according to the literature, "will leave your skin incredibly soft and radiant." No tiramisu ever did that! Stellar Spa, 26 Tamalpais Drive, Corte Madera. 415.924.7300.--D.T.
Best Place to Volunteer, If You Like Working Outdoors among Big, Beautiful Horses
"If you are going to work around horses," says ranger Harold Gerlitz, "you can't be real loud and jumpy, or you'll make the horses jumpy. Horses don't like excitement, so you have to be pretty laidback." For over 20 years, the decidedly nonjumpy Gerlitz has been an important part of the Morgan Horse Ranch at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. A working horse farm, the Morgan Ranch raises, trains and cares for the horses used by park rangers to patrol the trails and pastures of Pt. Reyes. The horses, known for their strength and power despite their relatively small size, are also employed to bring supplies and help wherever needed, and must be specifically trained to do so. Located at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, the ranch depends upon volunteers to make the place work. Honestly, there's not a more beautiful spot in which to haul hay or shovel manure or hang out in the presence of horses. At present, Gerlitz has just under 30 volunteers, though he is always willing to bring in new helpers--if they are the right kind of people. Though he's willing to consider volunteers with no previous horse experience, he admits that such people seldom last long, mainly because they see the ranch as an opportunity to learn how to ride. "We don't have the resources to train people to ride the horses," he says, "so those people usually drop away pretty fast." In other words, the Morgan Horse Ranch is not a place to pretend you are Little Joe from Bonanza; John Boy from The Waltons would be closer to reality. Volunteers also must learn the history of the place and be able to engage visitors, because the ranch gets a lot of them, and Gerlitz sees his volunteers as being co-hosts and docents, answering questions and explaining the operation. According to Gerlitz, another of the major responsibilities of volunteers is clearing out the spiders and spider webs from the various buildings and exhibits. "The spiders are always trying to take the place over," he laughs. "And we're always trying to stop them." Morgan Horse Ranch at the Bear Valley Visitor Center, Pt. Reyes National Seashore.--D.T.
Best Place to Eat Net without Wrecking Your Rapidly Aging Joints
"The locals are aging," says Rod Heckelman, of the Mt. Tam Racquet Club in Larkspur, "and as a consequence, we're doing everything we can to help them to age more comfortably and more easily." At the Mt. Tam Racquet Club, the old concrete tennis courts are being gradually replaced with gentler, softer, rubberier courts made of the softest substance known to man: little bunny rabbits. Only kidding. Bunny rabbits make terrible tennis court coverings, and the crunching of all those little bones can ruin a person's concentration. What the Mt. Tam club has actually installed are courts made of old recycled car tires. Concrete, someone finally realized, is not so good on the knees and hips of aging tennis players, so the new rubber courts were developed as an alternative. "Otherwise," Heckelman says, "you're playing on a hard surface, which can be incredibly tough on your body." This evolution, he says, reflects a growing national trend away from the traditional concrete playing surfaces and more in the direction of low-impact tennis and racquetball courts. While some tennis facilities are turning to clay courts, others prefer the rubber-coated variety. With just a bit of extra give, these cool new courts are a whole lot easier on the bones and joints, and allow people of a certain age to continue working on their game instead of hanging their racquets up for good, as some have been forced to do. Now, if they could only figure out how to install some airbags, they'd really have something to be proud of. Mt. Tam Racquet Club. 1 Larkspur Plaza Drive, Larkspur. 415.924.6226.--D.T.
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From the March 23-29, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.