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Best Recreation 

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Staff Picks: Recreation

Movin' It

I want to create wilderness out of empire.

-- Gary Snyder

Best Place to Never Get Out of the Boat

I made a canoe trip down the Petaluma River sound like a good idea to my friend: past the decrepit piers of the waterfront's former glory, half-sunk boats, and down to the wetlands. For the most part, it is good--if you don't mind struggling to ride the waves thrown out by recreational boaters for whom the five knots speed limit is a laugh and for whom trying to tip you over counts as a pastime. This is a boating adventure for the hardy or foolish. Being the latter, we had an interesting time. But should you keep by the shore, don't get off the boat, as my oarsman learned. It looks like a shore, as if you could just jump out and explore. Upon trying, my companion immediately lost his shoe in the two feet of gluelike, primordial muck that lines the banks. Something about the insatiable, shoe-eating ooze reminded me that the Petaluma River is not really a river after all, but a low-down, dirty slough. But don't let that stop you enjoying the heart of darkness, chicken-town-style. Wear a pair of galoshes and paddle on down. If you make it to the next pier at Lakeville, you can dry out your socks and maybe watch a happy family fish for mutant, heavy-metal-laden carp. --J.K.

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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Reward at the End of a Ten-Mile Bike Ride

OK, it's five miles. Ten miles roundtrip. But that's enough for me, because I always had trouble seeing the point in biking around without a destination. I mean, I could go to the gym. Which I don't. And since I don't carry a water bottle, when I'm dehydrated after a punishing two-mile ride down the Santa Rosa Creek Trail, I've got a strong inclination to continue down Fulton Road, then turn onto the former railroad right-of-way trail all the way to Sebastopol. In an example of perfect symmetry, the Powerhouse Brewing Company (formerly powering the Petaluma-Sebastopol Railroad) awaits at the end of the path to refuel me. Powerhouse ales are popular with the after-work biking set during happy hour, and they make the ride back seem like a pleasant jaunt. But don't have two, because then it'll seem like 20 miles uphill. (The Powerhouse can also be reached from the Green Valley extension of the Joe Rodata Bike Trail; however, this confounding stretch puts you on the highway for a hair-raising mile with no bike lane. A lemonade is recommended.)
268 Petaluma Ave. (Hwy. 116), Sebastopol. 707.829.9171.--J.K.

Best Place to Tickle a Frog

The great outdoors. It's a great place to take kids, a great stress buster for beleaguered parents, and a great chance to commune with nature. And Sonoma County is filled with great-outdoor kinds of places, from the shady paths of Jack London State Historic Park to the majestic trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Reserve to the gentle dunes at Salmon Creek Beach. But Crane Creek Regional Park, part of the county's growing regional parks, is a particularly great escape for those looking for an easy-access place to picnic, hike, and explore the world at a snail's pace. Tucked in the rolling hills east of Petaluma Hill Road in Rohnert Park (due west of Sonoma Mountain) and studded with gnarled, moss-covered oaks, this 128-acre jewel offers six miles of well-kept trails, most of them flat and easily navigable by toddlers and tykes. And there's plenty to see. Stroll to the top of Hawk Hill for a glimpse of the Cotati Valley's green pastures and soaring raptors. A golden eagle or two has been spotted there. Hike down to the gurgling creek, which between October and June is home to some frisky frogs. Splash in the meandering creek. Continue on the looping trail where spring wildflowers--including lupine and poppies--abound. Search out lizards, snakes, and deer. Horses are allowed on the outer trails, and leashed dogs are welcome. But best of all, you can leave your cares behind--there's a sheltered calm about this place that takes you just a few hundred yards from civilization but miles away from your hectic schedule. And that may be the best gift you can give your kids.
Off Petaluma Hill Road, a mile south of Sonoma State University, turn east on Roberts Road and continue to 6107 Pressley Road. The park is open from sunrise to sunset. There is a $3 parking fee. 707.565.2041.--G.C.

Best North Bay Alien Sighting

Question: What's got three legs, a long, headless neck, and likes to fondle and grope other three-legged, headless-necked creatures? Answer: Who the hell knows? But if you want to see one, just drive by 310 W. Sierra in Cotati where you'll find two enormous, concrete-bodied specimens--mutated dinosaurs? moon beasts? what the hell are they?--frolicking away in a tiny, white-picket-fenced yard. Whatever they are, they're kind of cute, and we're truly glad to see them whenever we happen to drive by--just as long as they stay on the other side of that fence. --D.T.

Best Place to Flirt with Death in the Name of Birding

The electrical lines stringing the Petaluma-Valley Ford Road from Two Rock are weighty this spring with huge, brooding raptors. But who can catch the field marks while speeding by at 55? Sure, you could stop the car, perhaps, on one of those narrow rural shoulders. But if you're set on driving, the best way to see them is to hunker up close to the steering wheel and peer up through the top of the windscreen. Zoom! Was that a red-tail? Zoom! Did it have a mouse in its talons? Zoom! Oh look, an osprey! Crash! Hope not.
From Petaluma, take Bodega Avenue west; from Bodega Bay, take the Bay Highway inland to the Petaluma-Valley Ford Road. --G.G.

Best Place to Feed a Bunch of Little Friendly Fish and One Lonely Duck

If you like wandering the paths around Spring Lake but are looking for just a little more action, I've got the place. And in your best Sammy Davis Jr. voice I know you're saying, "Yeah, baby!" Annadel State Park embraces the small but scenic Lake Ilsanjo. If you're into strolling, the hike is a good four- to five-hour roundtrip with a mix of steep inclines and flat meadow paths. To get to Lake Ilsanjo, take the main trail in Annadel up the steep hill; this will lead you to the top where a marker indicates the trail to Ilsanjo. If you go, give yourself some time to relax near the dam, where there is a bench and a small accessible shore that allows you to sit with your feet in the water. Bring some bread crumbs for the lone duck and the tiny little fish that come up to you as you sit. Activity in the area varies, so you can either be alone to smooch with your love, or look on as the more active types jump off their bikes and swim across the lake.
6201 Channel Drive, Santa Rosa. 707.539.3911. --J.W.

Best Time to See Naked Ladies

One late July morning I was driving my lady friend home from Occidental down Bohemian Highway. "Look at how all the naked ladies come out this time of year!" I was moved to exclaim. For a mile or so she searched both sides of the road in vain to catch a glimpse of west Sonoma County women maybe puttering around their yards in their natural state. Then she asked me what the hell I was talking about. They are, after all, only little flowers that dot the driveways and roadsides here and there. Long after the riot of spring has wilted and the green leaves of these nondescript plants have withered away into the dust, in the heat of the summer when the hills are a golden tinderbox, they appear. Out of impossibly hard, rocky soil or dry adobe, with vegetative might the green stalks burst forth to reveal delicate, pale pink flowers. Seeing them come back every year, I get a little sentimental. It's like spring fever's last stand. --J.K.

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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Best Place for a Creepy Late-Night Barbecue

At the overnight camping area within San Rafael's awesome China Camp State Park, there are a small number of fire rings that have been the hot spot for countless barbecues and cookouts. One of them--and the local rangers are loath to point out which one--marks the spot where 16-year-old Marlene Olive and Chuck Riley, her 20-year-old love slave, incinerated the freshly murdered bodies of Jim and Naomi Olive, Marlene's mom and dad. The famous "BBQ Murders," as they came to be known, took place in 1975, shocking the populace of otherwise boring Terra Linda, where the Olive's had lived in relative anonymity. The sensational story was crammed with freaky details--kinky sex, drugs, black magic, brainwashing, and late-night television--and became the subject of Richard M. Levine's best-selling 1982 book, Bad Blood: A Family Murder in Marin. That the incineration itself took place so close to the spot where countless teens had gone to grope only added irony to the whole sordid tale. The barbecue pits--still open to the public--are in the overnight camping section and are thus off limits to daytime picnics. If you go, bring a tent, a sleeping bag, and your nerves, because--especially if you know what took place there 27 years ago--the place does seem kinda haunted. Oh, and don't forget the marshmallows.
101 North to San Rafael. From North San Pedro exit, east on North San Pedro Road five miles to China Camp Village. 415.456.0766.--D.T.

Best Place to Stage Your Own 'Survivor'

Say you're feeling mildly athletic on a clear winter day. How about the Muddy Hollow Trail at the Pt. Reyes National Seashore? How about the fact that, from November to March, it just simply ain't there? That doesn't bother, hearty outdoors-loving you, oh no. You stride right by the little inconspicuous sign that quietly whispers, "Trail under water." Allow us to gently suggest to the Forest Service that perhaps a lengthier but more complete sign should read: "After a verdant, rolling walk, you'll get three-quarters of a mile in only to discover that the trail ends totally, at which point you must scramble up deer trails featuring the unusual impression of hooves actually sliding downward in the mud, will have to hang on to poison oak to steady yourself, and will hopefully have the wherewithal to determine your location, whereupon you'll scramble down through more poison oak only to climb through bracken and muck, pull yourself over downed trees, avoid water snakes, and finally thrash through the last 100 yards of slough before regaining a semblance of road." And should the sign still have a skosh more room for text, perhaps it could further announce, "This is fun."
Limantour Road, opposite the turn off to the AVH Hostel, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. 415.464.5100.--G.G.

Best Place We Won't Tell You About

It's on the Russian River. It's public. It's rustic and wild and gorgeous, smack along the water on one side and snuggled by a wide, grassy meadow on the other. OK, we'll admit that it's camping, but you can walk from there to get a full Indian meal instead of washing dishes in the dark. It's not the Pomo Canyon. If you haven't smoked in five years, you can bike to Occidental from there; if you have, content yourself with the struggle over to Shell Beach. Bring your own water. You can buy wood in Jenner. Oops, that's too good a clue. Shhh.
Shoreline Hwy. 1 at Bridge Haven, go east young person.--G.G.

Staff Picks:
Food & Drink
Kid's Stuff
Everyday Stuff

Readers Poll:
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From the March 21-27, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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