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24 January 2010 @ 12:00 pm
Wine Country Clouds  
Places: Mostly Napa County with a few shots from Lake County and Contra Costa County
Dates: January 23-24, 2010
Weather: Mostly overcast, sometimes raining and even snowing.
Click through for large versions (1400 X 933 pixels) to use as desktop wallpaper.

Fog on Mount St. Helena
It was foggy on Mount St. Helena as I was ascending through the woods but the sun was starting to burn it off. This is what it looks like -- magical.

Dappled Shade
Where the fog was gone, we had dappled had sunlight instead.

Mount St. Helena is located within Robert Louis Stevenson Park. Scottish Stevenson is the author of Treasure Island, the genre-building work in the pirate genre. This monument is on the site of the cottage in which Stevenson spent his honeymoon with the American Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne. They are buried together on top of Mt. Vaea in Western Samoa.

Clouds in the Valley
Coming out of the woods on the south side of the mountain, we can see down into the valley below.

Panorama I
I liked the view so much, I created a panorama of it. As you can see, the cloudscapes were fantastic. This photo essay isn't called Wine Country Clouds for nothing.

Picnick Spot
Still looking south, this is where I had my lunch.

Panorama II
Further on, this is looking southwest.

Panorama III
On the eastern flank of the mountain, more snow remains. When rain falls in the valleys, it snows up here.

Manzanita in Snow
It's not that common to see manzanitas surrounded by snow but there are several species that are hardy.

Cloud Road
Here is the manzanita in context, on the right side of the fire road that leads up to the summit. The weather coming in from the south-west was gradually turning worse.

Cobb Mountain, Possibly
Getting to the north side of the mountain, it's still sunny. I think this is Cobb Mountain. I turned around not long after taking this photo because it started to snow.

Angels in Middletown, Lake County
After my interrupted hike, I drove further along Hwy 29 into Lake County. I have this idea that I'd like to visit all counties of California, so this was an opportunity to tick another box. There are 58 of them, so I have my work cut out for me. So far I've been to 20:
  • Alameda
  • Contra Costa
  • Los Angeles
  • Marin
  • Mendocino
  • Merced
  • Monterey
  • Napa
  • San Benito
  • San Francisco
  • San Joaquin
  • San Louis Obispo
  • San Mateo
  • Santa Barbara
  • Santa Clara
  • Santa Cruz
  • Solano
  • Sonoma
  • Stanislaus
  • Ventura

To get back to the photo of angels above, it's taken outside Middletown in Lake County, in a Catholic cemetery.

Double Rainbow
This is taken nearby. It was raining and the sun was shining at he same time. Predictably, there were rainbows. Here's a double one. Lake County, at least the parts I visited, is rather flat.

Detert Reservoir
It was getting dark as I drove back toward Napa County and my B&B in Calistoga. This is Detert Reservoir. Surprisingly for such a large expanse of water, I can't find any information about it on the web. Apparently a rare mineral called Idrialite, chemical formula C22H14, was found there once. That's all I found.

Vinyard and Hills
This is a photo I could have taken many times over during this trip. Vinyards in the valley, hills in the distance became a familiar sight. And what a sight it is! I think this was on Pope Valley Road, back in Napa County.

Napa Valley is bounded by two mountain ranges going in a north-north-westerly/south-south-easterly direction. On the western side is the Mayacamas Mountain Range, on the eastern the Vaca Mountains. Here I'm coming down the Vaca Mountains side and watching the sun set behind the Mayacamas. The dramatic cloudscape is illuminated from behind by the sinking sun. As an added bonus, fog is starting to form along the canyon in the middle of the photo.

Table Mountain
The last shot of the day is taken along the famous Silverado Trail. Here again we have vinyards in the foreground, hills in the background.

Napa Vinyard
The next day I got an early start. That turned out to be a good thing. Even on a drizzly January weekend, the wine country roads get very busy very quickly. I stopped on the way at a vinyard to take some more photos.

Bend in the Road
To escape the crowds, I decided to take some backroads. It used to be that the Silverado Trail was considered a backroad but there are so many wineries along it, it sees a lot of traffic. Napa is the second most popular tourist attraction in California, after Disneyland. True, the crowds are spread out over larger areas, but that also means they all have to transport themselves between wineries, spas, B&B's and parks. This is why it was so important to get an early start.

I took the Silverado Trail down to Napa (the county seat) and hung a left onto Hwy 121. Then I turned right onto Wooden Valley Road, which eventually turns into Suisun Valley Road before it meets the freeway, Interstate 80.

The photo above was taken on 121, not long after I had an "only in Wine Country" moment. My humble Asian sedan was passed by a champagne-colored Cadillac pickup truck. Those are not common but they fit right into the luxury gentleman farmer ideal of viticulture in California.

I had no information about Hwy 121 but it looked good on the map and it turned out to be very scenic.

River in the Valley Below
Another scenic view from Hwy 121. This is not far from the turnoff to Wooden Valley Road. I thought it was lovely with the river meandering through the valley. I wonder what's creating that tendril of fog that's crossing over the ridge in the background.

Carquinez Bridge
I-80 crosses the Carquinez Strait by means of the Carquinez Bridge. Just after the crossing, I turned off the freeway to a scenic overlook on the western side of the bridge. The weather wasn't really cooperating but you can still see that it's a grand view.

Panorama IV
The large body of water on the left is the San Pablo Bay, the upper part of the San Francisco Bay. What looks like an island is actually the western bank of the Napa River. Mare Island Naval Complex inhabits the tip of it. The buildings on the eastern bank are Vallejo. The pier sticking out to the left is part of Mare Island Historic Park. The little cove just to the left of the bridge is Morrow Cove.

The bridge itself is actually two bridges of different construction. In front you see a suspension bridge built in 2003. Behind it is a cantilever bridge from 1958.