We're almost to that really big 25th anniversary (for which we are trying to save up the money to do something particularly spectacular). We celebrated our 24th with a train-themed getaway. I'd been trying unsuccessfully for the last two anniversaries to make a reservation at the Napa Valley Railway Inn in Yountville (from Lucy Poshek's Offbeat Overnights in California, of course), attempting to make the reservation at successively earlier intervals. I failed in May 2013, I failed in April 2014, but I succeeded in February 2015. As part of the train theme for the trip, we booked at ride on the Skunk Train from Willits. Anyone who knows more than I do about Napa and Mendocino Counties probably wouldn't have planned these two attractions for the same weekend trip, as they turned out to be something like two hours apart. If you were going to take a train from anywhere near Yountville, you would take the wine train, right? No matter, we would just be spending some time together with Sydney. Because, no, we did not take the train, or ride Scheherazade and Screech, all the way from home.
We had breakfast at the extremely delicious but also extremely popular Bouchon Bakery. Yountville is very chi-chi. The best thing Eric had was something called an "OhNoYouDidn't," a chocolate-dipped macaroon filled with salted caramel.
The food was well-prepared and tasty. The cafe specializes in shakes, particularly a chai shake, but they were out of chai so late in the day.
The Skunk Train runs through lovely redwood country, along a steep and winding route. The odiferous name comes from some self-powered gasoline motorcars used starting in 1925, where passengers were warmed by pot-bellied stoves burning crude oil.
You can hear the whistle blow
A hundred miles
The outdoor car was lively and fun, but when we wanted to sit, we sat in the concession car. The bartender promised that he would make the best bloody mary you would ever have on a train from Willits, and that his margaritas would have you singing along with the train singer.
When the train went through a narrow tunnel, the conductor made everyone come in from the outdoor car until we exited the tunnel.
Morning train trips have lunch for sale; afternoon train trips include a barbecue dinner. It was nothing particularly special, but it was serviceable. Even though it seemed almost everyone was from northern California, the side dishes were all designed to be comforting and familiar to midwestern Americans--corn on the cob, iceberg lettuce salad, potato salad, macaroni salad--bland as toast.
Eric pointed out that, while the Skunk Train now showcases the beauty of the redwoods to tourists, the original purpose of the railroad (built in 1885) was for "turning the forest into a meadow."
We got into a conversation with a mother from Marin, who talked about how the amazing redwood forest around us was but a shadow of its former self from 150 years ago. So many of the logged old-grown trees had been much larger, and only 5% of California's original Coast Redwoods are left (according to Save the Redwoods League). She talked about the fabulous trees she had seen on the McKenzie River in southern Oregon. She was fascinated Eric's pictures of the Neskowin Ghost Forest further north in Oregon, until she had to take her child back inside because he kept sticking his arms out of the train into the trees.
While it's true that the densest Coast Redwood forests are north of Willits, and Willits is approximately where US 101 starts calling itself the "Redwood Highway," California's Coast Redwoods extend further south all the way to Big Sur. Of course, we were riding through them on bikes rather than on a train three weeks ago in San Mateo and Santa Cruz Counties. Save the Redwoods League says Sequoia sempevirens, the tallest trees in the world if not the most massive (that would be Sequoiadendron giganteum, or giant sequoia), run for 450 miles (725 km) along the California coast.
Our thus-far touristy trip took a turn for the adventurous on the way back to Yountville, earning us some more quality time with Sydney while costing more than half an hour of sleep, when Eric missed a turn somewhere and we ended up back on US 101 when we were supposed to be on CA 29. We took one of Lulu the GPS' "shortcuts" back to the east, barely managing 25 mph on the dark, precipitous curves where Lulu claimed the speed limit was 45. Eric felt that he was totally operating the wrong vehicle; Screech (with new calipers) would have been much more appropriate for Lulu's back road.
The Skunk Train ride through the redwoods was worthwhile and enjoyable. I don't think we'll need to do it again, but it was nice to have done it once. Cycling through the redwoods is definitely a more intimate experience with the trees, but any experience with these beautiful trees is lovely.