So you thought all
Wine Country had to offer was vineyards, beaches and big
by Debra D. Bass and John Beck
Freewheeling author, Tom Robbins got plenty of mileage out
of "Another Roadside Attraction", so we thought we'd give it
Now that spring has sprung a leak and Sunday drives are worth
driving, the never-ending quest to delight friends and
visitors with the wonders of Sonoma County continues.
You can always embark upon the breathless winery tour, but how much
palate fatigue can you really take? There's the beach,
but can you ever really trust the weather?
In the spirit of blue highways and college road trips, take your
faithful followers to the top of Gravity Hill (maybe throw
some Deep Purple on the tape deck), throw the car in neutral
and watch it slowly roll uphill. Or marvel at
well-worn coastal rocks where wily mastodons once shook
copious booty. Or, if you're up to the challenge,
search for the ever-elusive Statue of Liberty in Freestone.
In no particular order, here's a whirlwind tour of local roadside
Hitchcock's 'The Birds' School
of Avila Catholic Church and the Bodega schoolhouse both
appeared in Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 thriller that forever
changed the way the nation looked at the elegance of a flock
of avian creatures innocently roosting on a pathway or along
a high wire.
The irrational fear that the creatures are plotting to violently
take over the world still causes some pause. But for
horror movie buffs whose only lament about winged creatures
is their lack of potty training, a tour of "The Birds"
school and a peek at St. Teresa's may provide the perfect
Tours of the school are available at 2 p.m. Thursday through
Sunday; call (707) 876-3257 for reservations. There
are no tours of the church, but there are five Masses a
How to get there: Take Highway 12/Bodega Highway west, and
you'll easily spot the church on your left in the town of
Bodega; the "Potter School" is nestled almost directly
behind it (incidentally, this is about six miles inland from
Bodega Bay, where most of the film was shot, including
scenes at the Tides Bar and Restaurant where actress Tippi
Hedren rushes in after the attack on the schoolchildren).
(To read more on Mastodon Rock on a
In the naturally occurring
speculative phenomenon category of roadside oddities, we
present the rock formations at Goat Rock state beach.
The rocks are highly regarded among climbers, but
archaeologist-types see more that challenging nooks and
crannies for footholds when they examine the surface.
Geologists, paleontologists and others interested in prehistoric
happenings believe the rocks were used as scratching posts
by herds of migrating mastodons and mammoths about 10,000 to
20,000 years ago.
It has been proven that these animals once roamed our lush terrain,
and rock rubbing is a common enough animal trait among
modern species to fuel the theory.
But don't expect any "Wooly Mammoths scratched butt here" signs;
the hypothesis is still just a hypothesis, even though
everyone seems anxious to believe it's true.
What you'll see are smooth, highly glossed patches around the
rock's surface that have no other reason for being there
unless someone go happy with a portable sander. Most
of the rubbings are on the south side facing the water,
which leads us to believe that prehistoric animals enjoyed a
good view just as much as we do today; this, however, is not
being postulated by the scientists.
It's officially known as Sunset Rock, but excited archaeologists
are anxious to call it by the not-so-sentimental sounding
Pleistocene Park. We'd like to vote on the compromise
of Mastodon Rock, but nobody is asking us.
How to get there: Once you get to Bodega Bay, head north on
Highway 1 about 10 miles. Goat Rock will be on your
left. Stop at the second trail head and you'll look
out over a small field. There will be two visible rock
formations. Mastodon Rock is on you right. The
left-most rock has an easy trail up the waterfront side that
offers a nice view from the top.
Information: State Parks Department, (707) 865-2391.
Statue Of Liberty
"Give me your tired, your
poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the
wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the
homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside
the golden door."
OK, it's not that Statue of Liberty, just a amusing 10-foot copy
draped in Christmas lights for nighttime viewing. But
it made us smile.
How to get there: Head west on Highway 12/Bodega Highway
toward the shore and turn into Firestone (there's no
prominent city sign so be alert as you leave a winding
tree-covered road and see the inkling of a town on the
right). To find Lady Liberty drive to the lot next to
a windmill down the main drag and pull up to a wooden
platform. Walk up the steps for a view of the statue
across the water to your left.
Tip: Stop in at the gardens of Wishing Well Nursery for a
look at the classic sculpture of "Spring: The Garland
Ladies" that graced the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco
before the building was restored in the '60s. And run,
don't walk, to Wildflour Bread for whatever they have hot
out of the oven for the day. The Saturday special
Calyspo bread is stuffed with spices, coconut, mango,
pineapple and other heavenly things, but the Sticky Bun will
always be a favorite because it is truly the stickiest,
gooiest, yummiest sweet-tooth extravagance this side of the
neighborhood is littered with some of the most delightful
and decorative junk in the county. Artist Patrick
Amiot, whose favorite medium is scrap metal, has enchanted
or enlisted about a dozen of his neighbors to provide real
estate for displaying his eccentric creations.
We'd give you his address, but it's easier to have you look for
"The Strongman," an 18-foot-tall sculpture that uses the
body of an old rowboat, a wash basin as a chin and a trash
can and barbecue as weights to fashion the image of a
caveman-era strength trainer.
It's almost as much fun to look at the humor in the sculptures as
it is to decipher the items used to create them. His
neighbors' yards sport homages to the '60s television show
"Batman," firefighters, surfer girls, space aliens, farmers
and cute tongue-wagging canine sidekicks.
How to get there: Head west on Highway 12 and turn right on
Florence Avenue a few blocks past Main Street.
Tip: Family fun day or night. All the pieces
incorporate working headlights and taillights set on timers.
At sundown the block is cued to start twinkling. We
especially like "The Zucchini Brothers," a stack of circus
jugglers with trash-can bodies and heads from motorcycle gas
tanks. A series of lights flashes in sequence to give
the illusion that they're really juggling.
If you've ever become
obsessed over crafting a string of paperclips into a chain
or started stacking loose change into a tower of tottering
proportions, you'll love the Keishk brothers' colossal
It started as Sami's alternative to thumb twiddling behind the
counter at their corner market location in San Francisco,
and over the course of 3 1/2 years grew to a mass of 2,600
pounds of rubber bands standing a squat 5-by-5 feet.
Technically, it hasn't been rated in the world record analogs, but
Sami (the fanatic) and Nabil (who hates the rubber-band
craze but says "we can't stop now") plan to add another 100
pounds of rubber and then call in the officials.
The current record holder in Scotland weighs in at only 2,500
pounds or so. "We wanna make it big enough so that it
keeps the record for a while," Nabil said.
There is actually a steep, un-promoted international competition
going on. There's a 2,508-pound ball in Delaware.
How to get there: Pride Superette Market is located at 3398
22nd St. (at Guerrero Street), San Francisco. (415)
Tip: Don't touch the rubber-band ball. Some folks have
been snapping the bands and accidentally breaking the
strands, and the brothers aren't shy about telling you to
back off. If it's covered up, nicely ask one of the
brothers to give you a peek.
This Tomcat aircraft's
last mission was to Sonoma County in July 1995 when it
joined the Pacific Coast Air Museum as a permanent reminder
of the services performed by these machines and the crews
that maintained and flew them in defense of this United
So whether you drive by to take in the awesome power of the various
former military planes now housed there behind a chain-link
fence or park and stroll the yard, you'll likely find
yourself in awe.
On April 19 and 20, you can climb aboard an F-14A Tomcat and an
F-16N Viper for a bird's eye view from the cockpit.
How to get there: 2330 Airport Blvd., Santa Rosa.
Hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday. 10 a.m.
to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission $3, under 12
It's no wonder Errol
Morris' "Gates of Heaven" is one of the most quirky and
honest documentaries of all time. Its subject:
Bubbling Wells Pet Memorial Park outside of Napa.
Imagine over 10,000 pets (don't miss the birds and snakes)
resting in eerie mountainside peace.
Not far from the picturesque Foothill and Olive Tree gardens, don't
miss the Garden of Companionship--the final resting place
for the Gentle Giants (Great Danes and Saint Bernards),
Champions, Kitty Kurve and the Mighty Midgets.
How to get there: 2462 Atlas Peak Road, west of Napa.
255-3456. Open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through
Friday. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Behold the folk art of
Litto Damonte, the Pope Valley Hubcap King. Don't mind
that these days a lively pack of dogs roams inside the fence
of the tucked-away ranch, you can still park along the
desolate road and take a gander at the endless assemblage of
more than 2,000 hubcaps in every shape, size and glittering
Also, look out for 200 birdhouses, pull-tops and bottles that are
now honored as part of the state historic landmark.
How to get there: 6654 Pope Valley Road, just over 2 miles
northwest of Pope Valley.
Believe It Or Not
Buried with his mother
Lillie Belle and father Isaac, Robert Ripley is hard to find
in the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery. The only
distinguishing feature is the quirky "Ripley's Believe It or
Not" font on the marker.
One has to wonder if the world-famous Santa Rosan was rolling in
his grave when local barfboy Lance Ozanix was recently
featured on "Ripley's Believe It or Not" TV show for making
art by vomiting on canvas.
Actually, once you're there you should check out the fascinating
self-guided tour that features a memorial to 1906 earthquake
victims, the gravesite of a War of 1812 veteran and a locust
tree where criminals were once hanged. Look for
pamphlets in the cemetery office of Franklin Street.
How to get there: Enter the old cemetery from Franklin Street
just south of Poppy Road, and park by the mausoleum.
The maker lies about 50 yards south of the mausoleum and
about 30 yards from Franklin, near a large juniper bush.
Dwarfing his modest abode,
Fred Stoke's Redwood Highway ranch is a Luddite's tribute to
a bygone era when gas was pumped in tall glass cylindrical
tanks and oil was sold in bottles.
Collecting for only about a decade, the former business contractor
has amassed a sprawling yard full of historical treasures.
Art classes have been known to camp out on his front yard
and paint pictures of the mock General Store he built to
house his thousands of vintage oil cans, the Signal gas
station he salvaged from the corner of Fifth and Wilson
streets in San Rosa (back when gas was less than a quarter)
and the hard-to-miss horse-drawn farming implements that act
as a fence.
How to get there: 5525 Old Redwood Highway, between Fulton
and Shiloh roads.
It claims to have the
"largest petrified trees in the world"--not the "tallest"
because the once towering redwoods now lie on the
ground--but the Petrified Forest near Calistoga is still
Check out "The Giant," "The Queen of the Forest" and "Rock of Ages"
along a 15-minute hike. Read plenty about how a
volcano 3 million years ago helped turn the wood to stone.
Also learn about "Petrified Forest Charlie" who unearthed
the stony grove and was immortalized in Robert Louis
Stevenson's "Silverado Squatters."
If you're looking for kitschy, beyond the miniature mule and miner
statues frolicking in the forest, check out petrified-rock
"pets," earrings and key chains in the gift shop.
How to get there: 4100 Petrified Forest Road off Calistoga
Road, near Calistoga. 942-6667. Admission:
Old Faithful Geyser
One of only a few geysers
to earn the "Old Faithful" designation (based on regular
gusting intervals), the Old Faithful in Calistoga spews
about every 30-40 minutes on average. Sometimes it
feels about as glacial as making movies ("hurry up and
wait"); other times you show up and the geyser greets you
with a 30-to-60-foot gust almost immediately.
Don't miss the Tennessee fainting goats (they suffer from myotonia,
which can paralyze them when they're frightened). But
good luck trying to make them faint. "They were easy
to scare when they were younger," and employee said.
"But now it's pretty rare."
In the mini-museum, check out claims that the geyser fore-shadows
upcoming earthquakes. And while you're there, don't
forget to take a big whiff of that sweet sulfurous spring
How to get there: 1299 Tubbs Lane, Calistoga. 942-6463.
Don't ask why, just drive:
Down Petaluma Hill Road, past Sonoma State University going
south, turn left on Roberts Road, then right on Lichou Road.
At the top of the hill, you'll pass a large iron-grate sign
that says "Gracias Santiago."
When you cross the cattle-guard, look down a sloping grade that
clearly appears to run downhill. Go about 10-15 yards,
stop, throw it in neutral and say your prayers as the car
rolls uphill toward the cattle guard.
It's a strange "surrural" phenomena that has dazzled partying teens and
baffled ranchers for decades. Don't forget your
*The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa,
California, Thursday, April 10, 2003. You can reach
Staff Writer Debra Bass at
firstname.lastname@example.org. You can reach Staff
Writer John Beck at