Asteroids, you say? Well, technically, the black, glassy pebbles found in local vineyards aren't chips off some old heavenly body. Tektites, as they are known, are created when an asteroid smacks into our planet, vaporizing earth material and blasting it up into space, where it instantly cools, drops back down through the atmosphere and is strewn in little pieces across a vast area. Across the globe, there are only four known "strewn fields," as such tektite zones are called, and according to Sonoma State University geology professor emeritus Rolfe Erickson, the most recent one to be discovered is right here, in the Dry Creek Valley west of Healdsburg, between the Warm Springs Dam and the Russian River. "And the field might be even bigger than that," he says.
Erickson first began to suspect there was a strewn field in the area over 20 years ago, when a local woman named Kate Moore brought a box of odd glassy rocks into his office at SSU.
"I took a look at them," he says, "and I immediately thought that they might be tektites." They were all about the same size, all rounded or ovoid. "I thought they were very interesting, so off we went."
Erickson explains that when vineyards cultivate the ground between their grapevines, a large number of buried tektites are brought to the surface. After a light rain, which helps wash them off, these tektites can often be spotted among the newly excavated earth, easy picking for eagle-eyed rock-hounds—and curious geology professors.
With the help of his SSU colleague Steve Norwick—who was killed last year in a tragic bicycle hit-and-run accident—Erickson visited the area where the first specimens were found. "We gradually collected several thousand of them," he says. "For 20 years, we've been working on these guys, trying to prove one way or another if they are tektites."
Last December, Erickson presented his findings at the annual gathering of the American Geophysical Union, and the geology community has been in a spin ever since. "We've demonstrated that our hypothesis, that these are in fact tektites, is a reasonable one," he says. "We haven't proven it yet, but we've put forth the evidence that they do fit the model of tektites."
While the scientists study the evidence, the number of remaining tektites is probably dwindling, Erickson fears. "There is not an infinite supply of tektites," he says. "But for now, there are still a lot of them out there, waiting to be found."—D.T.
What a fresh and original idea I had on New Year's Day. Me, and umpteen hundred other people. Chattering merrily in five languages or more, jamming the parking lot at Bodega Head like I've never seen before—double-wide middle row—it's people, people, everywhere, crawling over the rocks like so many marmots. On any previous New Year's, this situation would have been intolerable to me—I'd have just laid myself down in this ditch, thank you. So this is what people do who aren't hiding under a blanket, moaning and knocking back shots of Pepto-Bismol on New Year's Day. Apparently, I'm not giving away any big secret here. In fact, you know, maybe stay away next time. Crowds, boo. Noisy sea lions. And the following raw sight may be disturbing to sensitive viewers: hanging onto a narrow cliff ledge, a hopeful buzzard awaited a wary, fuzzy-headed eagle to finish his lunch, a luckless shorebird that had made it to 2013 only to have his crimson innards plucked away, sharp-beaked bite after bite. Yeah, I remember feeling like that on New Year's Day. End of Westshore Road, Bodega Bay.—J.K.
There are those who do yoga to divine the great forces of Shakti and align the Goddess with the Blue Pearl within, yadda yadda yadda. Then there are those who go to Three Dog Yoga, the fun, down-to-earth spot that earned your pick as Honorable Mention for Best Yoga Studio. Owner Anna Guhin is more likely to bring in a live DJ playing soul 45s during class than to ask students to meditate or pray, and she uses real-world metaphors and an approachable style. Every Friday night is "Power Jam," set to high-energy music (a recent set included Talib Kweli, Dirty Projectors and Phoenix), and the occasional "Movies on the Mat" night brings classic cinema after class. Particularly well-suited for those trying yoga for the first time, Three Dog is the place where people say "namaste" after class—and then go out for drinks. 2097 Stagecoach Road, Ste. 110, Santa Rosa.—G.M.
On mighty, majestic Mt. Tamalpais, believed by some to contain the still-grieving soul of a Miwok maiden, the Dipsea/Steep Ravine Trail leads nature-seeking pilgrims through lush, cool forests, past vast views of the Golden Gate Bridge and alongside misty streams and waterfalls. Starting at Pantoll Ranger Station, the journey's most unexpected element is a 14-rung wooden ladder taking travelers down—or up, if you're taking the full loop—a short cliff beside an ever-changing waterfall. Of course, the waterfall is at its loudest during the winter months, when this piece of the 3.8-mile loop is the most breathtaking—and slippery. (Watch your step!) There's something wonderful about climbing a ladder while climbing a mountain. It's a little scary, even, and that's not a bad thing. Why else do we pit ourselves against nature, even on a manicured trail maintained by rangers and docents? Nature, in any dose, large or small, is ready and willing to hand out reminders about the shocking fragility of the human species. One wrong step and we're worm food. Better make every one of the steps count: don't count your calories, don't count your pulse rate and don't count the miles. Just count the number of times you catch your breath at the sheer, simple wonder of being blown away by beauty. Dipsea Trail, Mt. Tamalpais.—D.T.
Rising 1,700 feet above the Napa Valley Floor is Howell Mountain, where one can find Las Posadas State Forest, with secret trails, cattle grazing, hawks, owls and other creatures. But there was another memorable creature that visited Las Posadas in 2006, whose essence one hopes hasn't tarnished the place: George W. Bush. At the time, the now-disgraced president's sole visit to the Bay Area during his eight-year presidency was big news. Hundreds lined Highway 29 when word got out that W. was lunching at Meadowood Country Club, many in protest. (Some gun-toting local Republicans painted a 20-foot-tall sign that read "W.") One observer said seeing Bush's entourage of black limousines weave down the mountain was "like watching a snake." At Las Posadas, Bush joined the Travis Air Force Base cycling team in a vigorous mountain bike ride. His approval numbers had sunk even lower, his illegal war had dragged on, and he, of all people, stood to benefit from the forest's solitude. Digging deep into contemplation that day at Las Posadas, he told AP reporter Scott Lindlaw, "Generally, when I ride, it is the one time when I feel alone." Las Posadas Road, Angwin.—E.G.
California's coastline is "a big outdoor museum," says Coastwalk executive director Una Glass, one that offers a stunning variety of vistas which, remarkably, remain legally (if not topographically) accessible to all who want to savor them. This didn't just happen, of course, but is the result of an ongoing series of struggles, often pitting a small but determined band of defenders against forces with far greater resources and influence. The details of these battles are rarely mentioned, however, at the sites themselves. Now, technology allows you to bring that backstory to the scene through the lovingly produced series California Coastal Trail Podcasts, available for free through the Coastwalk website. The five podcasts completed so far reach from Bodega Head south to Orange County's Crystal Cove, and feature commentary from key players in those historic battles (such as Coastwalk cofounder Bill Kortum), framed by music from Mickey Hart. The other pieces, which average 10 minutes, examine Point Reyes, Santa Monica Beach and the Monterrey County coastline. "We have a tremendous number of ideas for more," says Glass. "We're just searching for grant funding to get them off the ground." And into your ears. www.coastwalk.org/cw-podcasts.—B.R.
Along the Sonoma Coast, the trail from Shell Beach to Pomo Canyon starts out unremarkably enough with a climb up a barren, wind-blasted hill, while the surf can still be heard noisily licking the rocks and sand clean behind. Craggy perches afford views of the Russian River, while farther on, thick stands of fern threaten to close up the trail as it wends uncertainly along the hillside. Then the trail turns into a dark grove of charismatically twisted cypress—God knows why they're here, randomly amassed on a northerly fold in the hill, but it's a little spooky. As if on cue, a watchful owl calls out in low hoots from somewhere in the trees: "Who, who! Who, who!" The trail breaks out into a sunny stretch. Above, fingers of fog reach into the interior hills only to vanish before your eyes. Then, just as suddenly, is a redwood forest. The air itself seems to be holding its breath, the sound of one's footfall is muffled, but unnaturally close. And then, there it is again, the very same voice calling softly from high in the trees: "Who, who! Who, who!" California State Route 1, one mile south of Goat Rock.—J.K.
Why vote Sycip Bikes the Best Independent Bike Frame Builder in Sonoma County? Perhaps it's the fact that they build everything from racing frames to those used by ordinary Joes and Josephines every day. Perhaps it's because they've been around now for upwards of 20 years. Perhaps it's the fact that they once built a bike specifically for the purpose of selling artisan meats. Or perhaps it's their attention to detail, crafting handlebars and decorative ornaments just the way you yourself would, if you, too, were a master of their fine art. 111 Fifth St., Santa Rosa.—R.D.