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Saturday, November 10, 2012

My Cloverdale KOA cabin adventure

On my most recent visit to Healdsburg for the Wine & Food Affair I waited too long to book at the Haydon Street Inn B&B. By the time I checked online they were sold out of single rooms. Hmmm, what to do? So I began searching through the recommended list of lodgings on the Wine Road website, a travel resource for anyone visiting Sonoma Wine Country. I called a few other B&B's before spotting the Cloverdale KOA Campgrounds, one of the 475 KOA's across the country.

Though I went camping back when I was in the Girl Scouts I've never camped since. But, just a couple of months ago I'd visited the Petaluma KOA while attending the Tin Can Tourists Vintage Trailer Ralley and had seen little log kabins (that's how they spell cabin, with a "k") lining the perimeter of the RV area where the rally was held.

The Pros:
  • Relatively inexpensive ($65 per night for a one room cabin)
  • Beautiful setting, out in nature, up on a mountain
  • View of the Alexander Valley
  • Lots of amenities including a very clean public restroom
  • Monday - Thursday you can book a single night which is great because all of the B&B's I've contacted require a minimum two night stay
  • Wireless internet service at every site (see below)
  • Dog friendly
The Cons:
  • Approximately 25 minutes north of Healdsburg
  • Electricity but no running water in the cabins
  • Bring your own sheets, blankets, and pillows 
  • The wifi is only one free hour, then you have to pay $6 per day. And it's slow. If you're only using it for web surfing it's great. But I tried to work on a blog post and the loading time for images was about 4 minutes per batch of five pictures, s omething that takes less than 10 seconds to do at home.
Ultimately I decided that staying in a cabin with no running water would be a great introduction for what it will be like once I have my teardrop trailer! So I booked a two night stay and looked forward to my little retreat.

The drive from San Jose to Cloverdale surprisingly only took about 2.5 hours. I ran into just a couple of small patches of traffic along the way. This time I took HWY 280, to the Golden Gate Bridge, then HWY 101 up to Sonoma. Normally I take HWY 880, to the Richmond Bridge, to HWY 101. So I can't help but wonder if the HWY 280 route is not only faster but also cheaper as I can avoid paying a toll as long as I return on HWY 880.

As you arrive at the campground you'll first see the office and general store. After checking in you'll be given a map and there are signs to direct you to your cabin.

I spotted the cabins ringing Annie John Pond. Before checking into mine I took a drive around the campgrounds.

Almost immediately I came upon a herd of Blacktail Deer. Some have darker tails than others. This one I was unsure of so I messaged Hank Shaw to ask his opinion. He said if it was in Sonoma County it was a Blacktail. Period.

It's great to know people who are experts. I have to say I have a lot of appreciation and respect for Hank. His approach to hunting and cooking is markedly respectful of the animals compared to the mindless way most eat the meat on our plates without a second thought as to what it is, where it came from and how did it get there. Hank is not only a hunter, he's also a chef and the author of Hunt, Gather, Cook. Click here to visit his website where you'll find both mat and vegetarian recipes with outstanding photographs and his hunting and foraging journal entries.

I pulled over, opened my window, shut off my engine and photographed the herd until they moved on. This doe actually had two fawns. I can't wait to go back in the spring after the babies are newly born.

An outrageously gorgeous poolside view at sunset.

There are a lot of amenities listed on the website. Not all are available year round. So if you see something you're interested in it's best to confirm with the office, before making your reservation, that you'll have access to that feature so you can plan and pack accordingly.

The restrooms weren't particularly modern but they were very clean. In fact, from what I could tell the entire grounds are very well maintained.

This wasn't my cabin but it gives you an idea of the spacing between them. If your neighbors are quiet you won't hear them. From 10:00 PM to 8:00 AM is considered "quiet" time.

My first night there was a group of three guys two cabins down from me who weren't being obnoxiously loud, just talking, laughing and having fun. But when I was ready to try to go to sleep I could hear their voices quite clearly. After 11:00 they moved inside their cabin but I could still hear them laughing out loud until I finally fell asleep after midnight. Ear plugs would have solved the problem. Unfortunately I hadn't brought any with me. The second night the guys had left and there were no other voices at all so I was able to fall asleep early. Which was great because I had had a very long day.

Each cabin around the pond comes with its own porch swing, a fire pit for campfires, a picnic table with benches, and a BBQ grill. Had I researched the website more carefully I would have brought my cast iron frying pan along to rustle up a hot breakfast in the morning. Next time.

Inside the very clean cabin was a double bed and a twin bunk bed. All of the mattresses had plastic covers in very good condition. You need to bring your own sheets, blankets, and pillows.

Here's what was in my cabin:
  • A double bed with mattress cover
  • A twin bunk bed with mattress covers
  • Two electrical wall plates (four outlets total)
  • Two windows with screens and curtains
  • One overhead light
  • A porch light
  • An overhead ceiling fan
  • A portable heater was provided even though a sign in the room said no heaters or cooking equipment are allowed in the cabins.
  • A small wall mirror
  • A desk and chair
  • A small bench
  • Wall mounted clothes hooks
  • A broom and dust pan
  • A plastic wastebasket with a plastic bag liner
Not bad for $65 per night.

I brought a cooler of food (some pasta, hardboiled eggs, and fruit) and water to drink. Next time I'll bring more and cook outside on the grill.

As for bathing, I've never been a fan of public showers so I brought along washcloths, a container of water and a plastic pan to basically take sponge baths for the two nights I was there. You could also use baby wipes but I figured an old fashioned towel was more eco-friendly. When I have my trailer I've figured out a way to take actual showers in the trailer. I know that's hard to believe but I'm certain it will work. I'll keep you posted.

But back to my cabin. There was a wood door with a deadbolt and a screen door. You can see the light and fan reflected in the wall mirror in the picture above.

And the view from my front porch. Just past the shrubs was the pond.

On Saturday morning I woke up early to photograph the sunrise.

With just a few clouds in the sky it created enough drama to make me glad I woke up early! The colors were incredible. It was a lovely start to what turned out to be a great day from beginning to end.

After the sun rose I stuck around to photograph Annie John Pond.

There were three American Coots and a duck named Lucy who reside at the pond. Here a coot was feeding in the early morning hours.

And the biggest surprise of all? I was sitting on the dock photographing the coots when all of a sudden a fast flying bird came tearing in over the pond. It circled the far end several times calling and squawking in a loud piercing voice before landing on a tree branch halfway across the pond from where I was sitting.

Immediately I knew what it was, a kingfisher! I'd never seen one before in real life, only in pictures and maybe tv. A quick search on Google and I learned it was a Belted King Fisher. The males have a blue band across their chests and the females have a chestnut band. I watched her for the 16 minutes she was there hoping to catch a picture of her catching a fish. In all that time she only made one dive and came up empty. But what a special moment. My only regret? I wish I'd brought my tripod along. I was taking pictures with my 300mm zoom fully extended while resting my camera on the dock rail and lifting it up just a bit to get the proper angle. So I had a bit of camera shake going on.

If you enjoy catch and release fishing bring your fishing gear because there's no charge to fish from the pond. Look into the water and you'll see not one or two but easily up to a half dozen fish at any glance. Myself? I wouldn't fish because it's too easy to injure the fish, particularly to tear up around their mouth, when you're trying to remove a hook. Instead I'd recommend fish watching, which I did in the evenings and mornings.

The water was surprisingly clear so the fish were easy to spot.

Look in and you'll see Bass and Bluegill Sunfish. Many of the Bass looked to be over a foot long and hang out near the dock.

And another nice surprise. Western Bluebirds were sitting and flitting in the oak tree near the pond. This was only the second time I've ever seen a Western Bluebird and first time I'd been able to photograph one.

I headed back to my cabin and noticed for the first time that the tree beside it was an olive tree laden with olives. I took two pictures, one facing with the sun, the other facing towards it. I can't decide which I like better.

I will definitely be staying at the Cloverdale KOA in the future and am looking forward to bringing Kitai along next year. Along with the one room kabins there are also two room kabins, lodges with indoor plumbing and kitchen areas, tent grounds, and rv spaces with full hook ups. Visit the website for rates and more details.

Cloverdale KOA - Website
1166 Asti Ridge Road
Cloverdale, CA 95425
Reservations: 800-368-4558

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