Most of us have favorite go-to places, destinations that refresh us but are not necessarily far from home. It could be a walk in the woods, a stroll around the lake, or simply relaxing in one’s own backyard. The historic town of Calistoga, in the Napa Valley, California, has long been one of my favorite retreats.
Calistoga is just far enough away from home to feel like a true getaway. Even given today’s difficult traffic conditions, a trip to Calistoga can be accomplished in just under two hours. The town is known for its natural hot springs, wineries, and spas and resorts.
Just one month ago, Calistoga was under mandatory evacuation orders due to one of several major wildfires in Northern California. The Tubbs Fire, which affected both Napa and Sonoma Counties, was the most destructive fire to date in California history. Over 8,400 structures were burned during the fires, including personal homes, wineries, and hotels, with losses totaling over $1 billion. Dozens of people lost their lives.
A week after the start of the fires, I flew into the San Francisco International Airport (SFO) on a flight from the east coast. Normally, I love to view the journey from the air, seated in a window seat. On this occasion, all flights coming into the Bay Area were delayed on average by 190 minutes. The views upon arrival were heartbreaking. As far south as San Jose, the air was dense with yellow and grey smoke.
Ultimately, the town of Calistoga was spared, but the fires had significant impact on people’s lives. Many employees staffing the wineries, shops, and resorts have lost their homes or apartments. Businesses were destroyed, and others suffered appreciable setbacks.
Multiple disasters have affected the lives of individuals throughout our country this past summer and fall. Charitable organizations in Texas, Florida and Northern California have supported the recovery efforts from hurricanes and fires, providing temporary homes, food and clothing. But people need to get back to work, as well.
It had been many months since we last visited the Napa Valley, but we recently made it a point to go to Calistoga. One month after the devastating fires, recovery efforts were noticeable. The air was clear and bright, and blue skies were dotted with fluffy, white clouds. In the morning, I swam in a luxurious, warm, Olympic sized swimming pool. To both the east and the west, fog drifted down into the valley from the beautiful Mayacamas Mountains. Overhead, a pair of hawks glided past. Three fledglings followed, learning from their parents how to spot prey.
We heard stories while we were in Calistoga, stories about sleepless nights, fear, and evacuation bags prepared and ready to go. The smell of smoke from encroaching fire came in the early morning hours. People did what they had to do, grabbed their bags, gathered up their pets, and got out as quickly as possible. The lucky ones had homes to return to.
I did some shopping in town, as well as in nearby St. Helena. People thanked us profusely, just for being there. For some, life is returning to normal. Others are still struggling. At our hotel/resort, staff advised us to watch for winter specials. Most of all, they asked us to come back soon. In addition to our personal donation to local charity, a portion of our hotel cost was donated to helping those struggling to recover from the devastation.
Environmental disasters are becoming more and more frequent, and we must help those in need. There are many reputable charities that will use your donations to best advantage, and that are quick to organize on the ground. Recommended organizations for those affected by catastrophic events can be found posted online, or in the local newspapers of the affected communities. At this time of year, as we give thanks for the good things in life, please support them.
And as for those communities in Napa and Sonoma Counties that rely in large part on tourism, they are beautiful in winter. If now is the time for a needed respite, a trip to the wine country may be in order. Calistoga is open for business.
42 Dead, 8,400 Structures Burned, More Than $1 Billion in Damage: the Devastating Toll of California’s Wildfires, by Joanna Nix. Mother Jones, Oct. 25, 2017.