Breezes swirl down a corridor made by trees standing up to 100 feet and perched atop levees, which form the banks of the 200-year-old Bear River. Above rustling branches and the calls of nearby eagles, the hum of an engine cuts through the tranquil air. Dave Jewell of Blue Sky Powered Paragliding takes thrill-seekers—some as old as 80 years of age—soaring up to 500 feet above rolling, farm-dappled country and between Bear River's banks on propeller-powered parachutes. Though currently surveying Californian skies, Dave has led flights and organized clubs in Japan, Nigeria, Mexico, Germany, and France, and he continues to draw on knowledge of flight mechanics from extensive Air Force parachute training. Today, Dave takes off from 24 acres of campground, where a paragliding club meets occasionally to heckle poorly shaped clouds.
A sweeping bonfire pit, rustic picnic tables, and grassy swathes for RVs welcome campers waiting their turn to fly. Dave also mans a parachute and equipment shop where he conducts repairs and reanimates the corpses of dead kites. Dave insists that he never tires of his sport, as the weather and surrounding terrain are always changing, making his higher-altitude experiences "terrifying without being terrifying.” With a small wingspan, the motorized parachutes can also approach wildlife more closely than other aircraft; on one flight Dave found himself flanked by two bald eagles, beating their powerful wings just 20 feet away.
Long visited by dreamy visions of starting their own tour company, Jewels Wine Tours owners and Napa Valley residents Julia Young and Ryan Raes utilize their regional intimacy to construct guided tours to the finest wineries, distilleries, and restaurants the area has to offer. The team takes great joy in customizing packages to their guests’ preferences, whether customers are looking to taste-test a certain hard-to-find vintage, or just want to be driven around by someone other than the family dog. A dedicated driver handles navigation for the duration of each tour, allowing the grape gurus to focus on enriching the tour experience by answering in-depth questions and providing insights into Napa and Sonoma Valley history.
It's a daunting task to visit all the wineries in the Napa/Sonoma region?there are more than 900 of them. Luckily, Stacy's Wine Tours is up to the challenge. They whisk visitors to a wealth of boutique wineries and vineyards during customized wine tours aboard a fleet of luxury vehicles. Guests can cruise through the grape-dotted countryside inside a stretch limo or opt for a basic designated-driver service.
They can also skip the wine tastings and head out on a brewery tour via Tap in Tours. A tour bus described as an "Irish pub on wheels"?though it's missing drunken novelists and poets?ferries passengers to various microbreweries along the 121 and 101 corridors, including Lagunitas, Hop Monk, and Petaluma Hills Brewing Company.
At Mother Lode River Center’s 19-acre riverside camp, wooden bridges and river-stone paths crisscross beneath the shade of heritage oaks. For 40 years, the staff has upheld a mission of conserving this verdant expanse along the American River through recreational and educational programs. Leading half- and multiday whitewater-rafting trips on the South, Middle, and North Forks, guides ride with paddlers into Class III and IV+ rapids. Back on land, Mother Lode's team helps guests overcome real and perceived barriers through obstacles on the ropes course. Practicing what it preaches, the center adheres to sustainability practices such as heating water using solar energy, operating vehicles that run on 100% waste vegetable oil, and letting wild tents forage freely on the campgrounds.
Since breaking ground for Viña Castellano in 1999, the Mendez family has built an empire of Spanish wines complete with a treasure trove of gold and silver medals. Along with winery foreman Derek Irwin, the family specializes in the complex flavors of Tempranillo, Syrah, and Verdejo grapes. In the tasting room, visitors can sip new pressings and old favorites, and pick up a fine cigar to hilariously slip into a packet of exploding cigars.
Donna Hunter started whitewater rafting as a hobby, but after spending 15 years as a social worker in San Diego, she was drawn back to the river as a career. With a few friends for support and a goal to start a rafting-adventure company, she went to night school and honed her business skills. Today, with some of her staff boasting more than 20 years experience leading tours, Donna orchestrates trips down various forks of the American, Merced, Kings, and Tuolumne Rivers to pit participants against rapids as high as Class V. Certified guides lead these tours in Hyside self-bailing rafts and inflatable kayaks, with some rafts holding up to eight people.
Wilderness guides also connect their guests with civilization, often combining rafting excursions with wine tastings and trips to local vineyards. On these overnight trips and other multi-day rafting excursions such as family gold-panning trips, they build relationships with their guests, garnering a clear idea of their paddling skills and the amount of time they've spent practicing in their washing machine.
The company?s camp boasts tent cabins?with names like Eagle's Nest and Falcon's Nest?which populate riverside clearings between picnic tables, swimming holes, and volleyball courts. A camp shop prepares guests with river gear, and hot-water showers let them wash off river water. When not seeking action on the river, staffers organize camp entertainment, such as live music, games, and visits from a local gold panner who demonstrates his craft.