20 Years in Apple Hill
By Rachel Symons (Guest Blogger)
It’s that time of year again when the house fills with aromas of pumpkin spice, homemade chowder and chocolate chip cookies. The whistles and din of roaring fans waft in the background from the TV. It’s undoubtedly football season, too.
It’s a weekday in October when we load up the van with as many kids as we can pack in and head east up Highway 50. The golden hills spotted with oak trees soon turn to a rolling forest of pines trees. The air changes too. It’s crisp and, if air can, smells cleaner. There’s the heady scent of pine trees and forest floor, like fresh dirt, that lets you know you are not in the suburbs anymore.
Only thirty minutes later (an hour in kid time), we turn off the windy freeway and veer left for our first stop: High Hill Ranch. We pull into the dirt parking lot to the right, as there is always plenty of parking, and dash out of the car, running so fast down the hill towards the pond it feels like our legs just might fall off. We lean over the pond, desperate to get a glimpse of the fish beneath the surface. The water is clear and undisturbed.
The little dock jutting out into the pond catches my eye. To my five-year-old eyes, this pond looks like a lake and that little dock looks just my size. We all cram together to fit on the picnic blanket. I take the biggest bite I can from the warm hot dog drenched in catsup, which drips down my chin and stains my new shirt. The fries are mouthwateringly warm and salty.
Full from the hot dog and fries, I wander over to the edge of the grass. The drop-off and vast forest beyond captivate me. What’s out there? Where does it go? In my mind, the forest is like the beautiful wildness in Pocahontas as Pocahontas runs through the trees: Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest! The unknown sends wonderful butterflies through my stomach.
But now it’s time for fudge. And all bets are off. We make our way around the pond and past the wood fence that sports a large sign that reads, “The Fudge Factory Farm is Not A Part of High Hill Ranch” and another that says “Warning: Any unattended children will be given candy.” My mouth waters in anticipation. We can choose two candies to get, one for now and one for later. We scope out all of our choices, carefully looking at each piece in the glass cases, and then on the wooden shelves on the wall. This is the most important decision I will make all day. Candy? Fudge? Caramel apple? What kind of fudge? What kind of caramel apple? As I am my mother’s daughter, I choose the fudge. The prettiest fudge, the ones with white and mint swirls. The fudge melts in my fingers as I take my first bite. And to think, this is just the beginning.
Now comes the search for the perfect pumpkin. Not too small. It has to be big! And no dirt spots. Perfectly round. We pile into the van once again and head off to what seems like three different pumpkin patches before finding the pumpkin that is just right. We stop at what used to be a small petting zoo with a hay bale pumpkin patch, tire swing and sweet honey sticks. We go to the animals first. The goat pokes its head through the fence and nibbles at the red fleece jacket tied around my waist. We wait our turn to go on the tire swing. Five of us can fit on the little swing as we spin until we are dizzy. We don’t find a pumpkin we like here, but the honey sticks keep us energized for the next two stops.
We find just the right one at Abel’s Apple Acres, an expansive property with a hay bale maze. Hay sticks to my Velcro shoes and feels prickly against my fingers, but I don’t care. I get to find out what mysteries lay behind each turn through the maze. Is this the way through? Or just another dead-end?
I sit content with my perfect pumpkin on my lap as we make our way back down the windy hill towards home. The thought of my second fudge piece still teasingly on my mind.
Eighteen years later, not much has changed. High Hill Ranch looks, well, smaller than it did when I was a kid, but really, it is just the same size. The crowds are growing and we are signaled to park in the orchard. There is face painting and candle making, and the price of one caramel apple nearly makes me faint. But I see the smile it puts on my nieces’ faces and I know, this is their time to make memories here.
We lie out the picnic blanket and cram onto it as best we can. The apple juice is still thick and the pond still swarming with fish. The little dock catches my eye. The edge of the grass and the forest beyond all of the sudden looks a little less mysterious.
We stand in line for the hayride next to a little white shop with crowds of adults tasting wine and apple beer. The tractor hauling a crowd of people comes chugging by. Hayrides are $5 a person. We pile in the back of the cart, the hay sticking to my shoes and poking my thighs. The tractor winds through the sweeping landscapes of the apple orchards and through the grapevines of Madroña Vineyards. Wide-eyed, my nieces shift from one side of the cart to the other, trying to catch a glimpse of the vast scenery.
Once back at the picnic blanket, the intoxicating smell of apple pie makes us hungry. We order fries and a burger or two, but the real show now is the fried chicken. Our nieces anxiously await us to be done with our meal before dragging us towards the Fudge Factory. They get to pick out two pieces of candy. They both choose the fudge. The prettiest fudge with white swirls.
Another successful trip to Apple Hill on the books. Check out other GOTG experiences, as well as tips/advice to find the best apples, cider and other Apple Hill goodies HERE.