Calistoga is a city in Napa County, California, the United States with a population of just over five thousand. It is located at the north end of the Napa Valley Calistoga AVA (American Viticultural Area), part of California’s Wine Country. There are numerous wineries within a short drive. The city allows visitors to see wine country as it was before freeways and fast food—only two-lane roads lead there and fast food franchises are banned by law.
Calistoga is a mere 90-minute drive from the bustling city of San Francisco, but the pace of life is set by the agrarian rhythm of the wineries that cover the pastoral landscape. A haven of over 450 wineries, the first commercial grapes were planted in 1838 but it wasn’t till 1976 that the region’s winemakers gained international respect by beating true French Bordeaux and Burgundies in a blind wine tasting. Winning that “Judgment of Paris” in 1976 boosted the area to the first rank of wine regions with France, and today Napa County, once the producer of many different crops, is known for its regional wine industry.
Though wine certainly gets star billing at many of the resorts in the area, it is about so much more than just grapes. For lovers of epicurean cuisine, art, nature and sensual pleasures there are a plethora of choices, including spas and bathhouses offering the opportunity to bathe in the regional mineral spring water known for its healing and relaxing properties.
Calistoga itself is noted for its hot springs spas such as Calistoga Spa Hot Springs. A local specialty is the mud bath, which refers to a bath of mud from hot springs water combining with volcanic ash. The volcanic ash found in the upper Napa Valley is derived from the eruptions of Mount Konocti and Mount St. Helena ending some 10,000 years ago.) Mud baths have existed for thousands of years and since ancient times have been used to treat health problems and beautify the skin.
Balneology sometimes referred to as “taking in the waters,” is an ancient method of gaining the benefits of mineral water through immersion, ingestion, and contact with the water over a period of time. It is believed that the mineral content within the water, especially magnesium, initiates a calming effect on the user.
Nearby attractions include an artificial geothermal geyser known as the “Old Faithful of California” or “Little Old Faithful.” The geyser erupts from the casing of a well drilled in the late 19th century.
The area has cool, wet winters, with hot, dry summers.
The first Anglo settlers began arriving in the 1840s, with several taking up lands in the Calistoga area. In 1868 the Napa Valley Railroad Company’s track to Calistoga was completed. This provided an easier travel option for ferry passengers making the journey from San Francisco. With the addition of railroad service, Calistoga became not only a destination but also the transportation hub for the upper valley and a gateway to Lake and Sonoma Counties. A 6-meter diorama of this early Calistoga can be seen in the Sharpsteen Museum.
Calistoga’s early economy was based on mining (silver and mercury) agriculture (grapes, prunes, and walnuts) and tourism (the hot springs). One of the early visitors was Robert Louis Stevenson.
In 1920, Giuseppe Musante, a soda fountain and candy store owner in Calistoga, was drilling for a cold water well at the Railway Exchange when he tapped into a hot water source. In 1924 he set up a bottling line and began selling Calistoga Sparkling Mineral Water, which became a major player in the bottled water business.
Calistoga was named a Distinctive Destination by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2001.
Drug Threat in Napa Valley
Despite the beauty of this bucolic region, its residents are not immune to the threat of drugs and addiction. Crystal methamphetamine remains the biggest drug threat in Napa County, according to the countywide unit that focuses on drug-related offenses.
“Methamphetamine continues to be trafficked into our country from Mexico by way of Southern California, the Central Valley and through surrounding counties including Solano, Contra Costa, and Sonoma. Methamphetamine has crossed every gender, age, and cultural line in our community,” according to the Napa Special Investigations Bureau’s annual report, which goes on to state that “The addictive properties and behavioral changes caused by methamphetamine is cause for concern.”
According to the same report, the illicit sales and abuse of prescription painkillers and sedatives have increased and may lead to a resurgence of heroin use and abuse. “This theory is predicated on the fact that many of the highly desired prescription painkillers are more expensive and harder to acquire than heroin, a substance that provides a similar high.”
A number of reputable facilities exist in the area to provide the assistance needed to help individuals find their way back from the destructive path of addiction.
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