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Hear yourself think: Beautiful places to find peace and quiet in Sonoma County

Ring. Beep. Buzz. Sing.

These are all of the sounds a typical smartphone makes in a pocket during the day if the user chooses not to silence it. Aside from the noise of smartphones, there’s always freeway traffic, leafblowers in someone’s yard, pundits arguing from the TV or radio and loud conversations in crowded restaurants.

Amid the hum of life, the sound of quiet can be scarce, and often forgotten — and it’s suddenly valuable. It’s a value that’s difficult to rate –– but one that can be necessary for mental health and, as one new study finds, even contribute to the local economy.

“We have fewer quieter places these days,” said Glenn Brassington, a psychology professor at Sonoma State University and Stanford University. “When noise is around, it evokes a response of ‘I need to do something.’”

Brassington, who works on mental performance with a broad range of clients from Division I athletes to Silicon Valley executives, notes one difficulty he has found is some people have never even experienced a quiet place. Some people may have never left their neighborhood in an inner city, and quiet is a new experience for them, Brassington said.

“One of the strategies I use is to have people go to a peaceful place and really have them soak it up to see how it affects their senses,” said Brassington. “Then when they’re back in their noisy environment, they need to practice going back to that place in their mind — often their heartrate will go down and their hands will get warmer.”

Brassington pointed out that, even unknowingly humans understand the power of noise and quiet, citing the juxtaposition of noise and quiet as a weapon in a football stadium.

“When I was working with the Stanford football team, the stadium would often grow quiet to allow our team to focus when there was a play coming up,” said Brassington. “But the crowd would of course be loud and stomp on the bleachers to distract the opposing team.”

Aside from the value in the mental aspects of quiet, a new report created by EcoNorthwest for the Pew Charitable Trust in July 2017 revealed “quiet recreation” activities produced an upswing in local economies surrounding certain locations managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management in northwestern California.

The term “quiet recreation” is defined by the report as not involving “significant motorized activity” and instead covers a wide range of other activities as “quiet recreation” including biking, hiking and camping.

The report examines data compiled from the year 2015 surrounding park visits and economic impact.

Visits to area lands managed by BLM near Redding and Arcata produced a total $41.2 million in revenue, with $29 million spent by outside tourists on food, fuel and other services.

A 2012 report from the Outdoor Industry Association reported more than 140 million Americans make outdoor recreation a priority and spend an estimated $646 billion a year on outdoor recreation, activities and gear — even more than household utilities and pharmaceuticals.

Despite the positive impacts of quiet both mentally and economically, it’s still a challenge for anyone in the modern world to find a quiet spot to contemplate.

Here are just a few local spots to chase the quiet:

Armstrong Redwoods

Address: Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, 17000 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville

Website: parks.ca.gov/armstrong

Phone: 707-869-2015

Hours: 8 a.m. to one hour past sunset

Forest Theater

Walk a mile or so from the parking lot of Armstrong Redwoods and you will come up on the 1930s-era Redwood Forest Theater. The 1200-seat amphitheater amid the tallest trees in the world presents an unusual and interesting place to find quiet.

“It’s one of the more peaceful and quiet spots in Armstrong,” said Michele Luna, the executive director of the Stewards of the Coasts and Redwoods, which operates the park.

“It’s a little off the pathway so not all tourists go there, but people come early in the morning to do yoga or meditate there and really enjoy the majestic redwoods.”

Armstrong Waterfall

Luna noted another quiet place within the park is a viewing bench near the park’s waterfall. The waterfall is accessed through the park’s East Ridge Trail beyond the picnic area.

“You can really sit quietly and contemplate life,” said Luna.

Austin Creek

The Austin Creek Recreation Area sits right above Armstrong Redwoods and shares the same address.

“It’s back country,” said Luna. “Less people and a very seasonal place — you don’t want to go there on a hot day.”

The recreation area holds a number of wonderful swimming holes, said Luna. However, they are not easily accessed and require a hike in downhill and a hike out uphill.

“It’s pretty grueling to walk through there if you’re not prepared and aren’t carrying water,” said Luna. “But if it’s a moderate temperature — there’s nothing like it. It’s very calm and beautiful back there.”

Fogarty also listed the recreation area as a good spot to discover quiet spaces.

“It feels very wild and remote,” said Fogarty. “It’s a really special place and I wouldn’t say many people get out there.”

Point Reyes

Address: Point Reyes National Seashore, 1 Bear Valley Road, Point Reyes Station.

Website: nps.gov/pointreyes

Hours: 6 a.m. to 12 a.m.

Phone: 415-464-5100

The glistening gem of Point Reyes on the edge of Marin County offers another place to find a moment of reflection. While the park does receive more than 2.5 million visitors a year, a weekday in the park or a more remote portion of it still allows for a number of spaces to find a peaceful spot.

Park personnel recommend beginning any park visit with a stop at the visitor center for a map and ideas on new trails to explore.

Abbott’s Lagoon

Head toward Abbott’s Lagoon for a short, pleasant walk through coastal scrub, pond habitats and small wildlife making brief appearances.

“It’s a really attractive area to go to,” said John Dell’Osso, the Chief of Interpretation for Point Reyes National Seashore. “It’s good for people who like to bird watch and for people who really want to get away.”

Drake’s, Limantour beaches

While Dell’Osso notes both beaches can get crowded on the weekends, he is quick to point out that within 15 minutes of walking either direction on the beach you’ll find yourself feeling all alone with just the waves and the sand.

“You really can get away from the crowds with just a short walk,” said Dell’Osso.

Email your comments, questions or story ideas to Melody Karpinski; melody.karpinski@gmail.com.