San Francisco Chronicle: Long Valley Ranch Gets Along with Little Doggies

Author: 
John Flinn
Published: 
February 6, 2011

The poop-bag dispenser nailed to the tree was a good sign that we'd arrived at a place built with dogs in mind.

Sure, some hotels claim to be "dog friendly" - but when you arrive you're greeted with a tight smile, a three-page waiver and an outrageous cleaning fee.

With two large Bouviers and a golden retriever in tow, we were looking for a place that not only tolerated canine guests but welcomed them. What we got was a getaway destination built from the ground up with dogs in mind.

Tucked away in the grassy, oak-studded hills west of Ukiah, Long Valley Ranch is a close cousin of two other Mendocino County properties with an almost cult status among dog owners: The Other Place and the now-closed Sheep Dung Estates.

The formula at all the Sheep Dung Properties, as these places are collectively known, is the same: Modern, well-appointed ranch-style houses with floor-to-ceiling windows framing views of untrammeled nature, with communal stick-tossing ponds and lots of space for off-leash romps.

Set on a 500-acre ranch, the two houses that constitute Long Valley Ranch - Dog Trot and Glass House - are designed for families or multiple couples with multiple dogs. The smaller of the two, Dog Trot, was 1,800 square feet and more than spacious enough for my sister Kate, her husband, Fred, my wife, Jeri, and me, plus our four rather large, rambunctious dogs.

Why now? In late winter and into spring, when the grassy hills are green and the oaks are in bloom, is the loveliest season, with the most pleasant temperatures. You might be able to catch one of the seasonal-rate specials (see below).

The backstory: The original property, Sheep Dung Estates - five dog-friendly, off-the-grid cottages above Yorkville in the Anderson Valley - was sold off to guests in 2005. The owners built the four cottages of The Other Place on 500 acres in the hills above Boonville, and in 2008 opened Long Valley Ranch. Another dog-friendly property in Boonville is scheduled to open this spring.

Checking in: To those who've stayed at Sheep Dung Estates or The Other Place, Long Valley Ranch will feel instantly familiar, from the techno-industrial exterior to the Scandinavian décor, with tile floors and leather chairs to ward off dog hair. Dog Trot has two bedrooms with their own bathrooms, one of which sported a walk-in shower. From the expansive windows we couldn't see a single man-made feature. One closet held a doggie first-aid kit with hydrogen peroxide (in case of skunk encounters), saline nasal spray, alcohol and mineral oil. There's a wood-burning fireplace with a seemingly limitless supply of wood, and an outdoor soaking tub (presumably for humans, but you never know). Unlike Sheep Dung, which was off the communications grid, Long Valley Ranch is fully plugged in, with a large-screen satellite, a shelf full of DVDs, a stereo with iPod dock, a landline phone and, considering the location, surprisingly good cell-phone reception.

Dining: Ukiah, with a decent selection of restaurants, is a 15-minute drive away. But most guests bring their own groceries and cook in, as we did, taking advantage of the fully equipped kitchen or the outdoor grill. The fridge comes pre-stocked with a bottle of wine, milk and organic apple juice. The cupboards stock oatmeal and locally made granola.

Spend your day: Open the door and let your dogs go for an unsupervised romp while you sip an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and watch the red-tailed hawks circling overhead. A hidden fence encloses 3 acres around the house. (The fence at Glass House is under construction.) There isn't the extensive network of hiking trails you found at the older properties, but you can go for an unleashed stroll on the 2-mile dirt road leading back down to the gate at the highway.

Don't miss: Piano Lake, a large, man-made pond. There's a good supply of sticks and tennis balls for fetching.

Don't bother: Letting your dog hop up on the bed's duvet with muddy paws. The owners ask you to bring your own sheet for this purpose.

If you go

Getting there

Long Valley Ranch is 6 miles west of Ukiah on Boonville Road (Highway 253). When you book your stay, they'll send you a map. Make sure to bring it; it includes the key code for the front gate.

Where to stay

Dog Trot costs $225 per night midweek and $300 on weekends for two people and two dogs; with the additional bedroom (four people, four dogs), it's an extra $100 per night. Two-night minimum. Glass House is larger, with rates depending on how many of the master suites and studios you use. Check the website. Through March 17, there's a 15 percent discount on midweek stays.

There's no cleaning fee, but a few bucks left for the maid would be appreciated. (707) 895 3979, www.sheepdung.com.

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