Paradise Recreation and Park District has plans to increase opportunities throughout its jurisdiction. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Paradise is thriving. All one has to do is listen to Dan Efseaff to know this is true.
Efseaff, who has more than 20 years of experience as a restoration ecologist and land manager, is district manager for the Paradise Recreation and Park District. It’s a job he took about 16 months before the devastating 2018 Camp Fire that charred so much of the land that he oversees.
In January he led a group of curious people through several of the parks in his district. This was one of the field trips during the annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway. Most of us on the expedition were from Butte County, though one couple was from Davis and one woman was from the Bay Area.
Efseaff is a believer in defensible, saying that is why the Terry Ashe Recreation Center in the middle of town survived.
Dan Efseaff, who leads Paradise’s parks department, talks about improvements coming to Bille Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
As his department works on plans for what the park system will look like in the coming years, Efseaff wants to create “buffers” that will ideally lessen the impact of future fires. These can be hardscapes, and include ridding an area of flammable invasive plants as well as trimming up ladder fuels.
Fire management comes in many forms, with the rec department an advocate for using goats to munch down flammable flora. March 25 marks the second annual Paradise Grazing Festival.
A pavilion stands at Bille Park that during the Camp Fire became a shelter for about 100 people from the neighborhood. People eventually broke into the building where they were protected from the 50 mph winds, and 70 mph gusts.
“There are a lot of things we can do infrastructure-wise in the future. We need to think how else we would use buildings beyond their main purpose,” Efseaff said.
Bille Park in some ways is more like a traditional city park, though parts of it are rugged—because, well, that’s the natural landscape. By fall a new trail to a grotto should be finished. An ADA compliant trail will be built to a lookout over the canyon where a house once sat. The woman who lost her home left the parcel to the park district with the belief, according to Efseaff, that everyone should enjoy that view.
Coutolenc Park is ripe for opportunities for hikers and mountain bikers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Paradise represents only 10 percent of the park district, according to Efseaff. His staff is responsible for 172 square miles, with acreage going almost to Stirling City, so it includes Magalia, out to Concow and borders Chico.
At the next stop we see an abundance of serpentine rock, California’s state rock. This is off Coutolenc Road. The green reminds me a bit of sandstone in color, but it’s nothing like it in composition.
We cross the street where we can see the Magalia Reservoir and dam. The goal is that Lake Ridge Park (the name may change) will be built in 2027-28. Plans are for it to have a ballpark, welcome center, bike course, ziplines, and more than 15 miles of trails that loop out to Paradise Lake.
Expansion of the old Butte County railway into a multi-use trail is on the district’s master plan.
The pavilion and adjacent building at Bille Park became a refuge for people during the 2018 Camp Fire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Coutolenc Park is the largest undeveloped park the district manages. It’s just a bunch of trees, many of them burned. The potential for miles and miles of trails is intriguing. It might be worth coming back with a mountain bike, especially an e-bike.
The district owns this 330-acre park through a land patent with the Bureau of Land Management. This means the BLM retained the timber and mining rights. That in part is why it looks the way it does–like a ravaged, unkempt forest.
“They left us a mess,” Efseaff said. “We will clean it up. We will probably do a broadcast burn in the next year with torches. We need to get this burned and make it a healthy forest.” He was pointing to the growth of flammables like ceanothus and manzanita.
“I’d like to see it go from a conifer to an oak forest that is maintained by fire,” he said. “Within 20 years this could be a healthy forest, a park-like setting.”
Efseaff is a believer that fire is good. Just not fire that burns hot and out of control like the wildfires that have engulfed so much of the state in the last few years. Managed fire, that’s what his department embraces.
At Paradise Lake, not far up the road from Coutolenc Park, are more opportunities for the park district. It has only recently been responsible for recreation here.
Creating event camping and expanding kayaking opportunities are on the drawing board. The old caretaker’s house will be repurposed for public use.
Throughout the excursion Efseaff was always hopeful of what the charred and not burned lands will look like in the future. The array of planned trails should make any outdoor enthusiast ecstatic. It was encouraging to hear about a vision focused on the future and life after destruction.
California Missions Museum in Sonoma County tells a brief story about the 21 missions in the state. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
While it’s possible to find a slice of California’s mission history throughout much of the state, the one place that captures all 21 of these sites is in Sonoma County.
It’s appropriate that the California Missions Museum is tucked into a back corner of the Cline Family Cellars property. This is because on July 4, 1823, Father Jose Altimira founded Mission San Francisco Solano by erecting a cross on what is now the Cline property. The actual mission was eventually built five miles away near the town square of Sonoma.
The replicas of each mission were commissioned for the 1939 World’s Fair in San Francisco. When they went to auction several years ago Nancy Cline bought the collection for more than $20,000. The museum opened in 2006.
Pre-pandemic the museum, located on the back of the winery property, was open every day the winery was open.
Stain glass originally at the mission in San Francisco is part of the Sonoma County museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
When I was there in early February the museum was being used as the wine club members’ tasting room. No one stopped us from meandering around. And in a follow-up call to the winery an employee said people could visit the museum for free Friday-Sunday.
The unfortunate part of how it’s set up now is that it doesn’t feel very welcoming. In some ways it’s like you are crashing a private party with the wine tasting that you can’t partake in.
Plus, with how close some of the tables are to the displays, it was hard to see everything. In addition, while more things were obviously on display upstairs in a balcony area, the stairs themselves were cordoned off.
While I realize businesses are still adjusting to life post-pandemic, it’s shameful Cline isn’t doing all it can to make the museum more accessible and to welcome those who are visiting it. Not a single person at the winery acknowledged our presence.
A brief commentary about each mission is situated at its replica. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Even with the off-putting reception, the museum was still an interesting place to visit. A replica of each of the missions (and these only represent the ones in present day California, not all of the ones that are in Baja) is enclosed in acrylic cases. Many look similar, but all are unique in their own right.
At one end of the wood building is a large stained glass window that came from Mission Dolores in San Francisco.
A book meant to look like it was written centuries ago in calligraphy is at each mission display telling a bit about that particular site. For instance, about Santa Cruz, the 12th mission, it says, “In 1840 an earthquake wrecked the church building and a tidal wave completed the ruin.”
Regarding the Santa Barbara mission, museum-goers learn that today it is being used as a college for Franciscan priests.
As for Mission Solano, the one in Sonoma, “The site was purchased in 1903 by Mr. William Randolph Hearst, the publisher, and he deeded it to the state of California as an historic landmark. Since then it has had the best of care.”
Patrick Amiot’s yard in Sebastopol is full of his junk art. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Babe Ruth, Batman and a mermaid all live on the same street in Sebastopol.
So do a lot of other sculptures that aren’t as easily identifiable.
These are all the artistic creations of Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent. He designs what he calls “junk art” and she paints these works used from scrap metal.
On both sides of Florence Street in this Sonoma County town creative pieces of art adorn front yards.
A creature that looks like something out of Alice in Wonderland is in one front yard. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
On his website Amiot writes, “The whole purpose of my work is to glorify these objects, because they have their own spirit. When a hubcap has traveled on a truck for millions of miles, and has seen the prairies in the winter and the hot summer asphalt, when it’s done traveling with that truck and finds itself in the scrap yard and I find it, I kind of like to use that. This hubcap, or whatever piece of metal, from the day it was manufactured until now, has an important history. And I like to think the spirit of all these things lived incredible lives. If they could talk to you, they could tell amazing stories. That’s something I don’t want to hide.”
The crow bar–is this a nod to a bar owner or someone who uses a crowbar at his or her job? (Image: Kathryn Reed)
When he first erected a 14-foot-tall fisherman in his front yard more than 20 years ago Amiot expected outraged neighbors. Instead he was met with applause from people who asked for more.
While many people on his street have one of his works of art, his home is easy to spot because it has multiple pieces. In particular I liked the taco truck.
Farther down the street was a bit of irony with a Volkswagen parked in the driveway and sculpture in the yard of a man driving a VW Bug.
Once a motorcyclist always a motorcyclist. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Some of the renderings are tall, some small. Just a guess, but I would imagine each reflects something about the person who lives there. There is a baseball catcher in San Francisco Giants colors, but it was hard to tell if that was supposed to be Buster Posey. Then there are two guys sitting in Adirondack chairs outside of a camper. A cow is driving a tractor; does a farmer live there? I chuckled at the group of crows sitting at the bar.
One can only imagine the fun Amiot must have in creating these works of arts.
If you are in Sebastopol, a drive down Florence Street is sure to bring a smile to your face. Or better yet, park where you can and meander a bit to feel more immersed in all this creativity.
The Bidwell museum in Chico is free, but is open limited days/hours. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
If it weren’t for John and Annie Bidwell, Chico likely would not be the city that it is.
Panel after panel, exhibit after exhibit explores these early California pioneers who transformed this swath of Northern California into an agriculture oasis, with a university, and city park that rivals some state parks.
While their mansion in Chico is open for tours for a small fee, the museum at the visitors center is free. Both are part of the California State Parks system. The mansion and property near downtown have been part of State Parks since 1964.
Four of us intended to tour the house (reservations not allowed), but the tours were full on the day we showed up. So, we spent some time in the museum.
For those who want to find out more about the Bidwells without seeing the inside of their former residence, there is plenty to see and read at the museum. You are bound to leave with a better understanding of the Bidwells and Chico, at least the early years.
One panel says, “In 1841, what became known as the Bidwell-Bartleson Party became the first American emigrants to attempt a wagon crossing from Missouri to California.”
John Bidwell, center, was one of California’s pioneers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Bidwell was in the House of Representatives from 1865-67, where he voted for the Civil Rights Act of 1866 and the Fourteenth Amendment.
Agriculture is one of his larger local legacies. He was the first president of the California Farmers’ Union.
“Rather than focus solely on profits from winter wheat, John operated Rancho Chico as an experimental farm. Bidwell helped establish crops that later became staples of California agriculture, including almonds, walnuts, raisins, and fruit trees. At one point, John was growing over 400 varieties of food on his farm,” the museum says.
John Bidwell died at age 80 in 1900.
Annie Bidwell was a force in her own right. She was part of the suffragist movement and is who donated the land for Bidwell Park.
The characters in the Peanuts comic strip evolved over time. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Even though Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz died in February 2000, so much of what he drew seems contemporary.
It was a delight to spend some time this month in the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa. It’s been open since August 2002.
The comic strip debuted in October 1950 in seven newspapers. Fifty years later it had appeared in 2,600 newspapers. Millions of people had the opportunity to read it every day. He created 17,897 comic strips.
The ink and utensils to draw mattered to Charles Schulz. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It was interesting to see some of the early strips because the characters, while recognizable, are not the same in appearance as what most of us are probably used to.
A quote from Schulz on a museum wall says, “Snoopy’s appearance and personality have changed probably more than those of any of the other characters. As my drawing style loosened, Snoopy was able to do more things, and when I finally developed the formula of using his imagination to dream of being many heroic figures, the strip took on a completely new dimension.”
The museum is as much about the evolution of Peanuts as it of Schulz.
Plenty of comic strips adorn the walls to remind people what a creative genius Schulz was.
Charles Schulz created characters who people still identify with. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Upstairs is the research center. A sign outside says, “The research center was built to facilitate academic and historical study of the life and art of Charles M. Schulz. The center is home to books, special collections, and photographs related to Schultz and Peanuts. It’s rich and diverse archival collection also supports the exhibitions inside the museum.”
Also on this level is a room where people may draw cartoons and comics, work on other creative activities, watch videos, and read comics and books.
More captivating to me, though, was the replication of his studio. All that was missing was the man himself. It felt so authentic, right down to the overflowing garbage can with crumpled up renderings Schulz felt didn’t capture what he was trying to say.
There is much to learn and appreciate in this museum. It’s definitely someplace that could be visited more than once, especially knowing exhibits rotate—with special ones slated throughout the year.
On the same property is the Redwood Empire Ice Area aka Snoopy’s Home Ice. After all, Schulz was an avid hockey player. On a recent weekend day is was full of recreational skaters.
A replica of where Charles Schulz created his magic. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The Sonoma Botanical Garden looks down on the Sonoma Valley. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The thing about Mother Nature is that she is always changing. Look at something today and it won’t be the same a day, week, let alone a month from now.
That’s why I’m already looking forward to my next trip to the Sonoma Botanical Garden near Glen Ellen on Highway 12.
With so many of the trees being deciduous, their barren branches are clear indicators it’s not quite spring. Still, some magnolias were popping out as were other blossoms.
The Idesia polycarpa is native to China, Japan and Korea. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It won’t be long before orange, red, pink and white rhododendrons shine. The shrub can be more than 8-feet tall.
The garden was founded in 1987 Jane Davenport Jansen, who died in 2000. It was first known at Quarryhill Botanical Garden because rock from here was mined to use in road building. (The 2017 Nuns Fire burned on three sides of the garden, but for the most part the plants all survived.)
Jansen had bought 61 acres in 1968, then added the adjacent 22 acres in 1998.
Today, a nonprofit runs the gardens. Just last year another section opened to the public. These are the 22 acres acquired a couple years before Jansen’s death. This area is the California Oaks section.
The plan is to plant species native to the Sonoma Valley in the soil that has been disturbed. This will then provide a bit of an educational opportunity like the rest of the property.
The Chinese weeping cypress looks moss is hanging from the limbs. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
While this section is pretty, it’s the other 25 acres that are part of the gardens that are more interesting. Ninety percent of what is growing grew from scientifically documented seed that came from China, Japan and the Himalayas. Planting began in 1990.
The goal of the Asian Woodland is to protect this plant diversity, while also showing people flora from another part of the world that they might not otherwise see.
Paths meander through the landscape, making for a tranquil outing. Seating areas are in picturesque locations. The only sound came from the birds.
Most of the plants have identifying markers.
Water flows from creeks into small ponds.
It’s easy to feel transported to another place—which is in large part what the whole purpose of these gardens is all about.
Emerald Bay is one of the many places in the Lake Tahoe Basin that Instragram users photograph. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
“They” say Emerald Bay is one of the most photographed places in the world. “They”might be correct.
Family Destinations Guide analyzed Instagram hashtag data to determine which California tourist locations are most popular. Lake Tahoe, not Emerald Bay alone, came in No. 4.
Even those who don’t do Instagram would likely put Tahoe in their top 10 list of must-visit places in California, and even higher for Nevada.
What wasn’t revealed in the information provided by the hashtag trackers or by reaching out to Family Destinations Guide was for what time period the data was collected. So, what none us knows is if the numbers are for all of 2022, or some other chunk of time.
Regardless, it’s fun to see Lake Tahoe deemed so Instagramable. With so many locations being photo-worthy, it would be interesting to dissect the data to know what is photographed most in the basin, in what season, and whether more tourists or locals are doing all that posting.
Not surprising is that Yosemite National Park was the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state with 4.8 million hashtags, according to the data provided. Venice Beach (really?) was No. 2 at 4.4 million hashtags. No. 3 was the Golden Gate Bridge at 4.3 million.
The next tier starts with Tahoe with 2.81 million hashtags. No. 5 was Disneyland at 2.46 million. Big Sur was No. 6 with 1.48 million, No. 7 Santa Monica Pier 1.47 million, No. 8 Death Valley National Park 1.3 million, No. 9 Alcatraz Island 1.2 million, and No. 10 was the Hollywood sign with 978,000.
Ibarra pottery is all made by hand in La Paz, Mexico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Imperfections can actually make something even more perfect.
That’s what happens with handcrafted pottery and glassware. Two glasses or bowls may be similar, even seem alike, but look closer and you’ll see each is unique.
Mexican pottery is full of vibrant colors that seem to draw one’s eye to it no matter where it is located—a kitchen, outdoors, on a table as a decorative piece.
Ibarra’s Pottery was founded in 1958 by Julio Ibarra and Juanita Chavez. They met in Mexico City where they were both studying art. They decided to join forces and create pottery together.
In the mid-1980s they moved to La Paz in Baja California Sur to where they had family. In many ways it was like starting all over as the Ibarra art was not locally known.
Julio Ibarra died in 2015, while Juanita Chavez was still working there last year.
In April 2022, Ibarra’s Pottery celebrated what it called its evolution in La Paz from 1987-2022.
Ibarra’s factory and shop is a couple blocks from the malecon in La Paz. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Today, the La Paz shop is run by the founders’ daughter, Vicky Ibarra. A third generation is also becoming potterers.
While they don’t like people to take pictures onsite, the pottery makers post pictures online of the finished work and of employees painting what is essentially a blank canvas. There are even videos of how the clay comes into being.
The store/factory in La Paz is continually turning out new work. Plates, glasses, wall hangings, pitchers, and so much more are handcrafted right there.
If you don’t find what you are looking for or you have an idea for a piece, special orders can be placed.
One of Ibarra’s Facebook posts sums up why handmade art is so wonderful, “When you are buying a handmade piece you must know it might have some small defects and you can’t blame the artisan. The truth is: it makes it unique. Why? Because when you are creating something with your hands no matter how careful you are sometimes it’s impossible to make it exactly like the others.”
A post on Ibarra’s Instagram page says each piece takes about two weeks to complete. All of the Ibarra pieces are lead free. What I have bought can go in the oven and dishwasher, though I haven’t done so.
I love that each is signed on the bottom, so you know it’s an Ibarra. (They carry other works at the store.)