NorCal casino adds indoor venue rivaling anything Tahoe has

NorCal casino adds indoor venue rivaling anything Tahoe has

The Venue at Thunder Valley Casino is less than a year old. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

When Thunder Valley Casino near Lincoln was being built more than 20 years ago, casino operators and tourism officials in Lake Tahoe and Reno called it a threat. The $100 million, 4,500-seat music venue that opened earlier this year could be even more of a problem.

The Bally’s (former MontBleu and Caesars) showroom holds 1,700 people, Harrah’s Tahoe seats about 1,900, while the new event center at Stateline will accommodate more than 5,000 people.

The Venue—as the facility in Placer County is called—is outstanding. The 150,000-square-foot structure is beautiful, functional and welcoming. Three levels offer fantastic views of the performer from comfortable seats. Two large screens brought her into better view from our vantage point. In many ways it felt like being in a large theater, which is much better than a stadium.

Slots are mostly the new style, left, with a few of the older ones, right, still on the floor. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The acoustics are state of the art. Which was perfect for listening to Jewel earlier this month.

The Venue replaces Thunder Valley’s 5,000-seat outdoor amphitheater, that was built in 2011. Plans are for the new building to host 80 to 90 musical, comedy and sporting events a year.

I look forward to seeing a performance at the Tahoe Event Center to be able to compare it to Thunder Valley. Yes, I know the two are different, but still, the Stateline facility intends to bring in musical acts.

Roulette is available electronically. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Thunder Valley, which is owned and operated by the United Auburn Indian Community, opened in June 2003. When it first started Las Vegas-based Station Casinos operated the site.

What was striking is how big the casino floor was. It seemed to go on forever. Multiple aisles separated various games, allowing for easy walking and never feeling closed in.

It has 250,000 square feet of gaming space–including more 2,700 slot and video machines, 103 table games and a live poker room with space for 240 players. This is more square footage than all of the South Shore casinos combined.

Jewel plays to a nearly sold-out crowd Sept. 15 at The Venue. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Harveys in Stateline has 88,000 square feet of gaming, Harrah’s Tahoe 65,000 square feet, Bally’s 45,000, and Golden Nugget (formerly Hard Rock Lake Tahoe) 22,750.

Few of the slot machines I’m used to existed. In their place are large, colorful, tall machines. I was even surprised to see electronic roulette. I know, I don’t go to casinos often—so all the games might be what every casino offers. They were so colorful and inviting, though I was able to walk on by.

Two reasons I don’t often go to casinos are because they are not where I want to spend my money and the smoke makes me want to run for the exit. In the short amount of time I was in Thunder Valley my eyes hurt and clothes wreaked. Thank goodness The Venue is a smoke-free site.

The front of Thunder Valley from a bar inside The Venue. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The upside to the casino that night was I left the blackjack table with enough chips to buy a round of drinks for the two of us, so it was a profitable experience.

Another thing about Thunder Valley—free parking inside the garage. Free parking at a Tahoe casino?—not a chance. Oh, and that new event center in Stateline—no parking at all; in other words, you have to pay somewhere else to park.

Sprawling outdoor museum pays homage to logging industry

Sprawling outdoor museum pays homage to logging industry

A fresh log becomes wood planks at the Oregon museum. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Remnants of the logging industry are scattered about Oregon like sawdust.

One place this is evident is at the Collier Logging Museum, which is less than two hours south of Bend, Ore., on Highway 97.

People have been cutting down trees for millennia—for fire, shelter, weapons, tools, money, environmental health. You name it. The evolution of tools to cut that timber and move it are on display at the Collier museum, which culls history from the late 1800s to present day.

The name of this state-owned site comes from brothers Alfred and Andrew Collier who gave Oregon 146 acres in 1945 to honor their parents. The state parlayed that into a 536-acre park, with the museum occupying the 146 acres the brothers intended for preservation.

The museum lost about 100 of its 10,000 artifacts in the 2020 Two-Four-Two Fire that burned through the park. Damage is still evident.

Free self-guided walking tours allow for one to set the pace of exploration. Relics from the 1860s to today fill the landscape. The trail is sectioned off with Horse and Oxen—1860-1900, Steam—1890-1920, and Internal Combustion (1920-today).

Some of the equipment is so rusted it looks like it belongs in a scrap heap, while most appears to be useable today.

While signage with explanations of what various apparatus were used for are plentiful, it was still at times hard to imagine how exactly these things worked. To see them fired up would be an incredible experience.

Logging equipment that looks like something out of an erector set. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The innovation, creativity, know-how to understand how to develop these tools and then use them is amazing. To see a machine limb a tree and be able to stack the “poles” in piles is mesmerizing.

Fresh cut planks at the museum proved that some of the machines are still put to use at least for demonstration purposes.

At the museum an old blacksmith shop with tools from another era show the ingenuity of those tasked with creating and maintaining instruments for the industry. With how little use my chain saw gets these days, maybe I should donate it to the collection here.

Timber was once big business in Oregon.

“In the 1970s, timber employed over 80,000 Oregonians. This accounted for roughly 1 in 10 private sector jobs, 12 percent of Oregon’s gross domestic product, and 13 percent of private sector wages. By 2019, Oregon’s logging industry amounted to only 30,000 employees, closer to 1 in 50 private sector jobs,” according to the Secretary of State’s office.

Much of the equipment at the museum is large in size. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A key advance was the railroad. As one sign says, “The railroad pushed into the Klamath forest in 1909 to haul the timber out where roads weren’t feasible. It allowed loggers to penetrate more deeply into forests and gave them access to many more trees than before. Logging operations could now move their mills far from the logging site.”

In the section starting in 1980, it says, “Engineering took the upper hand in the late 20th century logging. Both machinery and roads reflected the ingenuity and changing times. Powerful caterpillars, skidders, yarders, machines with grapple hooks, helicopter sky cranes, and balloons with ‘sky hooks’ enabled loggers to move trees from canyons and hillsides. New roads with bridges, rather than culverts, heavy gravel or paving and special grades to prevent erosion were part of lagging mandated by state forest practices laws.”

I recognize there are plenty of reasons not to like the logging industry—raping of the land being a big one. But I live in a wood house. I have a wood fence. I have burned wood for fuel. I work in the newspaper industry and want people to buy my books. I don’t see wood products not being part of my life in some aspect even if it’s not something I think about on a daily basis. That’s why I won’t condemn responsible logging.

I will advocate for better management of forests, while at the same time admiring the innovation that allows for growing, harvesting and milling of that wood.

Big blades are needed to saw through large-diameter trees. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

According to OurWordInData website, “10,000 years ago 57 percent of the world’s habitable land was covered by forest. That’s 6 billion hectares. Today, only 4 billion hectares are left. The world has lost one-third of its forest—an area twice the size of the United States.”

The museum acknowledges the pains of decades of logging.

“Workers, sawmill owners, and corporate investors confronted bad news in the late 20th century. The mosaic forests—old-growth, regenerating trees, and brush fields from fires were nearly all cut. The flow of timer from national forest dropped dramatically because of part harvest rats, set asides of wilderness area, and impact of environmental legislation.”

At the same time, part of the blame for the decline in logging and lumber manufacturing, according the museum, is put on “protection for fish, birds, mammals, rare and endangered plants, and cultural resources.”

While this is true, the tone came across as an either/or scenario instead of embracing cooperation, understanding and compromise. That was unfortunate.

Information goes on to say, “Timber companies developed habitat protection plans and set aside protection zones along streams. Reforestation became essential for the company that wanted to have a future. Some saw the logger and mill worker as yet another obsolete profession.”

The Collier Logging Museum in Chiloquin, Ore., offers free walking tours. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Address: 46000 Highway 97 North, Chiloquin, Oregon
  • Phone number: 541.783.2471
  • Hours: 8am to 8pm June-September, and 8am to 4pm October-May
  • Website


Bridge unites neighborhoods in S. Tahoe through outdoor oasis

Bridge unites neighborhoods in S. Tahoe through outdoor oasis


A bridge crossing Trout Creek in South Lake Tahoe brings neighborhoods together, with an easy connection to Lake Tahoe Community College. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Incrementally, paved bike trails are starting to tie key sections of the South Shore of Lake Tahoe together.

Original plans were for a 9.2 mile trail to go from Meyers to Stateline, with much of it following Caltrans’ original plans for a highway through the forest. It was once known at the Greenway Bike Trail.

A major section that recently was completed is called the Dennis T. Machida Memorial Greenway. The 3.86 miles link neighborhoods to each other and to Lake Tahoe Community College.

It was near the phys ed building at LTCC that I met my friend and her dog. From there we walked south, or was it east? I’m directionally challenged. It was toward Meyers.

It wasn’t long before we were crossing an impressive expansive bridge that covers Trout Creek from Meadow Crest Drive to Martin Avenue. In late June the abundance of water made me question what body of water this was. I was disoriented because the creek was well beyond its banks. That’s what happens after a winter like last year.

Absolutely stunning.

Mount Tallac in the distance, with a full Upper Truckee River in the foreground on the 206-acre Johnson Meadow parcel. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The structure meanders like water does. The subtle curves and how low it is to the ground means it’s not obtrusive while surrounded by all this natural beauty.

Machida, who this section of the trail is named after, was the California Tahoe Conservancy’s initial executive director, having served from 1985 until he died unexpectedly in 2005 at the age of 58.

We didn’t let the end of the paved trail stop us. We proceeded to the trail that goes through the Johnson Meadow, that since 2018 has been owned by the Tahoe Resource Conservation District.

We turned around at the concrete remains of what locals call the Hospital Bridge. A large section of it came tumbling down in winter 2016-17. It was a popular connector for mountain bike riders from Barton Memorial Hospital to what could be considered the Pioneer Trail side of the Upper Truckee River.

With this no longer being private property, it’s possible the original bike path could be resurrected.

In 2008, the CTC was projecting the entire 9.2-mile trail would cost $20 million to build. It’s going to be a lot more if and when the entire route is built.

Soft, sandy dirt adds challenge to ride in Carson Valley

Soft, sandy dirt adds challenge to ride in Carson Valley


Multiple choices for hikers, bikers and equestrians at the Fay Luther Trailhead. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“It’s sandy, especially at the start.” That was the warning from the anonymous man parked at the Fay Luther Trailhead.

He wasn’t kidding. It was like being at the beach or on some of the trails in Todos Santos, Mexico. If it weren’t for the motor, it easily could have become a walk instead of bike ride.

I’ve hiked most of these trails along Foothill Road in Carson Valley, so this time I wanted to explore by bike.

(Note: This trail links with the Jobs Peak Ranch Trailhead that also starts on Foothill, but no bikes of any kind are allowed from that starting point nor are they allowed on the connector trail.)

The Valley View trail is single track dirt with some rocks. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Mostly the Fay Luther system is a series of loops. I opted for the Valley View Loop because I had already done some riding that day and I was pretty sure I would be able to take a short cut to the house where I was cat sitting. Plus, any trail with the word “view” in it is going to be scenic.

Expansive views of the Carson Valley unfolded before me. So much green in late June.

Other than the soft dirt at the get-go, the Valley Loop was easy to navigate through a mix of sage brush and conifers. With it not being the heart of summer heat, the exposed areas were tolerable without shade midday. This would not be true all the time.

The Carson Valley seems to go on forever. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A slew of routes are available from Fay Luther. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I had to cross water twice. Once I could have easily pedaled across, the second was going to be too deep with a sudden uphill pitch to have made it successfully. I walked the bike through both sections since I didn’t know what I was in for.

Biking on a weekday meant I had the trails to myself. The only person I saw was the informative guy in the parking lot.

What always surprises me is the bulk of this trail system is in California.

Tour proves drought-tolerant, fire-wise yards can be beautiful

Tour proves drought-tolerant, fire-wise yards can be beautiful


These homeowners created a labyrinth with 80 lavender plants as part of their garden. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Lush. Personal. Colorful. Vibrant. Creative.

This describes the yards featured in this year’s Paradise Garden Tour on the first weekend of June.

If one were to have only seen these six gardens and not looked up to see the remains of charred trees from the 2018 Camp Fire, it would have been hard to know these properties were in the center of one the state’s worst infernos.

Grass was a rarity on the Paradise Garden Tour. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It proves the resiliency in Mother Nature and the people who continue to call this town home.

Each homeowner had a story to tell about how their garden came to fruition. Some left it up to the landscaper to work his magic, others created a sanctuary that reflected who they are.

I would have loved to seen the before pictures for comparison. Not all were started from scratch after the fire.

These particular gardens were chosen because each is an example of drought tolerant and fire-wise landscaping.

Chunks of concrete from a home burned in the Camp Fire find a second home in this garden. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My favorite was The Miller Garden because it had personality. The owner bought the property in August 2020 and started on the landscaping last June. Amazing what a wet winter and warm spring can do in terms of spurring plant growth.

As an ode to the fire, she took pieces of her crumbled driveway to outline the succulent and cactus garden.

The Slocum Garden lost nearly all of its vegetation in the fire.

The tour booklet says, “I didn’t let our cleanup crew touch the Japanese maple that was now totally burned. In the spring of 2019, we saw one small leaf appear. Now the tree is our Japanese bush!”

Using rocks on the property to create a sign of love. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While this front yard is beautiful, to me it was too manicured, almost fake if that’s possible. My guess is the owners only see it when they pull up to the house. Most of their time is undoubtedly on the back deck or poolside because they sit on a canyon next to Billie Park.

The Hawe Garden is full of fun—gnomes, four fairy gardens and a bike that is now a garden ornament.

The booklet says, “After the fire they were sending drones over neighborhoods for people to see the destruction and as it went over our property, we were amazed that we could still see our front yard—the blue pathway and bushes along the front fence. It was basically not touched by the fire. Those plants near the house had some fire damage, but they survived.”

While no one garden wowed me to where I wanted to go home and re-create something (or ask the live-in gardener, aka mom, to do so), I loved the attitude of the owners, the pride in their property, and willingness to share what they have learned with all who came by.

Mother Nature puts on a show at Black Butte Lake

Mother Nature puts on a show at Black Butte Lake

Black Butte is in the foreground with the coastal range in the distance covered in snow. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Snow isn’t usually the focal point when the highest elevation of the hike is 764 feet.

But it was on this last Saturday of February. The bitter cold storm that inundated all of California brought the white stuff to sea level.

While there were splotches of snow along the trail, the bulk of what was of interest was in the distance, enshrouding the coastal range.

Mother Nature is one interesting creature.

While the 16 of us from Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventurers were bundled up to ward off the 40-something degree temps (who knows what it was with the wind chill), a few wildflowers were holding on for dear life. Field marigolds, blue dicks, and dicots dominated the landscape.

The scenery at Black Butte Lake is a mix of rock, grass, flowers and water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A couple more weeks and it is sure to be a carpet of color here in the green grasses that are set against the dark basalt rock.

Black Butte Lake near Orland was formed in 1963 when Black Butte Dam on Stony Creek was built. When full it has a surface area of 4,460 acres.

“The dam reduces flood risk for the surrounding communities and provides irrigation water to agricultural lands immediately downstream of the dam,” according to the Army Corps of Engineers.

On our 5.2 mile hike we barely touched the numerous trails. After all, the lake is 7 miles long and has a shoreline of 40 miles.

The view of Black Butte Lake, the butte and the coastal range from the parking lot. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

After crossing the paved dam we headed up a mostly single-track route that was a mix of hardpack dirt and basalt rock. Our destination was the top of Black Butte.

The views here are stunning. Even more amazing, though, is one would not have to set foot on any trail because the vista from the parking lot is outstanding.

Once at the top of the butte, instead of going back the way we came we headed over the other side onto what really wasn’t a trail. I would not need to do this route again because of the hidden rocks under the grass and slickness of the wet ground.

Still, we were thrilled to be out on the blustery day seeing terrain most of us had never visited before.

Place of worship an architectural history lesson

Place of worship an architectural history lesson

The church at New Clairvaux Abbey is a work of art. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Rays of sunlight beam through the windows. It’s hard not to be mesmerized by the detail in the stonework. The triple-arched Gothic entry is stunning.

The church at New Clairvaux Abbey is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s a magnificent structure that is a blend of old and new. The guest entrance is through a 200 pound wooden door.

According to our tour guide, it was built to last a thousand years. Considering the history of the abbey already goes back about a thousand years, it seems appropriate this place of worship in Northern California should last another millennia.

Pews where the monks conduct their prayers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Dwite, our guide, told us that about 35 percent of the stones used to build the church were from a 12th century “chapter house” that was originally part of Santa Maria de Ovila Cistercian Abbey in Spain, another 35 percent were cut in Spain, while the remaining sandstone came from Texas.

According to information provided by the abbey, this is the “largest example of original Cistercian-Gothic architecture in the Western Hemisphere, and the oldest building in the United States west of the Mississippi.”

The pipe organ came from a church in Redding. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It will be four years this month since the church opened for worship. But during the pandemic, the facilities were closed to the public until late last year. To witness the monks in prayer in their sacred place was a bonus to the day.

We were all quiet as we sat in the visitors’ area while the monks drifted in, bowed and then went to their assigned pews. It was the shortest service of any denomination I’ve attended. Mostly it was about being quiet, with a prayer and a song part of the ritual.

While the monks who reside in this monastery in Vina, about 20 miles north of Chico, worship multiple times a day, we were there for just one session. This was the conclusion of our guided tour.

Guided and self-guided tours at the monastery are available. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • Self-guided tours available Monday-Saturday, 2:30-5pm.
  • Docent led tours available all but Sundays by appointment.
  • More information is available online.
  • Address: 26240 7th St., Vina


Appreciating a motor while peddaling

Appreciating a motor while peddaling


The new and the old mountain bikes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

My old baby has a new home and I have a new baby.

After a quarter of a century, I said goodbye to the first mountain bike I owned. She served me well. She was a Trek hardtail that I bought when I lived in Las Vegas in the mid-1990s. I rode her everywhere, really treating her more like a road bike than a mountain bike until I moved to Tahoe in 2002. Even when I lived in Sonoma County it was the paved country roads where I mostly pedaled.

Most likely she is being ridden by a Chico State student. I donated her to last week’s Fall Bike Auction hosted by the Associated Students.

“I would say that 90 percent of the buyers at our on-campus auction are students. The other 10 percent are either faculty, staff or general public. So, while it is very likely that a student would end up with your bike, I cannot guarantee it,” Curtis Sicheneder, Chico State Associated Students associate executive director, said.

It feels good knowing there’s a little life left in her. Even better is that any money Associated Students makes at the auction helps students.

“Proceeds go the Adventure Outings Get Outdoor Fund which funds trip scholarships for students. That money goes 100 percent to students,” Sicheneder explained.

I knew my bike had outlived my purposes long before I took a clinic last year and the instructor told me it was time for a new bike.

The new bike has much bigger wheels than the old one. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In the last year I’ve been contemplating what to buy, if anything. Could my road bike (which is also old, but not quite vintage) be enough? Do I spring for an ebike? Then I had to think about how much I ride and how much more I might ride with something new.

What pushed me over the edge to get an ebike was my trip to southern Utah in early October where I borrowed a friend’s bike.  Oh, my, what a difference it was to be on an ebike.

Good thing Becky’s rack fits two bikes.

I came home with an ebike. I couldn’t pass up the sale. It was another one of those times to just say “yes.”

Most everyone says the downside to ebikes is how heavy they are. I’m not sure there is much weight difference between my ancient ride and the shiny new one. Mine does weigh less than my friends’ because I got a smaller battery.

I noticed the difference on the ride Becky and I took in Tahoe, but for my purposes it’s going to be just fine. I’m at a lower elevation and on a normal basis won’t be riding in Tahoe.

The bike is perfect for climbing up and over the basalt of Upper Bidwell Park and taking me around town.

I still have to pedal. I’m getting a workout. I can even turn the battery off if I were so inclined.

What the ebike lets me do is go farther, longer and with a little less oomph. It really is amazing that with a push of a button hills seem less daunting, as do rocks.

My Specialized is a Type 1 ebike (there are three types), which means for the motor to work I also have to be working, as in I have to pedal.

As describes it, “It feels like you have the best tailwind of your life on a permanent basis.”

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