While I have plenty of familiarity with pulling a cork out of a wine bottle, until this summer I had never seen a cork tree.
A cork oak grove is part of Bidwell Park in Chico; more precisely in the World of Trees Nature Trail off East Eighth Street. The cork trees were planted in 1904.
A grove of oak cork trees in Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Knocking on a tree it almost seems hollow. It’s soft to the touch. I didn’t try to see how easy it would be to take a piece off because that seemed like it would be destructive, selfish, and truly pointless.
Others, though, have harvested cork from the trees in the past. The stripping occurred in the 1940s and at other times; the scars are visible.
Trees from around the world thrive in Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Cork works so well for keeping wine from seeping out of bottles because it contains suber. In fact, the official name of the tree is Quercus suber. Suber is the exterior of the bark of the tree, which is waxy. It is also waterproof, which makes it ideal for sealing in wine.
A plethora of trees are part of this half-mile or so nature trail. It makes a loop, though there are off-shoots that can make the experience longer. Interpretive signs point out some of the species of trees.
Italian Cypress trees tower over many species. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
In addition to the cork, the trees AJ and I saw that were named included:
Cork trees in Chico used to be harvested. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The grove once had 122 sequoias. The nonprofit Friends of Bidwell Park said a week of 10-degree temps in 1932 wiped them out.
The cork grove was part of the 29 acres John Bidwell in 1888 donated to the just created State Board of Forestry. Within five years the funding for the new agency was cutoff. The Legislature gave the property to the University of California Department of Agriculture at Berkeley. In 1921, the state took possession from the university. The city of Chico became the landowner through locals each contributing $100 to buy the acreage from the state. All of this is according to Friends of Bidwell Park.
It’s a wonderful path that is bound to change seasonally. It’s flat, dirt, and isn’t open to bikes or horses. It was delightful to see so many different species of trees, including ones I had never seen before, in less than a mile of walking.
Incredible views await those who hike the Tahoe Rim Trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Looking up at the mountains that surround Lake Tahoe it can be hard imagining circumnavigating this magnificent body of water on foot.
Fortunately, people with more vision than I have figured out a way to build a single-track path around this alpine lake. While there are 72 miles of shoreline, the Tahoe Rim Trail started as a 150-mile loop and expanded into 165 miles, which now has several off-shoots. It keeps growing and keeps being improved upon.
The nonprofit Tahoe Rim Trail Association had planned a 40th anniversary celebration for Sept. 18 in Stateline, Nev. The Caldor Fire is throwing everyone’s plans into standby or cancellation mode. Even the trail itself is closed.
Despite the temporary closure of the Tahoe Rim Trail, it is still worth celebrating.
While hiking 165 miles would seem daunting to most people, the beauty about the Rim Trail is that is can be done in sections or even fractions of actual TRTA designated routes. Access points are throughout the basin and just outside of it. Often times hikers will find themselves on the TRT without having set out to hike a part of it.
The nonprofit association, which is essentially the caretaker of the trail, says this on its website: “The Tahoe Rim Trail is one of the most iconic and beautiful long-distance recreation trails in the world.”
This is not hyperbole.
Wildlife shares the trail system with humans. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Views from the Rim Trail are stunning. It’s not just Lake Tahoe that is captivating. Plenty of small alpine lakes dot the trail. Then there is all of the granite, the pines and other flora.
The trail covers two states and three wilderness areas (Desolation, Mount Rose, Granite Chief). The entire route is designated a National Recreation Trail, with part of it being along the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail.
While the trail is recognized nationally, and even internationally, it is volunteers and donations that keep it going. Yes, the association has paid staff, but so many people associated with the trail are working for free.
This trail system is truly magical. Even if fire changes how the terrain looks, the Tahoe Rim Trail will remain a destination and worthy cause to donate to.
1981: Tahoe Rim Trail founder Glen Hampton, a U.S. Forest Service recreation officer, envisioned a 150-mile loop following the ridge tops of Lake Tahoe
1982: Tahoe Rim Trail Fund formed and was granted nonprofit 501(c)3 status.
1984: Construction began at Luther Pass.
1990: First trailhead completed at Big Meadow in California.
1991: First interpretive trail at Tahoe Meadows complete
2001: After 17 years and more than 200,000 volunteer hours, the 150-mile loop was complete at the California/Nevada state line on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe; the Tahoe Rim Trail is officially declared open.
2001: Ed Laine completes a photo project to document each of the 150 miles within the new trail system to correspond with the official opening of the trail.
2003: 96 miles of the Tahoe Rim Trail are dedicated as a National Recreational Trail.
2006: TRTA celebrates 25 years, 165 miles completed.
2008: Tahoe City reroute project is completed.
2009: Trail crews kick off summer breaking ground on the Daggett Summit reroute project.
2009: Ultra runner Killian Jornet sets fastest supported through hike record at 38 hours, and 36 minutes.
2011: Rim to Reno trail project breaks ground after epic Tahoe winter.
2011: Van Sickle Bi-State Park which straddles California and Nevada is open to the public.
2014: Rim to Reno trail project is completed to Mt. Houghton.
The water level at Lake Oroville, as seen Aug. 21, drops a little more every day. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
During a drought it’s hard to imagine the primary reason the Oroville Dam was built was for flood control measures.
As the tallest earthen dam in the United States at 770 feet, today it seems like a bit of an overkill considering how low Lake Oroville is.
This dam on the Feather River was completed in 1967, with the spillway finished a year later.
Houseboats at Lime Saddle are on land because there isn’t enough water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Earlier this month the lake level broke the record low set in September 1977 of 645 feet above sea level. As of Aug. 23 it was at 632.02 feet, and dropping. What the record for 2021 will be set at will be marked once it starts to rain.
When full, the lake’s water level is at 900 feet.
On Aug. 5, Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth said, “This is the first time Hyatt Powerplant has gone offline as a result of low lake levels. This is just one of many unprecedented impacts we are experiencing in California as a result of our climate-induced drought. California and much of the western part of the United States are experiencing the impacts of accelerated climate change including record-low reservoir levels due to dramatically reduced runoff this spring.”
Houseboats at Lime Saddle arm of Lake Oroville compete for water to float on; the ramp is closed. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The power plant had to be shut down because it needs a minimum water level to function. This underground plant had been operating continuously since it was completed in 1967.
Farmers and municipalities that rely on State Water Project water are only receiving 5 percent of their allotments right now because there isn’t any more to give. Oroville is the second largest reservoir in the state behind Shasta Lake.
Another resource of Lake Oroville’s is as a recreation destination. Not so much this year.
A few houseboats remain in the water. At Lime Saddle they look like tiny specks sharing a bath tub worth of water. Several are dry docked in two parking lots. They had to be pulled out of the water because there wasn’t going to be enough wet stuff for all of them to share.
It is possible to drive, walk and bike across Oroville Dam. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Facts about the dam:
At 770 feet, it is the tallest earthen dam in the United States.
Crest length is 6,920 feet.
Base width is 3,500 feet.
The state of California owns the reservoir/dam.
A sack of sand and gravel from each of the 58 counties in the state were used in the construction.
Thirty-four men died during construction.
Spillway capacity is 650,000 cubic feet per second.
Lake Oroville can hold 3.484 million acre-feet of water, covers an area of 15,500 acres, and has a shoreline of 167 miles.
Migrating bird numbers continue to decline as their habitat dwindles. But there is some hope as rice farmers around Chico and in the greater Sacramento Valley create habitat for these winged visitors.
The National Audubon Society says, “Each year at least a billion birds migrate along the Pacific Flyway, but these birds are only a fraction of those that used the flyway a century ago. Habitat loss, water shortages, diminishing food sources, and climate change all threaten the birds of the Pacific Flyway.”
A headline from 2017 in Scientific American said, “Shorebird populations have shrunk by 70% across North America since 1973, and the species that breed in the Arctic are among the hardest hit.”
After two years of little winter precipitation and a disastrous spring runoff, many are calling this one of the worst droughts in California’s history. Farmers in the Sacramento Valley are receiving a trickle of the water they normally do. This means less water for these ducks, geese, waterfowl and other species to enjoy as they fly across this swath of land.
Migratory birds refuel in rice fields in the Central Valley. (Image: Nature Conservancy)
These birds migrate between Canada and South America in the spring and fall, with a popular stop being the 500,000 acres of rice fields in the Sacramento Valley.
Bloomberg reports, “Ducks and geese traveling through California’s agricultural heartland get about 50 percent of their food supplies from those flooded fields, according to John Eadie, a waterfowl biology professor at UC Davis. A lack of resources could weaken current populations and hurt their chances for survival and reproduction.”
Rice farmers this year have planted 20 percent less acreage because of the drought. That translates to tens of thousands of acres of what is normally avian habitat. It will mean more birds accessing fewer resources; which could mean malnourishment and their inability to make the trip south.
The Center for Biological Diversity’s online news site The Revelator reports, “Last year drought conditions forced too many birds into too small a space, and 60,000 perished of avian botulism that spread quickly in close quarters.” That was just for the Klamath Basin, which crosses the California-Oregon border. This year the prediction is the die-off will stretch south into California’s Central Valley.
Obviously birds have been traversing the Pacific Flyway long before white people settled these lands. They did just fine; after all California is known for having droughts for centuries. What is different is people started creating dams, building levees, paving over wetlands and converting them to agriculture. This all lead to the elimination of the birds’ natural habitat.
Today, only 5 percent of the historic wetlands in the Central Valley remain.
That is why people are trying to right the wrongs of policies that have been detrimental to migratory bird species. The Nature Conservancy in 2014 started an initiative called BirdReturns to pay famers to flood fields in the off seasons so birds would have “pop-up wetlands.” More than 100 farmers have created more than 58,000 acres of short-term habitat for shorebirds.
The California Rice Commission since then has created a similar program to entice farmers to flood fields when they wouldn’t normally do so. The agency’s website says, “Rice fields have a unique ability to provide surrogate wetland habitat during both the growing and post-harvest periods of the production cycle. The Central Valley supports 30 percent of the shorebirds and 60 percent of the ducks and geese in the entire Pacific Flyway.”
These birds don’t require deep water. It can be 2 to 5 inches to satisfy their needs.
“Many rice farmers in the Sacramento Valley of California use water to decompose their remaining rice straw after harvest. This post-harvest flooding creates over 300,000 acres of surrogate wetland habitat between October and February, the peak of migration season,” the Rice Commission explains on its website. “While this flooding is key to the survival of millions of wintering water birds, there are many species that migrate early or late and arrive in the Sacramento Valley to find little to no flooded habitat. By focusing on the shoulder season, both before and after the typical post-harvest flooding period, the foundation can provide a critical source of flooded habitat when it is most scarce and therefore most needed.”
The problem this year is that farmers have less water, so fewer are likely to participate in the program not because they aren’t willing to, but because they are unable to. What this will mean for the fall migration remains to be seen.
Lake Ilsanjo, upper left, looks like a dot before descending to it. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A lake in the middle of dry grasses seems so out of place during a drought, especially at a low elevation in California.
But there it was, with a couple people even trying to fish in this body of water. Bluegill and black bass have been reeled in from the 26-acre lake. People even swim in Lake Ilsanjo when there is more water.
Today, this lake in the middle of Trione-Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa remains below the outlet valve of the concrete dam. The lake was drained in fall 2019 to make state mandated repairs. Lack of rain the past two winters has prevented it from rising back to where it would normally be this time of year.
Wildflowers are supposedly abundant around the Lake Ilsanjo in spring and early summer—at least if there has been precipitation.
A dragonfly suns itself in Annadel State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Still, it was a welcome sight during this parched summer. Something about seeing water makes it seem cooler out.
Several trails in this state park in Sonoma County lead to the lake. In July we took a real locals’ approach by entering the Two Quarry Trailhead via the Oakmont neighborhood. In all, we traversed 7.94 miles, gained 722 feet in elevation, with the minimum being 415 feet and maximum (which was near the start) being 1,120 feet. The lake is at 750 feet.
Prior to this excursion most of my experience at Annadel had been through the main entrance on what I would call the western side of the park. The recent approach with Sue opened up all new trails to me, which was a delight.
Much of the route is through oak trees, which provided plenty of shade. However, where it was wide-open it was noticeably warmer.
The drought and dam repairs have kept Lake Ilsanjo from being full. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Starting out it was single-track, hardpack dirt with a mix of oak and conifers. We headed down the Warren Richardson Trail to the lake, looped clockwise around the water, headed back up and came out at the Richardson Trailhead. A short walk led us out to where we had parked a second vehicle, which was also in the Oakmont neighborhood. Our route meant not having to pay the $7 fee at the park.
Horses are welcome on many of these trails, with metal hitching posts in several areas so people could leave their steed as they explored some, or even went to lake. A couple picnic tables are also available as a resting spot or place to have a snack/lunch.
A few birds made their presence known, as did wild turkeys and dragonflies.
Despite not much snow last winter, Rabe Meadow is lush. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It’s amazing how much beauty and history can be packed into a walk that is only about 2½ miles round trip. Such is the case with Rabe Meadow on the South Shore of Lake Tahoe.
Many people access Nevada Beach by driving in. It’s definitely faster, but it also costs to go that route. More important it’s less scenic because the expansive meadow is never seen. And it also means not learning about the area via the various signs put up by the U.S. Forest Service, which owns this swath of land.
When walking to Lake Tahoe from Kahle Drive in Stateline the beach is secondary in many ways. I took my time to enjoy the green grasses, a few wildflowers and admire the stands of conifers. It makes the walk so much more than just an excursion to the beach.
The scar from the Gondola Fire is prominent on the mountainside. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Coming back, views are different with Heavenly Mountain Resort a focal point. The scar from the 2002 Gondola Fire is still distinct and probably will be throughout my lifetime. A forest is going to burn when someone throws a cigarette butt out of a gondola car. I still wonder if that person has nightmares every night.
It’s definitely a prettier walk going toward Nevada Beach because there are fewer buildings to see compared to the return trip.
This is one of those treks I never get tired of, though. I made a point of walking it last month. It’s a completely flat trail on hardpack dirt or decomposed granite.
Before white people took over the Lake Tahoe Basin this meadow was home to the Washoe tribe. Pine nuts, berries, medicinal plants, and material for baskets were all found in the meadow area.
By 1859 the meadow had become a logging camp. This was to supply lumber to the mining camps east of Tahoe in the Virginia City area. Gilman N. Folsom bought what was one of the last private stands of Jeffery and sugar pines for $750. He then created Hobart’s logging camp.
Dogs are allowed on Nevada Beach at the south side and on leash when walking in. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The information sign says it took eight years to fell all of the old-growth trees. Folsom eventually went bankrupt.
During the late 1940s a dirt runway was created. “… this land was used for the Sky Harbor Airport and Casino, which flew its wealthy patrons in from San Francisco to spend money in the local casinos. Unfortunately, flying in and out was dangerous because of high winds and a steep descent.”
Fortunately, the U.S. Forest Service has done a good job to restore much of the area to what it looked like when the Indians called this area home. Environmental improvements, like a walkway above marshy areas, have been installed.
A swallowtail butterfly enjoys the nectar of a tiger lily. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A botanist I am not. My description of flowers is usually: “Oh, look at that pretty purple flower.” “That orange one is so unique.” And so on.
Names of flowers escape me most of the time so I’m not the one to lead a wildflower trip, except maybe to get you there.
Marjorie with the California Native Plant Society leads a trek through Kennedy Meadows. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Luckily, on the second Sunday of July our group had Marjorie with the California Native Plant Society’s Lassen Chapter not only telling us everything we were seeing, but also getting us to our starting point. I’m actually not sure if I could do that since this was my first time to Kennedy Meadows in Lassen National Forest. (It’s about an hour from Chico.)
Marjorie isn’t a botanist either, but she is someone who is super enthusiastic about what’s sprouting from the soil. (She is a retired register nurse and a registered dietician by training.) What she doesn’t know off the top of her head she is able to find in one of her field books tucked inside her daypack.
A honeybee enjoys the aroma of cow parsnip. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Not only does Marjorie know flowers, but she gave her seven charges a lesson in fens, bogs and swamps. It was a fen that we were walking through much of the time.
“Fens usually come from springs. They are not stagnant. Fens tend to have more unique plants than bogs and swamps,” Marjorie told us.
Swamp onion smells like an onion one would eat. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Water was a constant on our less than 2-mile walk. We crossed creeks a couple times, and often were in marshy areas.
Some of the flora we saw included: pine violet, snowberry, gooseberry, Shasta lily, streambank lotus, ragwort, cow parsnip, Indian paintbrush, tofieldia, St. John’s wort, marsh marigolds, elephant’s head, lupine, bog orchid, tiger lily, western blueberry, monkey flower, sundew, swamp onion, Douglas spiraea, aster, white vein pyrola, cotton plant, ranger buttons, and corn lilies.
Kennedy Meadows in Lassen National Forest is alive with wildflowers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Most of these I had never heard of. Having Marjorie as a guide was perfect because some were so tiny it would have been easy to never see them. While some of the corn lilies were taller than me.
She said there is no ideal time to visit Kennedy Meadows because the ecosystem is always changing with what is peaking and what is past its prime. It was absolutely stunning.
The cotton plant looks a little shaggy. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
We also got a little history lesson. While most of the acreage we traversed across belongs to the U.S. Forest Service, 10 adjoining acres of Kennedy Meadows are privately held by the Kennedy family—thus the name. Apparently the patriarch who built his home here was the accountant for Annie Bidwell; as in Bidwell Park. The family still owns the home that looks over the lush meadow and its dazzling natural bouquet.
We took a side trip on the way back to see the California pitcher plant near the Cherry Hill Campground. They are carnivorous plants—eating insects, not people. Large plants, though, will consume small rodents, frogs and lizards. It is also known as the cobra plant because of the shape of its leaves. It is really the leaves that are most fascinating as they curl over and are three dimensional and translucent.
The pitcher plant grows in the Lassen National Forest. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
We got to the meadow by going east on Highway 32 and turning right toward Butte Meadows and Jonesville. Blink and it’s easy to miss both. The start of the excursion was less than a 10-minute drive from the snowmobile parking area. Because there was not a distinct trail I’m not giving more precise directions. For those who know where Kennedy Meadows is, go now, the flowers are great.
While this is national forest land, I would not recommend dogs because of the lack of trail. Poles are advisable because the terrain can be uneven, with unexpected holes, water, and logs to cross. Be prepared to end the foray with wet, muddy shoes.
A redwood grove in Chico’s Bidwell Park is a peaceful place to meander. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
A Redwood grove someplace other than the coast? My eyes had to be deceiving me.
But they weren’t. There are two redwood groves in Bidwell Park in Chico. One is accessed via the Chico Creek Nature Center and the other off Peterson Memorial Way.
“These giants can live to be 2,000 years old and have graced the planet for more than 240 million years. Though they once thrived throughout much of the Northern Hemisphere, today redwoods are only found on the coast from central California through southern Oregon. They do not live more than 50 miles inland, and are usually found in long belts, rather than small groves,” LiveScience reports. “They even ‘create’ their own rain by trapping fog in their lofty branches. With the right amount of moisture, redwoods can grow 2 or 3 feet in a year, making them one of the fastest-growing conifers in the world.”
Chico, though is about 150 miles from the Pacific Ocean and doesn’t get a ton of rain. So, how do redwoods survive in the Central Valley?
They get a lot of help from humans. In other words, these trees have to be watered “unnaturally”—otherwise they would never survive the multiple 100-plus degree days Chico endures each summer.
Redwoods seem to scratch the sky. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
They can’t survive inland without being watered. This has a lot to do with their shallow root system. Deeper roots would be able to hold water and perhaps tap into the aquifer.
A sign at the nature center grove states, “Coastal Redwood Grove, automatic irrigation system designed by Tyler Cavaness and Scout Troop 358. Materials and support donated by Guy Rents, Chico Sprinkler, Buttes Pipe and Supply, Chico Breakfast Lions Club, Chico Kiwanis Club.”
The other grove was at one time given water by a caretaker who found it his personal mission to keep the trees alive. The Chico Enterprise Record wrote about this gentleman several years ago.
According to the Chico News & Review newspaper, the redwoods were planted by pioneer John Bidwell, for whom the park is named.
It’s not unusual for a redwood to be more than 350 feet tall and be 27 feet wide. They are magnificent creatures that should be revered and not turned into decks, fences or furniture.
Whoever continues to be responsible for allowing them to thrive in Chico outside their normal coastal environment, thank you. Whether it’s a good use of water during a drought, well, I’ll take shorter and fewer showers—give my share of water to the trees. They are too magical not to save. I hope people know how special this is to have these trees here.
The SLTPD has been notified there may be a power outage tonight, beginning sometime between 6-8pm and lasting the remainder of the weekend. Please call 911 for emergencies only! We aren’t able to turn the power on. Stop IN ALL DIRECTIONS at uncontrolled intersections. Thank you!