Bi-County State Park A Water, Bird Lover’s Destination

Bi-County State Park A Water, Bird Lover’s Destination

A blue heron, upper left, and fishermen on the Sacramento River seem to ignore each other. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Water and birds—that’s what the Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park is known for.

An egret and blue heron sat along the water’s edge as we explored; a juvenile bald eagle flew over as we were having lunch. What we could have spotted if we had brought binoculars and actually knew more bird species, well, that will never be known.

A couple who regularly visits the area said it’s also common to see turtles and deer. A matted down grassy area looked like it might have been where some deer chose to rest when people weren’t around. River otters are also in the water.

This 349-acre state park, which is in Butte and Glenn counties, was established in 1979.

According to the park’s website, “The main activity to be enjoyed at Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park is bank or boat fishing for salmon, steelhead and shad. The next popular activity is cruising down the river on inner tubes, canoes, or kayaks.”

With the water still being chilly only a single boat with a couple fishermen were out earlier this month. A few more days in the 90s and that could all change. After all, what is being released via Shasta Dam is coming from the bottom of Shasta Lake.

Oak trees dominate the trails in Bidwell-Sacramento River State Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Mom and I spent a morning exploring a few sections of the park. We put in 2.62 miles walking three areas. The Indian Fishery Nature Trail is a loop of about three-quarters of a mile. This saunter is through a grove of oaks along Ox-Bow Lake, which now is more like a mud flat with puddles. Still, the scenery is great; with plenty of shade.

More exposed terrain that has a little less even footing, though nothing that would require poles, was found just south of the loop along River Road. This was great for walking along the Sacramento River. Rocky beaches would be ideal for lounging or taking a break from playing in or on the water.

Across from that entrance on the other side of the road is the Big Chico Creek day use area. There we did nearly a mile loop. A section of the trail led us into a walnut orchard. While there were no signs saying we were trespassing, we opted to turn around to walk back along the grassy meadow.

It makes sense that hiking is not one of the activities this area is known for. Still, it was worth checking out.

As the website says, “The river’s various landscapes display great scenic beauty and constant change. The riparian plant and animal communities here depend strongly on each other. Massive oaks and cottonwoods give the dense shade needed for the survival of cool-water creatures. Thick understories of elderberry, wild grape, blackberry, wild rose and numerous perennials provide shelter to a diversified wildlife population. The park offers a great setting for observing and learning about the riparian community.”

Earlier this year a 25-acre former walnut orchard owned by the state was restored for riparian habitat by California State Parks, Butte County Resource Conservation District and River Partners. This land is adjacent to the Pine Creek Access Unit. Funding for the 11,000 plants (27 native species of trees, shrubs and herbaceous flora) came from the 2018 voter approved Proposition 68: California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act.

We ended our excursion at Scotty’s Landing for lunch. This is a Chico institution of sorts that has been in business since 1955. Walter Scott started the restaurant, with his son, John, eventually taking over. It’s seen better days. A fresh coat of paint and removal of a lot of junk on the deck and inside would make the restaurant more inviting. Fancy it will never be, which is a good thing. The veggie and meat burgers were good, as were the fries. The beer on tap could have been colder. More seating for a view of the Sac River would be a great improvement. It’s worth stopping at if in the area, but don’t go out of your way.

The deck at Scotty’s Landing has plenty of shade for eating outside. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • To get to the park from downtown Chico, take West Sacramento Avenue until it intersects with River Road. Big Chico Creek is to the left, Indian Fishery straight ahead and Pine Creek is to the right. Irvine Finch River Access is located just west of the Highway 32 Sacramento River Bridge.
  • More park details available online.
  • Scotty’s Landing is on Facebook.
Mountain bike clinic makes it easier to ride challenging terrain

Mountain bike clinic makes it easier to ride challenging terrain

Dylan Renn explains the choices of routes to Shannon, Andrew and Catherine. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Bend your elbows, look in the direction you are turning, soft hands, heels down, ratchet the pedals.

It was as though I had not been riding a bike for the last 50 years.

I’ve been on plenty of dirt trails in Lake Tahoe, have even taken two downhill clinics at Northstar ski resort in Truckee  Still, I knew there had to be more to this sport than what I was able to piecemeal from friends and self-exploration. That’s what led me to an all-day clinic the last day of April.

With every sport there is a right and wrong way to do things. I was overwhelmed with how much I had to learn. Now I need to practice.

Dylan Renn of A Singletrack Mind starts the day with a basic inspection of each bike. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Coach Dylan Renn was patient with the four of us. It helped we were all at about the same ability level. Renn owns Truckee-based A Singletrack Mind. Fortunately for us, he travels. This was great for learning the nuances (hardpack dirt, lava beds, golf ball size rock piles) of my new home terrain in Chico. (That weekend he did a two-day clinic for advanced riders; all participants were from the Bay Area, while our foursome was Chico residents.)

Renn dispensed individualized instruction and tips to the group. We learned by watching each other and riding. So much of it was how our bodies should be positioned based on the terrain and what we are doing—cornering, tight turns, riding over rocks–uphill and downhill.

After spending a good deal of time on flatland in the grass figuring out the basics, the last part of the afternoon was on the trails in Bidwell Park. We were pedaling over terrain that prior to the clinic would have seemed off limits. What a thrill.

Renn encouraged us to practice, but more important to make sure we are having fun anytime we are on our bikes. Already it’s more pleasurable. I just need to get out there more so I don’t lose what I was taught.

Shannon, from left, Andrew and Catherine get instruction from Dylan Renn. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

But I also need to go shopping.

I had no idea longer shorts should soon be in my wardrobe. Short ones were getting hung up on the saddle. New pedals and shoes should also be ordered. Oh, and just like changing tires on a vehicle, bike tires wear out too. It’s actually kind of embarrassing how outdated everything I have is. Well, the helmet is new as of last year.

While I’m a believer equipment is important, I tend to hang onto things well beyond their intended lifespan—be it vehicles, skis, tennis rackets, and certainly bicycles. Despite my propensity to keep gear for decades, I know how much better my performance is with upgraded models of whatever the item is.

It’s time for a new mountain bike. That was obvious with this clinic. Just how the frame is designed has me doing things “incorrectly.” Renn was sweet by calling it vintage; my word is antique. It was new in the mid-1990s.

Unfortunately, bikes are hard to get because of the pandemic; parts were not being made, more people were getting on two wheels to get outside. Maybe I can find a used bike, or demo a few. Once I get my new wheels, the excuses for my performance will have to change; or maybe by then I will actually feel like I know how to ride a bike.


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Deets:

  • Find A Singletrack Mind online.
  • Based in Truckee, but will travel to do clinics.
  • Phone/text: 209.662.5392
  • Email: amy@asingletrackmind.com
California Poppies Are For Picking–Kind Of

California Poppies Are For Picking–Kind Of


The poppy has been the California state flower since 1903. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Each spring in California (and other parts of the West Coast) poppies are prolific, decorating hillsides, private gardens, and public spaces.

In 1903, the poppy was named the state flower. Somewhere along the way the notion of picking them was associated with committing a crime. This is actually a myth, a fallacy, an untruth—a lie.

Go ahead and pick that poppy, just make sure you don’t pluck them from someone’s yard. That might constitute trespassing or petty theft or both.

However, it’s probably better just to enjoy these flowers wherever you see them in the ground because they wilt quickly. Petals often fall off before they can be put in a vase.

Poppies, which can be a foot tall, are one of California’s most prolific wildflowers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While most people associate the California poppy with the bright orange that is so pervasive, there are several species of poppies. They also come in yellow, red, pink, white and salmon colors.

One reason they seem to grow wild everywhere is that the California poppy does not require rich soil, which means it can grow just about anywhere. However, it’s more likely to find poppies where they get direct sun. These wildflowers like the sun so much that at night they close up. Same thing happens on cloudy days.

Next year consider celebrating the poppy on April 6—California Poppy Day.

Beauty of Bidwell beckons with flowers, flowing creek

Beauty of Bidwell beckons with flowers, flowing creek

Views from the top of Monkey Face in Bidewell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s been a while since a trailhead felt overwhelming. It might be the case every time I venture into Bidwell Park in Chico.

At 3,670 acres and nearly 11 miles in length, it’s going to take a while to completely explore this city park that feels more like a state park.

The first hike was in Upper Park, which is considered the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Terrain is more rugged, with many rock formations, compared to Lower Park.

Monkey Face

First on the list was to get to the top of Monkey Face. This switchback along uneven surface is distinctly uphill, but required little exertion for two people used to hiking at Tahoe. The rewards were views of the greater Chico area and much of the park. In spring there is plenty of green to see. But with it being a dry winter, Horseshoe Lake even in mid-April was clearly drying up.

We both looked at the rock formation from various angels at a distance. We never saw a monkey’s face.

Many of the trails in Bidwell Park are muli-use. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

From there we tromped along the Middle Trail. (There are Upper and Lower trails, too.) This is shared with mountain bikers; all of whom were courteous. Part of the trail is wide enough to walk side-by-side, while other times it was single track. Be sure to look down because the embedded rocks in the solid soil seemed to really be tripping stones.

Much of this trail is exposed and will just get hotter as summer approaches. A few oak trees provided small swaths of shade. Wildflowers are out and grasses more than a foot tall swayed in the gentle breeze.

Wildflowers dot the landscape throughout the park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We turned right to take a short connector to the Fenced Road before we got onto the Yahi Trail.

Once on the Yahi Trail it was like a completely different hike. It follows Big Chico Creek. At times the water looked untamed, other places swimming pools were being enjoyed by young children. A group of twentysomething guys were jumping off rocks into the cold water; and then quickly scrambled to get onto a warm rock in the middle of the water. This time of year the water is too cold to linger.

Lovejoy basalt lines this canyon. This black volcanic rock in years past was mined as railroad ballasts.

Big Chico Creek flows through Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

No bikes or horses are allowed on the Yahi trail, and dogs are supposed to be leashed.

The Yahi Trail is maintained by volunteers in the Mount Lassen Chapter of the California Native Plant Society. This is nice because they’ve placed markers to point out various flora as well as some of the animals that might be calling the area home. The section we were on included Fremont cottonwood, Western sycamore (a favorite tree of hummingbirds and it attracts Western tiger swallowtail caterpillars), skunk bush, Santa Barbara sedge (serves as nesting habitat and basketry material), ponderosa pine and gray pine, and Christmas berry (which attracts butterflies and other insects, and whose berries are toxic to humans).

The trail comes out onto the road and then is a short distance from the parking lot where all the fun started.

Wild grasses flutter in the breeze. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • Directions: From downtown Chico, take Vallombrosa Avenue east. At the roundabout take the second exit onto Manzanita Avenue. At the next roundabout take the first exit onto Wildwood Avenue. Turn left into the parking area just past Chico Rod and Gun Club.
  • Stats: 5.57 miles, elevation gain 440 feet, minimum elevation 304 feet, maximum elevation 551 feet.
  • Signs point to the various trails.
  • Ticks are common and so is poison oak.
Beauty of Mono Lake spills forth from its edges

Beauty of Mono Lake spills forth from its edges


Mono Lake along Highway 395 in California is a natural wonder. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Blink and it’s gone. Linger and you will think you’ve entered another dimension. This is the Mono Basin in the Eastern Sierra.

A ring of white covers a large swath of the edges of Mono Lake. This is salt, not snow. The salt builds up because there is no outlet for the water.

Tufas dot the landscape near the shore of this 65-square-mile body of water. They, too, have to do with the salt. The dictionary definition of a tufa is, “A porous rock composed of calcium carbonate and formed by precipitation from water.”

Tufas not far from the shoreline of Mono Lake. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It’s easy to see all this majesty driving along Highway 395. A visitors center is open when there isn’t a pandemic going on. Programs are expected to resume this year on a limited basis.

Mono Lake didn’t always look like it does today. Motor boating and swimming used to be popular activities. Then in 1941 the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power sent water from the lake 350 miles south for its customers. With the fresh water depleted, the salinity concentration was out of whack.

“As a result, over the next 40 years Mono Lake dropped by 45 vertical feet, lost half its volume, and doubled in salinity,” according to the Mono Lake Committee.

The committee was formed in 1978 with the goal of saving the lake from further harm. Persistence led them to the state Supreme Court.

Mono Lake is worth pausing at no matter the time of year. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“In a 1983 precedent-setting decision, the California Supreme Court agreed with the Mono Lake Committee, ruling that the state has an obligation to protect places such as Mono Lake, ‘as far as feasible,’ even if this means reconsidering established water rights,” the committee’s website says.

Further litigation and revised state policies helped preserve minimum water levels for Mono Lake. Restoration plans were put in place in 1998, and have been revised through the years. More work is to be done because despite all the regulations not all the parties are abiding by the documents they signed.

Despite the saline and alkalinity of Mono Lake, there is plenty of life in the area. Scientists have recorded more than 80 bird species, 1,000 plant species, and about 400 vertebrates.

Table Mountain awash in color with spring wildflowers

Table Mountain awash in color with spring wildflowers

Hiking this time of year on Table Mountain means color in all directions. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

A mosaic of flowers carpets the landscape.

Purple, orange, yellow and white are the predominant colors, with a bit of fuchsia here and there. The dark basalt rock and vibrant green grasses provide contrast.

Oak trees break up the terrain. A few cows munch on the grass, paying no attention to the multitudes of people out on this last day of March.

Poppies decorate the hillside near Ravine Falls. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Table Mountain is awash is color with an array of wildflowers every spring. The abundance and peak season all depends on the winter rains.

Much of the land is covered in gold fields, which makes it look like yellow paint has been strategically dispersed. Sky lupine is interspersed at various locations. The frying pan and foothill poppies are robust. Owl’s clover, bird’s eye gilia, bitterroot and so many other flowers can be found throughout the approximately 3,300-acre North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve.

While the Table Mountain meadowfoam only grows in this area, it did not present itself to us on this particular day.

A few oak trees dot the landscape. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Most of the flowers are short, with only a few reaching 6 inches in height. This is in large part because of the volcanic terrain. Soil here is not great. The height, though, does not take away from the splendor.

In addition to the spectacle of color are an array of waterfalls. They, too, are dependent on rain.

“Typically fissures in the basalt soak up winter rains, forming seasonal streams and waterfalls. In a few places, however, the underlying basalt is impermeable to water forming a temporary pool. Soon to dry up after rains end, only specialized plants and animals adapted to this habitat can survive over time,” according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which manages the reserve.

Sutter Buttes is often visible. Sawmill Peak was in the near distance. Snow covered mountains farther away.

In all the six of us put in 3.12 miles, which included treks to Hollow Falls and Ravine Falls.

The uneven rock is going to be difficult for some to navigate. In a one-week period ending April 7, search and rescue crews were called out to Table Mountain four times. One was for a fatality; a woman fell 100 feet at one of the falls.

This is a reminder that Mother Nature, as beautiful as she can be, is also still a wild place that needs to be respected.

Despite the inhospitable growing conditions, wildflowers find a way to populate the rocky area. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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Deets:

  • California lands pass required for everyone 16 and older. They are $4.89 for the day or $27.26 for the year. They may be purchased online.
  • Table Mountain is about 7 miles north of Oroville.
  • Directions: From Chico, take Highway 99 south to Highway 70 to Oroville. Exit at Grand Avenue. Go right, then drive for 1 mile. Go left on Table Mountain Boulevard for a tenth of a mile. Right on Cherokee Road for 6.3 miles north to the reserve.
  • Elevation gain was 208 feet, with the lowest 1,198 feet and highest 1,334 feet.
Aloe much more than a pretty succulent found in gardens of Mexico

Aloe much more than a pretty succulent found in gardens of Mexico

Aloe plants, while not native to Mexico, grow well in the desert climate. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While aloe vera is a go-to remedy for sunburn, the more than 500 species of this plant have other uses as well.

Aloe is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and foods.

Even though the spines are usually thorny, it is easy to cut one off to harvest. They feel rubbery. Squeeze hard and the gel comes out in a thick, syrupy form. This can be applied directly to a burn, though don’t be surprised if your skin turns purplish. It washes off without the discoloration remaining. This discoloration isn’t likely to occur with store bought products with aloe in it.

Aloe vera blooming in February in Todos Santos. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Be sure to keep the serum away from pets because it can be lethal if swallowed.

Human consumption of aloe, though, is possible in different forms.

According to Healthline, “Aloe vera gel has a clean, refreshing taste and can be added to a variety of recipes, including smoothies and salsas. The aloe vera skin is generally safe to eat. It has a mild flavor and a crunchy texture, perfect for adding variety to your summer salads. Alternatively, the skin can be enjoyed by dipping it in salsa or humus.”

Gel can easily be squeezed from the aloe plant for personal use. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m not ready to try aloe as an edible, at least not directly from the plant, even though plenty of data shows it can help with digestion and other issues. And certainly don’t eat the gels found in stores that are designed to help with burns. Those will most likely have additives that could be harmful if swallowed. Only consume products that are designed for that purpose.

Aloe is found throughout the Baja peninsula, though the plant is not native to this desert. Those in the know say it originated in Arabia, Somalia or Sudan.

As a succulent, aloe vera needs very little water. But it does need to be pollinated to bloom. That is why those kept as a house plant year-round are not going to flower.

Environmental study in Todos Santos region targets building on dunes

Environmental study in Todos Santos region targets building on dunes


The house on the left was built prior to the 2012 regulations banning building on the dunes. The house on the right was built in 2020. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Building oceanfront homes in the greater Todos Santos area is coming to a head with a group of residents (Mexicans and expats) paying $24,000 for an environment study to classify the sand dunes.

A group of scientists led by environmental and development expert Ileana Espejel arrived in mid-February to scour the land for several days. A 30-mile stretch from Elias Calles in the south to Agua Blanca in the north is the scope of the project. Dune plants were recorded, GPS was used, and a trolley took measurements. Documentation of building in an arroyo was also captured.

All of this was filmed for future use, with each of the five scientists being interviewed during the process.

The goal is to determine where the primary, secondary and tertiary dunes are. The desire is to eliminate any confusion about what the various dunes are in the region and to have the government codify the findings.

Primary dunes are the closest to the water and are the most sensitive. But not every dune nearest the water is a primary dune based on environmental definitions.

“Primary dunes are composed of sand blown directly from the beach face (active beach), whereas secondary dunes develop following the subsequent modification of primary dunes,” according to Nature.com.

Since construction was stopped on this Todos Santos house in 2019 the lot has become an eyesore. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even though the Master Plan of Todos Santos, which covers that same swath of sand that is being studied, took effect Aug. 12, 2012, building beachfront houses continues in this area of Baja California Sur. That Subregional Development Program was never codified, which means it’s easier to break the rules.

The 2012 law did get a structure at the end of Calle Los Mangos in the Las Tunas area to be halted. However, the parcel now looks like a dump site after squatters took over. It’s an environmental nightmare for other reasons.

Two houses on the dunes off a street with no name in the San Sebastian area of Todos Santos are questionable builds. One has been there before the 2012 laws went into effect, while the other was built in summer 2020 when government offices were closed because of the pandemic.

If the people who don’t want building on dunes get their way, that new house and any others would likely would have to be torn down and the land restored.

While there are those who believe they should be allowed to do what they want with their land, that usually is not the case no matter where one lives.

Local real estate agents are supposed to let people know about the 2012 law so they aren’t surprised when they can’t build. Some people just don’t care. Money can talk louder in Mexico than laws, and permits get issued. Builders and homeowners are seldom reprimanded.

The group behind the study wants building on the dunes to stop and people to be held accountable. They have hired local attorney John Moreno to represent them.

“Once completed, the study will be presented to the Mexican authorities for acceptance of dune identification. This will help the municipality, Realtors, developers and prospective buyers understand legal building sites,” an email from the advocacy group said. “Evidenced by a recent illegal build right in front of Flora del Mar, it is obvious that there is confusion and controversy over what is a primary dune and their location in our region.”

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