Memorial honors all those affected by 2018 Camp Fire


The Butte Strong memorial pays tribute to 2018 Camp Fire that tore through Paradise. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Charred trees, foundations without a building, chain link fencing around the hospital, businesses that no longer exist. The reminders of the 2018 Camp Fire that incinerated Paradise are everywhere.

Then there is the memorial to all those who survived and the 85 who lost their lives.

It is on the back edge of the parking lot at Magalia Community Church. This is one of the towns that was also severely impacted by the PG&E caused fire, but which seldom gets much attention.

While the memorial is intended to last generations, two vinyl tents are sad reminders that help is still needed for many of the survivors. A Paradise resident said this is where charitable giving still takes place, even with the five-year anniversary coming up this fall.

The Butte Strong tribute is aptly placed so Sawmill Peak, one of the natural icons of the area, is integral to the structure. The vista here is one of hope, one of resiliency, one of strength.

The river rock foundation seems to honor being on the ridge above the Feather River.

The 14 layers of red brick appear to mark how the area is rebuilding itself one layer at a time.

One plaque lists the name of those who died. The other tells the story of how this region was settled, including the famous 54-pound gold nugget, and many details about the fire.

The fire consumed nearly 240 square miles, destroyed 18,804 buildings, and became the state’s largest hazardous material cleanup.

The plaque ends with: “… Paradise isn’t gone; it’s strength and spirit persist within the surviving community and it’s deep, fireproof roots. Day by day, life and beauty will be restored to this special place.”

Multi-use trail being built through heart of Napa Valley

Barb and Becky cycle on the Vine Trail between Napa and Yountville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Anyone who has driven through the Napa Valley on Highway 29 knows all too well this is not a safe road for cyclists.

But what if a trail paralleled this main thoroughfare? What if it had a start/end point at the ferry terminal in Vallejo so it connected to the greater Bay Area?

The nearly $60 million, 47-mile Vine Trail is going to do just that and then some.

Calistoga is the other start/end point of the trail. This will be at the Oat Hill Mine Trail at the junction of Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail before heading over Mount St. Helena.

As with most trails, it’s being built in sections that aren’t linked—yet. This month construction resumed on the eight-mile Calistoga to St. Helena section. It should be finished this year.

The whole project is being spearheaded by the nonprofit Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. Money is coming from the feds, state and various partners. The project started in 2008 and will be done in 2027 at the earliest.

On a weekday afternoon last month three of us pedaled the paved path from Napa north to Yountville. We were next to, but separated from, the tracks used by the wine train. It was about 12 miles round trip.

While we had been warned there are lots of roads to cross, it wasn’t any big deal. There are roads to cross on most of the trails I’ve ridden on in urban areas. We weren’t huddled up against vehicle traffic, or crossing when cars did. I always felt safe.

Oak Knoll and Yountville, two of the 10 sections of trail, had signs with information about these locations like how “George Yount planted the first vineyards in the Napa Valley in 1836 in the area now known as NapaNook.” Presumably there will be kiosks like this at each section. It makes the route educational as well as scenic.

This trail is not just for cyclists. This means it is wide enough to accommodate walkers, joggers and dogs going in both directions. E-bikes are allowed, but not other motorized vehicles.

Here is the Vine Trail map.

Donkey derby a delightful display of dexterity

Roberta Talley struggles to get Candy over the railroad ties. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Looking almost like a bucking bronco, Candy had a bit of an attitude about crossing the railroad ties.

Donkeys aren’t fond of climbing over things, trudging through water or going through dark spaces.

It didn’t matter. Candy, Hank and Poppy all made their ancestors proud and delighted the audience gathered to watch their reluctance as they went through the obstacle course.

Henry Schleiger shows Poppy there is no reason to fear water. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Hank won the race; this being his second year in a row to do so.

Donkeys racing is a bit of misnomer. While there was clearly a winner and a loser, speedy was not the word of the day.

Each of the three donkeys competing were saddled with 54 pounds to replicate what took place on April 12, 1859.

This was the date Ira Weatherbee discovered a 54-pound gold nugget in the Feather River Canyon near the town of Magalia.

The location of the competition (below the Magalia Community Church) is about the same place the assay office was located in 1959. April 29 was the 65th annual donkey derby, which was part of the larger multi-day Gold Nugget Days that has events in Paradise and Magalia.

An arena of obstacles for the annual Donkey Derby in Magalia. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The donkeys were tasked with going through an obstacle course that represented what that donkey in 1859 had to endure. It included walking up the hill from the river, through old tires like you see football players practicing on for agility, through a darkened structure that represented a tunnel of yesteryear, over railroad ties, up and over a stairway platform, into a pond of sorts and out the other side.

Hank practically had to be picked up to get into the water.

Poppy had no problem going through the water once his handler walked through it first. Poppy, while the slowest, was the most proficient on the course, which had a lot to do with being a five-time winner and competitor since 2001. This was likely the 23-year-old’s last derby, though.


Short jaunt leads to stunning falls in Napa County

Linda Falls in Napa County spill forth on April 2 into Conn Creek. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Tumbling nearly 50 feet, Linda Falls along Conn Creek splits in two as she cascades down the rocky formation.

It was about eight-tenths of a mile to the falls from the car. The route starts off with walking on slabs of rock before it turns into hardpack soil.

Several trees were down when we were there the first Sunday of April. Nothing that couldn’t be climbed over. But some trail work to clean up from the winter storms definitely needs to take place.

Redwoods, oaks and conifers fill the landscape.

With how much rain there was this winter and early spring, trickles of water are seeping through the rocks that aren’t part of the main falls. There, lush green moss is growing.

In less than a mile through a wooded area one arrives at the falls. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

It gets a little steep on the descent to the falls, but it’s not treacherous or scary. Poles might be desired by those with knee issues.

The 177-acre Linda Falls Preserve is part of the Land Trust of Napa County on Howell Mountain near Angwin.

The preserve is said to have one of the most diverse habitats in the county with 130 native plant species.

Conn Creek is a tributary of the Napa River and feeds Lake Hennessey, which is the primary drinking water source for the city of Napa, according to the land trust.

In all, the land trust is protecting more than 53,000 acres, which represents about 10 percent of Napa County.

Parking is not ideal along the road, nor are there many signs, at least the way we got to the area. Good thing Sue had been there before and could use GPS to get us to the starting point. From then on, the trail was well marked.

Dogs are not permitted, which is to protect the wildlife. Unfortunately, people weren’t paying attention to the rules when we were there.

Paradise embracing a future full of recreation in healthy forests

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.

Museum captures history of California’s missions

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.”



Address: Cline Family Cellars, 24737 Arnold Drive/Highway 121, Sonoma

Phone: 707.939.8051

Hours: Friday-Sunday when the winery is open

Cost: Free



‘Junky’ neighborhood a delightful example of artistic creativity

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.

Bidwell museum an education about founder of Chico

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.

Museum captures essence of Peanuts creator and his characters

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)



  • Cost—$12 adults
  • Closed Tuesdays except during the summer.
  • Location: 2301 Hardies Lane, Santa Rosa
  • More info online

Sonoma Valley botanical garden transports visitors to Asia


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.

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