Hundreds of feet tall, the sandstone cliffs at Drakes Bay rise in dramatic fashion from the beach.
Looking at the ocean it’s easy to feel small. Turn around to face the cliffs and your stature is further diminished.
In many ways it felt like there was no way out. It seemed impossible to scale the cliffs without equipment. Even then, the sandstone was sure to crumble. The Pacific Ocean, while rather placid on this particular day, is still often an uninviting mass of water.
The tide was out, so we had plenty of beach to meander along. No worry about being trapped and not getting back to the vehicle. But this ruggedness had me imagining what it might have been like way back when before a paved road led me here.
The beauty is captivating—all 360 degrees. We could have walked for miles in either direction. We sauntered, appreciating the debris deposited onto the sand—whole crab shells, evidence a pelican lost a fight with some predator, kelp that resembled art.
History proves this is not where you would want to be marooned in a storm. Today, though, this stretch of land in Marin County is part of Point Reyes National Seashore.
“The sands of the Drakes Bay cliffs were deposited in a shallow sea 10–13 million years ago, compacted, then uplifted. Erosion has revealed the striations of this story in the cliff faces,” according to the National Park Service.
At the visitors center a slew of panels touch on the history of Francis Drake, the namesake of the Pacific Ocean bay.
The Englishman accumulated his wealth by attacking Spanish ships and stealing their gold. Signage says, “Spanish witnesses reluctantly admitted that Drake treated his captives well and often released them with gifts—unusual practices for his time.”
Less controversial is the fact Drake was the first person from his country to circle the globe.
He entered what is now known as Drakes Bay to repair damaged ships. They spent 36 days there.
Drake called the bay Nova Albion, or New England, “because the cliffs reminded the homesick sailors of the white, chalk cliffs along the English Channel.”
Drake and his men were the first Europeans to visit this part of California.
“This Bay of Francis Drake and the land of Nova Albion were marked on the world’s maps, and led John Smith to name New England after Drake’s claim on the other side of the continent,” according to the Park Service. “Nova Albion was not erased from maps and charts until 1846, when Great Britain agreed to the present boundary between the United States and Canada.”
We all know the N-word. Now there is the S-word.
Earlier this month the federal Board of Geographic Names removed more than 650 instances nationwide where the word “squaw” was part of the name. This includes 80 locations in California and 34 in Nevada.
“The term has historically been used as an offensive ethnic, racial, and sexist slur, particularly for Indigenous women,” the Interior Department said last year after Secretary Deb Haaland declared “squaw” a derogatory term.
A task force has been studying what locations should be changed.
In Placer County, Squaw Creek is now Washeshu Creek and Squaw Valley is Olympic Valley.
I grew up skiing at Squaw Valley. Still call it my favorite Tahoe area resort. But it’s not Squaw anymore. It’s Palisades Tahoe. That change came last year. I still think a better name could have been found, but that’s irrelevant to this story. The ski resort was one of many entities throughout the country that has proactively changed its name.
I completely understand and agree with removing the S-word. I do wonder when one references the 1960 Winter Olympics what it will be called. I wonder if one has hiking and snowshoe books with the S-word if those should be changed.
This is not the first time names have been replaced en masse. The federal government replaced a slew of slurs for Black and Japanese people in the 1960s and 1970s.
Here is the list of S-words that have been removed, the new name, and where it is located. Locations with new names include valleys, streams, reservoirs, ridges, flats, summits, pillars, gaps, springs, bays, islands, slopes, lakes, basins, cliffs, areas, bars (not the drinking kind), guts, capes, canals, bends, benches, and crossings.
While California is known for its pristine beaches, plenty of boat captains can speak to the rugged, treacherous coastline.
Today the Point Reyes Lighthouse is a standing reminder of navigational tools erected in the 1800s to help steer ships clear of the rocky, foggy and potentially fatal land mass north of San Francisco in Marin County.
More than 70 marine wrecks have occurred at this stretch of coast, with 37 being total losses, according to the National Park Service.
The lighthouse, which began operating Dec. 1, 1870, is now owned by the National Park Service and is part of the larger Point Reyes National Seashore. It is a historic landmark. The lighthouse stopped operating in 1975.
Today those navigating the waters of the Pacific Ocean rely on an automated beacon located on a structure below the original lighthouse. A horn bellows at regular intervals and light flashes to alert those at the helm of a boat of the land mass.
While the rest of the California was sweltering on Labor Day weekend, those at the lighthouse were bundled up. The wind was howling, though nothing like what it can be. Spring is the worst when winds can be hurricane force—exceeding 130 mph.
One thing that makes the Point Reyes Lighthouse special is the Fresnel lens is still intact. A handful of people at a time are allowed to enter the lighthouse where a docent gives a super short talk about the significance of the lens. It’s worth the wait.
“The 6,000-pound lens sits on a clockworks mechanism that rotates the lens using gears and counterweight. One complete rotation takes two minutes. As the lens rotates the beams sweep over the ocean like spokes on a wagon wheel, creating the signature Point Reyes Lighthouse pattern of one flash every five seconds,” according to the Park Service.
On a clear night it could be seen 24 miles away.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse has what is called a first-order lens. It is comprised of 1,032 pieces of hand-ground crystal.
This is the only lighthouse in the United States with its original first-order Fresnel lens, clockwork and tower that is still operational.
It was hard work to keep that light shining and the fog horn echoing.
“Once the (oil) lamp was lit, the keeper wound the clockwork every two hours and 20 minutes to rotate the lens and create the flash. Throughout the night, he kept the lamp wicks trimmed so that the light would burn efficiently,” the Park Service said.
On foggy nights it took 140 pounds of coal every hour to ensure the foghorn—which was really whistles and sirens—would blare.
To get to the lighthouse requires descending 313 steps. They are wider and shorter than normal stairs, so it makes it easier, but the width of them is narrow so it’s a tight squeeze when people are climbing up at the same time.
If you aren’t up to this, the viewing platform is 0.4 miles from the main parking area. However, those with handicap stickers can park closer. The viewing area is outstanding. The lighthouse and rugged coastline are spectacular from there. On super clear days the Farallon Islands can be seen.
The stairs are open Friday-Sunday, 10am-4pm. No cost to visit.
Even from the back—which is what faces the street—this former church seems special.
Known as Church of One Tree, this structure is now owned by the city of Santa Rosa. Since 2011 it has been available to be rented for weddings and other special events.
The front looks out onto Juilliard Park near the Luther Burbank Gardens. Appropriately a small grove of redwoods separates the park and the building.
This is appropriate because of what makes the building so unique. It was built in 1873 from a single 275-foot-tall, 18-foot-diameter redwood harvested in nearby Guerneville. It produced 78,000 board feet of lumber.
This was originally the home of First Baptist Church on Ross and B streets before it was relocated to its current home on Sonoma Avenue.
Robert Ripley of Ripley’s Believe It or Not Fame featured the structure for being built from a single tree. In 1970, the Santa Rosa native turned the building into the Ripley Memorial Museum. After a couple decades the museum closed and the building became neglected.
Through the efforts of a city parks employee who initiated a campaign to refurbish and preserve Church of One Tree, donations came in and volunteers worked to turn it into something residents could be proud of.
Just looking at it from the outside, without being able to enjoy the multiple stained glass windows from the inside, is worth stopping by when in the area.
Two bridges, the same name, and a whole lot of history.
Both Bidwell Bar Bridges involve Lake Oroville.
When the first Bidwell Bar Bridge was installed across the Feather River in 1856 it was California’s first suspension bridge. The 372-foot-long steel span was built in New York for $34,922. It got shipped around the Cape Horn—the southern tip of South America—to San Francisco. From there it made its way north via the Sacramento and Feather rivers to Marysville. Then an oxen team took it to the location to be installed.
“Four heavy wire cables were used on the suspension bridge. Two main cables were strung on each side of the bridge, each containing 205 lengths of number 10 gauge wire,” a sign at the bridge states. “The total weight capacity the bridge could carry at one time was approximately 40 tons.”
In 1856, this weight would be equal to nearly 62 empty covered wagons. This compares to a typical 18-wheeler loaded truck that weighs 40 tons. In other words, it wouldn’t hold up to today’s traffic.
Modern travel, though, isn’t what doomed this bridge or the adjacent tollhouse. Both operated until 1954. The tollhouse was also a post office, store and residence for the bridge tender.
What rendered them no longer usable was the construction of Oroville Dam, which started in 1961. It dammed the Feather River and created Lake Oroville. The initial location is under water.
The original bridge and tollhouse were relocated in 1977 to State Parks land to what is now called Bidwell Canyon, a sector of the greater Lake Oroville State Recreation Area. Today the bridge is open to foot traffic. The bridge is a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark and a California Historical Landmark.
A short walking trail brings one to an area where the second Bidwell Bar Bridge can be seen.
It is 1½ miles upstream from where the original one was built. It was built 600 feet higher up on the hillside to accommodate the reservoir. It is now part of Highway 162, also known as Oroville-Quincy Highway.
This new suspension bridge was built in 1965. At 627 feet above the original stream bed it was one of the highest such bridges at the time. When the lake is full it’s like you can touch the water from the bridge.
Luther Burbank was such a force in the horticulture world that in California his birthday (March 7) is celebrated as Arbor Day.
Burbank is credited with creating nearly 1,000 varieties of plants, including more than 200 fruit species. One of his goals was to increase the food supply in the world.
Burbank’s aptitude for cross-cultivating plants led to the creation of the Russet Burbank potato. His goal was to create a potato that would resist blight, and therefore help other countries like Ireland that were enduring a famine because of potato blight.
This potato is still the No. 1 spud used in food processing—think McDonald’s French fries and the like.
Burbank is also the creator of the plumcot, a combo of apricot and plum.
A sign on the property states, “The thousands of experiments conducted on this site and on his nearby Sebastopol farm were largely responsible for turning plant breeding into a modern science. His work with plums was influential in making them a major industry throughout the world.”
Many plants that we take for granted were the creation of Burbank’s at his 4-acre home in Santa Rosa. Today the property is 1.6 acres, with a garden that is free to roam. The old carriage house is now a museum. Docent led tours are available seasonally, which provide access to buildings and information not granted to non-paying visitors.
Here is a snippet from the Luther Burbank Gardens’ website about a flower that is rather ubiquitous today, “2001 marked the 100th anniversary of Luther Burbank’s introduction of the Shasta daisy, one of America’s most beloved garden flowers. Burbank spent 17 years developing this quadruple hybrid which he named after Mt. Shasta. Others have continued Burbank’s work and many new varieties of the Shasta daisy have been introduced since Burbank completed his work more than 100 years ago.”
Roses were Burbank’s favorite flower, with a section of his garden dedicated to them. Prior to Burbank’s death in 1926 plants could not be patented. Posthumously the Blushing Beauty and Apple Blossom rose varietals were patented in his name.
Today his Santa Rosa home is a registered landmark at the national, state and city levels. It also has been designated a horticultural landmark by the American Society for Horticultural Science.
Wild animals not in the wild are where most people get to see these magnificent creatures.
It is through facilities like the Barry Kirshner Wildlife Sanctuary in Oroville where people can be only a few feet from an array of big cats and other animals that aren’t even found on this continent.
The nonprofit that was founded in 1994 says this on its website, “Equal parts wildlife sanctuary, educational park, and research center, the sanctuary is home to a remarkable assortment of non-releasable wild and exotic animals, many of them endangered species. Each animal is housed in an enclosure that far exceeds state and federal regulations.”
Some of the animals at the facility include Bengal tiger, snow leopard, African lion, black-tailed deer, macaws, gray wolf (she was illegally owned and was with 240 animals before coming to the sanctuary), white-nosed coatimundi, red fox, clouded leopard, ring-tailed lemur, ocelot, bobcat, fishing cat, and serval.
Another interesting animal at the sanctuary is the tiliger, which is a cross between a male tiger and a female liger. The sign on her cage says, “She came to us for animal behavior and nutrition research.”
It can be difficult to see these animals behind cages in what seems too small of a space. It’s hard to know if this life is better than no life. If only they could talk.
The sanctuary, though, strives to provide the animals with a positive quality of life, including daily exercise and healthy meals.
While we were there many were being fed by volunteers, and having their dens cleaned of feces. The animals certainly looked healthy.
The great thing about this Oroville center is there is an educational component to it. It is possible to take a self-guided tour or be part of an educational excursion. With so much information provided outside of each enclosure, it is possible to learn much without anyone saying a word.
- Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-5pm
- Phone: 530.533.1000
- Address: 4995 Durham-Pentz Road, Oroville
- Cost: Adults $10, children $6, ages 2 and younger free
It’s amazing how a round object with a string tied to it can bring endless hours of entertainment to people of all ages.
This is the yo-yo. While it’s not as ubiquitous as it was in my childhood, people are still playing with this toy, even competing with it.
The National Yo-Yo Museum in downtown Chico pays homage to this instrument of fun. Row upon row of yo-yos line the walls. In the middle of the display is the world’s largest working wooden yo-yo, weighing in at 256 pounds.
It is a version of the No-Jive 3-in-1 yo-yo created by Tom Kuhn.
According to the museum’s website, “At 256 pounds, Big-Yo made it into the 1982 Guinness Book of World Records claiming the title of World’s Biggest Working Wooden Yo-Yo. And yes, it does really work. You’ve heard of Paul Bunyan right? Actually, with the assistance of a large crane and a skilled operator, Big-Yo can successfully make its way up and down the string.”
This heavy weight is 50 inches high, 31.5 inches wide, and has an axel diameter of 5.5 inches. The body is made out of California sugar pine and the face is Baltic birch. The axel sleeve is hardrock maple, steel axel rod and hex nuts. It was built by Haas Wood & Ivory Works of San Francisco.
Kuhn, a dentist by trade, wanted to improve upon the yo-yo design. His website shows a multitude of designs made from various materials. Some sell for more than $100, while others are less than $10.
The origin of the yo-yo dates to 400 BC. Historians aren’t sure if it was invented in China, the Philippines or Greece.
Sales in the United States exploded when Duncan partnered with newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst.
According to the museum, “Duncan convinced Hearst that the yo-yo could increase circulation. Hearst newspapers across the country would advertise Duncan yo-yo contests and list the prizes. The catch was kids had to sell three newspaper subscriptions to enter. The rest is history—the yo-yo craze of the 1930s had begun.”
A chart on one wall lists the 10 basic yo-yo tricks, including the spinner, the forward pass, over the falls, walking the dog and rocking the baby.
The museum is tucked in the back corner of the store Bird in Hand on Broadway Street. For those looking for fellow yo-yo fans and lessons, the Chico Yo-Yo Club meets at the museum on Saturdays from noon-2pm.
Pre-pandemic yo-yo competitions in Chico were the norm. Trophies, photos and newspaper clippings are part of the museum display.
The museum website says, “Every year the National Yo-Yo Museum hosts the U.S. National Championships, and manages regional competitions through the National Yo-Yo League. Yo-yo contests are now held with great frequency, and it is clear that this ancient toy has remained popular with people around the world.”
When the actual competitions will return has not be disclosed.
While Freda Ehmann was not the first to pickle olives, she is considered the mother of the canned olive industry.
The widow started Ehmann Olive Company in 1898 with 20 acres in Oakland, and turned it into a multimillion dollar company when she was in her 50s. Ehmann olives were distributed nationally by 1904, and in 1922 she had 700 acres of trees in the Oroville area.
The German native revolutionized the pickling process, which in turn made canned olives readily accessible to the masses. Until then, most olives in California were turned into oil.
Her curing process ensured all of the olives were black, like one finds today in a can of olives, instead of the green or brown color that was the norm at the time.
The original Ehmann olive label was red, yellow and black, the same as the German flag. She had come the United States as a teenager with her mother in 1852.
Her home that was built in 1911 in Oroville is available for tours, and is now the site of Butte County Historical Society. It was constructed by her son, Edwin, in the Craftsman bungalow style. (Edwin became mayor of Oroville in the 1920s.)
One of the nice things about this museum is people can actually sit on the furniture and touch items. A lot of this has to do with most of the furniture being period pieces, as opposed to her original belonging. One thing that did belong to Ehmann that is upstairs is her writing desk. It’s tiny, as was she.
The stained glass is also original. Ehmann had an extensive beer stein collection, a symbol of her roots.
By 1925 the Ehmanns were out of the olive business and the house had been sold.
A nationwide botulism outbreak in 1919 was traced to the Ehmann Olive Company, though others were implicated as well in the deadly spread.
According to Food Safety News, “USDA’s Bureau of Chemistry did a study of Ehmann’s glass and metal containers in 1920, finding both could look normal but still contain pathogenic organisms, including Clostridium botulinus. The California State Board of Health responded to the 1919 outbreak with emergency regulation of olive production on Aug. 7, 1920, requiring sanitation through the processing facility and mandating a thermal process. California responded with the Cannery Inspection Act of 1925.”
That same website goes on to say, “Judith Taylor, who wrote the book The Olive in California, interviewed Freda Ehmann’s granddaughter who said her grandmother never could come to terms about the company’s role in the 1919 outbreak.”
The Ehmann Olive Company was bought by the Mt. Ida Packing Company in 1925. In 1970, it became Olive Products Company, a division of Beatrice. According to the historical society, the company was then acquired by DaLallo Company, which produces Ehmann Olives that are sold through the Butte County Historical Society. Today, Lodestar Farms, which bottles olive oil, traces its roots to the Ehmann olive trees.
- The Ehmann home is open Saturdays from 11am-3pm.
- For more info, call 530.533.5316.
- The house is located at 1480 Lincoln Ave, Oroville.
Butte County once boasted being home to the largest gold nugget in the world.
On April 12, 1859, Ira Weatherbee discovered the 54-pound specimen in the Feather River Canyon near the town of Magalia. At the time this tiny enclave north of Paradise was known as Dogtown. That is why the chunk of gold is referred to as the Dogtown Nugget.
The plaque along the old Skyway, which was erected in 1955, says: “This marker symbolizes the discovery of the first large gold nugget in California. It was found across this canyon in Willard Gulch April 12, 1859. Weight 54 pounds.”
The gold piece was found at a hydraulic mine. Even though it was melted down, casts of the nugget were made. One used to be on display at the Gold Nugget Museum in Paradise until it burned down in the 2018 Camp Fire.
Weatherbee took the more than $10,000 he got for the nugget and built the Chico Hotel, which opened Jan. 1, 1861. The downtown lodging establishment twice burned to the ground, and was not rebuilt after the second fire.
Eventually that record-setting gold nugget was eclipsed by one discovered in August 1869 in Sierra Buttes. It is the largest ever unearthed in California; weighing in at 106 pounds, according to the Sierra County Historical Society.