It’s hard to know how many people have pedaled or walked under the large sprockets that designate the Steve G. Harrison Memorial Bikeway in Chico.
The avid cyclist died in summer 2007 at the age of 56. His body was recovered in the Sacramento River days after he went missing.
Harrison would have turned 70 on June 24.
It’s a testament to Harrison’s impact on the local cycling community that such an impressive memorial was erected in November 2010 to honor him. Both steel sprockets are 15 feet tall. They were created by Jeff Lindsay of Red Hot Metal Inc. at cost of $40,000.
While the city of Chico owns the bike path, the memorial art was a donation to the city by Harrison’s widow, Linda Zorn.
At each end of the nearly 1-mile paved path is two half sprockets that make an arch; essentially straddling the asphalt.
A sprocket is what the bike chain travels over. Most bikes have a numeral on the sprocket which indicates the number of teeth on the sprocket. The memorial has this designation, too—53 and 42—the number of teeth in the steel.
The trail runs between East 20th Street and Skyway Road. It then leads to Honey Run Road, which is appropriate because cycling through Butte Creek Canyon was one of Harrison’s favorite rides.
Harrison’s obituary said, “Steve was an avid cyclist, regularly joining friends on weekend rides throughout the north valley, foothills, and mountains. He was a strong advocate for cycling in our community and a wonderful friend to his many cycling partners. He also enjoyed several foreign cycling trips with friends and family, most recently to Italy.”
But there was more to Harrison. The obituary also said, “He also loved to hike in Bidwell Park and the Sierra Nevada. He was intensely interested in politics and was committed to progressive causes related to social justice, environmental sustainability, smart growth, economic opportunity, and universal health care.”
At the time of his death, Harrison was a vice president of locally owned Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. He was the brewery’s first employee.
The pale aqua-colored water had the look of being a glacial wonder until the gurgling became pronounced.
This was no icy mountain lake. It was quite the opposite. Appropriately named Boiling Springs Lake, it’s hot to the touch and would be scalding where the bubbling occurs. This isn’t the only location in Lassen Volcanic National Park with geothermal activity.
On this last Saturday of May, 30 hikers from the Chico-Oroville Outdoor Adventurers group started from the Warner Valley trailhead on what turned out to be a 7.6-mile trek through this Northern California park.
While we climbed 1,188 feet, it was not in one ascent. (Minimum elevation was 5,683 feet and maximum was 6,337 feet.) It was never too steep to warrant poles in either direction for one with good knees and balance.
Before reaching the lake we crossed a small stream originating from that body of hot water. It was cool, warm at best, to the touch. This was much different than the lake. While the west end of the lake, the cooler side, was OK to touch by hand, it’s hard to imagine wading into it would have been a good idea.
Signs were posted near all the geothermal activity stating to stay on the trail because the ground can give way. In fact, in some locations it was posted that it was illegal to leave the trail because of the potential of severe injury.
According to the park’s website, “A number of steam vents are located under Boiling Springs Lake, keeping the temperature of the lake around 125 degrees. The mudpots on the southeast shore are among the best in the park.”
Snow-capped Mount Lassen is distinct from the east end of the lake.
Pine trees surround the lake; and they were overhead much of the route, providing plenty of shade. Only a few spots were wide-open. But at this elevation and on this day heat was not a factor. The trail is mostly single track, compact dirt. Two splotches of snow decorated the trail we were on; both easy to avoid walking on. Much of the day we were walking along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.
A few wildflowers were in bloom—but you had to be paying attention to see them. At a couple spots were fields of corn lily, also known as false hellebore and skunk cabbage. The more accurate name is veratrum californicum.
Before the descent to the geyser Lake Almanor was visible from a plateau.
Terminal Geyser is described as a steam vent by the Park Service, with the website saying, “Although not a true geyser, this spurting steam located in the middle of a creek, provides a spectacular show.”
- It costs $30 per vehicle—as is the norm for national parks.
- Trailhead is about two hours from Chico.
- Dogs not allowed on trails.
Not many suburban neighborhoods can boast being home to osprey, turtles and multiple species of fish.
California Park in Chico is one such neighborhood. It is comprised of more than 1,800 single-family residences, condos and apartments on the east side of town. The homes, along with two manmade private lakes, a chain of ponds, and miles of walking trails cover more than 60 acres.
Walking along the trails near the lakes it’s easy to forget I’m living in a city of nearly 95,000 people. It can feel like I’m in my own private nature preserve. I say private because only residents are supposed to be on the trails, though no one has ever asked me for my card—a good thing since I never have it on me.
In early spring the red-eared slider turtles were out in abundance. With the weather much warmer now, their sightings have dwindled. Signs say they mostly stay on the bottom of the lake, coming up for a breath now and then. This non-native species is here because someone let out their pet turtle. They are wiping out the native northwestern pond turtle.
Geese and wood ducks are what proliferate the area. They are on land and water, with babies being in tow in late spring.
While I have not seen an osprey or great blue heron on my walks, they call this area home.
Several people fish these lakes—either on land or boat (no motorized boats are allowed). Small bass, blue gill and other species are swimming around. It’s all catch and release here.
While my specific neighborhood within the larger Cal Park area is 2-years-old, the rest of the homes are much older. The dam and reservoirs were finished in December 1986. The project was started by Jack Graham in 1968. He envisioned 25,000 people would live in this planned community; a lofty goal considering Chico at the time had 19,000 residents.
This was once wetlands.
“When we look at the soils, maps and so forth of this area before houses were put in, there’s the indicators that those vernal pools complexes and riparian corridors existed in those areas,” Don Hankins, a professor at Chico State University, told North State Public Radio.
It’s not the first time I’ve lived someplace where people came before the environment. Think of all the areas of San Francisco that have artificial fill. And Tahoe, well, they paved over paradise to put up casinos, other commercial enterprises and a multitude of housing.
I will continue to appreciate the wildlife from the trails in my new neighborhood, hoping all the wildlife remains that way and that more sensitive areas don’t get destroyed going forward.
Cows are smarter than people. They know on a warm day to stay huddled in a shady spot. Humans, well, they were out in the wide-open without trees nearby, with sun beating down and exerting themselves.
Fortunately for the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds are sharing their terrain in Santa Rosa. Prior to becoming a county park, Taylor Mountain was used for ranching and grazing. The grazing continues. We spotted one bovine in the trees, but plenty of patties proved more than one had been out earlier.
According to signs at the park, the benefits to cattle on the land include:
- Hoof action breaks up the soil surface and aids water filtration;
- Helping to “plant” native grass seeds by stomping them into the ground and fertilizing them with manure;
- Without grazing, dead plant material or thatch blocks sunlight and prevents new plants from germinating.
These 1,100 acres have only been a park since 2013. Funding came via the voter approved Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation & Open Space District. Today there are 6.4 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding, an 18-hole disc golf course and children’s play area. The master plan calls for 17 miles of developed trails, hike-in campsites and a visitor center. Those will come to fruition when there are the dollars to do so.
On this particular day we logged 3.89 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,068 feet. Our max elevation was 1,376, according my GPS—which was sort of at the top of Taylor Mountain. The county website shows the highest point inside the park being 1,380 feet, with the actual summit on neighboring private property at 1,403 feet. From our vantage point it didn’t appear we could go higher even without a fence.
Nonetheless, it’s turning around that is what is most impressive. Mount St. Helena is a strong focal point, as is the sprawl of Santa Rosa, with Sebastopol farther west. Local mountains that can be seen are the Palisades, Sonoma, Bald and Hood. Had the sky been clearer, the Bay Area peaks of Mount Tamalpais and Mount Diablo could have been seen from this perch.
We went up the Eastern Trail to get to the top. What appears to be a fairly newly graded route offers more switchbacks than the straight up approach. It’s compact dirt with several baseball-size rocks scattered about. This route was for pedestrians only, while other trails allow mountain bikes and horses.
Oak trees and wild grasses are the predominant flora, with a few wildflowers visible in May. From the grasses it was like the hills were alive with the sound of music. These were songbirds, who were good at staying hidden, chirping in the grass. Their songs were delightful.
Taylor Mountain gets its name from John Shackleford Taylor. He headed west from Virginia in search of gold in the Sierra. He then created a homestead at the base of the Santa Rosa mountain in 1853 when the city barely existed.
According to the Press-Democrat newspaper, “Taylor was an industrious man. He raised sheep and cattle, planted one of the first vineyards in the area and mined a low-grade coal seam that ran through his mountain, delivering the fuel to town by donkey train. Taylor’s property was most famous for its mineral spring. In 1862, he built a hotel and launched one of the county’s first health spas, the White Sulphur Springs Resort (later called Kawana Springs). The springs stopped flowing after the 1906 quake, and Taylor closed his resort.”
- North entrance: 2080 Kawana Terrace, Santa Rosa.
- Operated by Sonoma County Regional Parks.
- Dogs on leashes permitted.
- Parking is $7; credit cards accepted.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
- Find A Singletrack Mind online.
- Based in Truckee, but will travel to do clinics.
- Phone/text: 209.662.5392
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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.