Slice of Gold Rush history tucked off Hwy. 20


From an outlook off Highway 20 the ruggedness of the Mendocino, Plumas and Tahoe national forests stretches out for miles. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

History is all around us, if only we would take the time to see it.

In all the years I have been driving between Chico and South Lake Tahoe I never took the time to check out the pretty scenic overlook on Highway 20 that would whiz past my window. I was always in a hurry going in either direction. I finally stopped last month.

The Omega Overlook, as it’s called, is on the north side of the highway, with plenty of parking. It gets its name from a hydraulic mine that was in the area during the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s.

“From the overlook one can see the Alpha and Omega Diggins, one of the largest hydraulic mine operations in the Sierra. Yuba River water was diverted to the Omega Ditch and into wood flumes hung from granite cliffs above the Yuba River,” according to the U.S. Forest Service.

The Omega Overlook provides stunning views. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The overlook is in the Tahoe National Forest.

Hydraulic mining ended in 1883 with the Sawyer Decision because of the damage this type of activity caused the environment. The land, rivers and habitat were adversely affected.

From the parking lot there is a quarter mile paved (though not completely flat) circular path that leads to an outstanding overview of the area. A panel highlights what is visible in the distance: Sacramento Valley, Graveyard Hill, Sierra Buttes, Saddleback Mountain, Mount Alma, Mount Fillmore, Celina Peak, where the 2008 Scotchman and Fall fires were, and more mountaintops I’ve never heard of.

The vastness of the terrain is quite spectacular. While I always enjoy the drive along Highway 20, it feels closed in. Amazing how this little jaunt on foot changed my perspective of the area.

Today the trails left from the diggings are popular with mountain bikers.

Along the paved trail are other markers with information—like why snags are important, advantages to tree thinning, and what makes a mixed conifer forest.

Redwood Reserve Demonstrates Its Resilience Post-Wildfire

Firefighters surrounded the Colonel Armstrong in 2020, successfully preventing it from succumbing to a wildfire. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Beyond being surrounded by beauty a bonus of hiking in redwoods on a hot day is that you will undoubtedly be cool.

This is because “coast redwoods are classified as temperate rain forests and they need wet and mild climates to survive,” according to California State Parks.

Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve in Sonoma County gets about 55 inches of rain a year and seems to create its own fog on some days.

Armstrong Redwoods has trails for all levels of hikers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

More than 20 miles of designated trails fill the 805-acre reserve in Guerneville. Unfortunately, it is easy to see the damage created by the 2020 LNU Lightning Complex fire. Armstrong was closed for more than a year to deal with the aftermath. Lightning caused this fire, which burned 363,220 acres.

Even so, this has always been one of my happy places. I loved hiking in Armstrong when I lived in Sonoma County. Visiting in May was the first time in years. It definitely did not disappoint. In fact, it had been so long it was like it was a brand new experience.

We played a bit of tourist by going on the Nature Trail which led us by multiple signs explaining various aspects of this forest. What we thought was clover turned out to be redwood sorrel. Good thing not much time was spent looking for a four-leaf clover.

Various species of fern were visible; always a sign of there being plenty of water. Hazelnuts, maples and Douglas fir were some of the species of trees we encountered beyond the redwoods.

One of the most magnificent trees calling this park home is Colonel Armstrong. It is more than 1,400-years-old, is 308-feet-tall, and has a diameter of 14.6 feet.

Burn scars from the 2020 fire are evident among some of the trees. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Col. James Armstrong bought the acreage that now includes this swath of state land in 1874. He saw the damage logging could do and decided to preserve the land. Armstrong Woods became a county park in 1916 and part of State Parks in 1934.

The tallest tree in Armstrong goes up 310 feet.

“The ancient coast redwood is the tallest living thing on our planet. These remarkable trees live to be 500-1,000 years old, grow to a diameter of 12-16 feet, and stand from 200-250 feet tall. Some trees survive to over 2,000 years and tower above 350 feet,” State Parks says.


  • Parking is $10.
  • Dogs limited to paved areas; as in no hiking trails.
  • Adjacent Austin Creek State Recreation Area remains closed because of fire damage.
  • All amenities within Armstrong Redwoods are open except East Ridge Trail and Pool Ridge Trail, which connect to Austin Creek SRA.

Evening hike to take in the sunset and moon rise

Watching the sunset from Upper Bidwell Park in Chico on May 13. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

As the nearly full moon was rising before us for most of the first part of the hike, the sun was setting behind us.

It was one of those perfect Chico nights to hike; not too hot, not any wind to speak of.

We started from the Horseshoe Lake parking lot in Upper Bidwell Park. It was a steady climb via Middle, Red Bud and North Rim trails. The uneven basalt rock made having poles a good thing. It’s easy to get a little off balance.

The nearly full moon between rock formations at Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Going up it was a definite climb, but probably would have seemed a little easier if we weren’t going at such a good pace.

A few wildflowers grew alongside the path, with taller dry grass and oak trees the predominant flora.

While we were warned of snakes, ticks and mosquitoes, they didn’t make their presence known. Though, I had put on bug spray before leaving home.

The eight of us with the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventures climbed 949 feet in elevation. The low point was 333 feet, while the high point was 1,183 feet. In all we hiked 5.82 miles.

We didn’t make it to Sentinel Point in time to see the actual sunset, but we did sit there a spell to enjoy the changing colors as the sky went from dusk to night. In the distance we could see the lights of downtown Chico and its growing sprawl decorate the land.

Hiking with COOA members to enjoy the sun setting and moon rising. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I’m glad I was with people because I never would have known to make a hard right and essentially a 180-degree turn to get to the scenic lookout. No signs pointed the way. It would have been tricky finding my way back to the Jeep on my own, too.

It was going down when I was happiest to have hiking poles. Some of the loose dirt was easy to slip on, and tiny rocks were like ball bearings that wanted my boots to slide instead of take a firm hold of the ground.

We made a bit of a circle at the end because we returned via the North and Maidu trails.

All the while the moon was getting brighter and bigger. Unfortunately, it wasn’t casting off enough light for us to make the second half of the trek without the assistance of headlamps—at least for most of us. This was two days before the actual full moon/eclipse in May.

Castle Crags — a breathtaking ascent into North State wilderness


Castle Crags granite formations are more than 170 million years old. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

One does not have to hike or climb Castle Crags to be impressed by this rock formation that towers above Interstate 5 north of Redding at more than 6,500 feet.

But for those who don’t just drive by, you will be even more awed by the views.

While sometimes natural formations are best viewed from a distance, that is not so with Castle Crags—though it is dazzling from afar. These granite spires are captivating from so many points along the trail.

The last Saturday of April was my second time to hike the trail. The first was in November 2009, so it had been a while.

Views are scenic from nearly every step of the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This time we started at the vista point parking lot, thus avoiding unnecessary mileage from the ranger station. We started on the Root Creek Trail and then got onto the Crags Trail. The group of six hikers were part of the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventures group.

Looking at the pictures from my first excursion there were some differences in the terrain, which has me scratching my head. Was I on the exact same trail? Has the trail been improved in the last nearly 13 years?

In a 2009 photo there is a distinct metal railing. No railings existed this spring. While there is a narrow section, it would not have made things better with a railing—and this from a person who has some height issues.

What I’m wondering is if on the first hike the four of us ignored the “trail ends” sign and kept going. Or maybe the sign is new and we didn’t know better.

Castle Dome is nearly 5,000 feet tall. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Kristin, who was leading the recent hike, said we could have gone farther, to ascend a bit of Castle Dome (4,996 feet) like her group had done a few days earlier. None of us wanted to. Now I wish I had to see if that might have been where I was the first time.

We took our time getting to the base of Castle Dome; stopping to enjoy the handful of wildflowers along the trail and trying to appreciate the bird calls that a fellow hiker was attuned to. At this pace it made the elevation gain not seem that difficult.

When it’s not cloudy, the 14,179-foot Mount Shasta makes her presence known. While this majestic mountain is 30 miles north, it doesn’t seem that far away from the trail. Shasta was never completely visible on either of my hikes at the Crags. Still, you knew she was there and you could sense her grandeur.

Then there are the monoliths that climbers were aspiring to tame. According to there are 116 routes for rock climbers. Some were being scaled when we were there.

By definition a crag is “a steep or rugged cliff or rock face.” The castle part of this particular formation is derived from how many granite spires there are; some would say they are castle-like.

This was the backdrop to our lunch spot, which was near the “trail end” marker. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • We put in 6.15 miles, with an elevation gain of 2,123 feet. The high point was 4,716 feet and the low mark was 2,586 feet. The park has 28 miles of hiking trails.
  • There is a fee to park at Castle Crags State Park.
  • Dogs not allowed on trails.
  • Part of the Pacific Crest Trail runs through the state park and the wilderness area.

Luther Burbank Gardens continues horticulturalist’s legacy


Luther Burbank Home & Gardens in Santa Rosa is a tribute to the world renown horticulturalist. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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.

A bee sucks the nectar from one of the many flowers at the Burbank gardens in Santa Rosa. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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.

Borage leaves are said to be cucumber-flavored. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

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.

An unexpected bike ride through hilly Butte County


Kae Reed and Sue Wood back on flat ground during the Wildflower ride on April 24. (Image: Sue Wood)

Something was clearly wrong. We were supposed to only climb 200 feet total and we were already beyond that marker. From our vantage point the hill we were on looked like it stretched to the sky with no end point.

What was wrong was the markers for the ride got screwed up. We weren’t alone in being on the wrong route for the Wildflower bike ride in Chico last weekend. I don’t know how many cyclists ended up climbing when they didn’t expect to.

We were supposed to ride 60 miles of flat terrain with a total elevation gain of 200 feet. The route (there were seven) we ended up on was the 65-miler with hills. My app recorded 2,350 feet of elevation gain.

I never wanted to climb Clark Road to Paradise. Not that day, not ever. That’s what serious cyclists do. I am not a serious cyclist.

I’m so unserious that I don’t even know how to change a flat tire. In fact, on a training ride the weekend before my sister came to pick me up when my tire blew. In retrospect that flat was a good omen because the bike shop said the whole tire needed replacing.

Going up Clark was a grind. Fortunately, there was a rest stop essentially at the top of the hill. This is where we found other people with orange wrist bands who were now on the wrong route. While we knew we could have turned around on the hill, I had lobbied to keep going. I decided a hill was better than added mileage.

At the rest stop people said the hills were over and that only small ones, like going over an overpass, would be all we would encounter. I soon learned that description was a bunch of BS. I had been taking this whole wrong, hilly route in stride with a good attitude until I hit Pearson Road. Damn. I walked the bike a bit. It’s not that it was harder than Clark, it’s just that I hit a mental wall. We weren’t even 25 miles in and I started getting pissy because I didn’t want any more climbing.

After Pearson there wasn’t. But I did have to get off the hill. While so many people relish this part of a ride, I get scared going downhill. I don’t like to go fast. In fact, my hands hurt so much from braking that I literally have to stop on a downhill. In this case, I stopped twice to stretch out my hands.

More proof I am not a serious cyclist.

Positive attitude resumed once we were back on the flat. The roads took us to the town of Durham. From here it was confirmed we could ditch this 65-mile route and take a short cut back to the fairgrounds.

We ended with 50 miles. Less than we intended from the get-go, but with more than 10 times the elevation we had planned for. Not bad for a Sunday ride by a non-serious cyclist.

Relishing the sport of baseball on opening day

I wasn’t sure I was going to care about this baseball season, what with the greed of both sides delaying the start of it.

And then there I was at the Giants opening day on April 8 in San Francisco.

Something about baseball intrigues me. So much strategy and athleticism considering it’s such a simple game. It’s not a bruising sport (though plenty of injuries occur), nor is it a sport of a lot of thugs (though cheating is not unheard of). It’s a sport (along with softball) that most everyone can play at some level for decades.

Watching professional games in person or listening to them on the radio are my favorite ways to enjoy baseball, but that doesn’t mean you won’t find me in front of the TV—especially for a night game.

Giants players celebrate their win on opening day, April 8. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

I will admit I’m really a Giants fan; not a baseball fan. I don’t listen to or watch other teams. In fact, when I travel to other ballparks I try to do so when the Giants are visiting. I do love going to different parks even though I have not been to that many.

I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel being around so many people. I was definitely in the minority when it came to mask-wearing. Interestingly, though, more people elsewhere in San Francisco were wearing masks than inside Oracle stadium. I think this says something about who was there—perhaps not that many San Franciscans. The best thing about the season ticket group I’m part of is the seats we have aren’t around people because they are handicap accessible. This made me feel safer being at the ballpark.

Unique (at least to me) was instead of having a military flyby, Navy parachutists descended onto the field. It was pretty cool, especially the last one bringing the U.S. flag.

I was touched by the moment of silence in support of Ukraine. You just know this wasn’t happening at all MLB ballparks.

Navy parachutists make their way onto the field at Oracle park in San Francisco. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Then there was the humor with Brandon Belt being towed in on an inflatable raft wearing a captain’s hat with the letter C taped on to his jersey. This was a nod to last season when he announced he was the captain of the team. It was funny last season, hilarious to start this season. Maybe you need to be fan to understand. Trust me on this.

While I have been to several opening days, this is the first one I remember seeing empty seats. The announcer said it was sold out with more than 40,000 people, but they certainly were not all there. Was it COVID uncertainty? Was it no Buster Posey? It can’t be coming off a bad season because the Giants won their division and a franchise record 107 games.

It was a stressful game inasmuch as it took extra innings for them to win. But win they did. It was a great day at the ballpark. I’m ready to go back. Go Giants.

Lack of distinct trail makes ascent challenging

North Butte is the highest location in Sutter Buttes that is accessible to the public. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even when you know there won’t be switchbacks, it doesn’t mean you don’t curse the fact they don’t exist.

My heart rate was surging a bit climbing to the top North Butte in the Sutter Buttes mountain range near Yuba City. And my quads were feeling it the next day.

Hike leaders of the Summit Ascent/North Butte hike described it like this: “One of the Buttes’ most challenging treks, this route is a steep, 1,000-foot push straight up North Butte. It is off trail and has no easy switchbacks. Hikers must be in very good physical condition and not suffer from vertigo.” The nonprofit that puts on the hikes lists their outings on a 1 boot (easiest) to 6 boots (hardest and called extreme). My hike on March 20 was a 5-booter, labeled strenuous.

There were parts that were definitely strenuous, but it’s not sustained. I was super happy to have my poles, though, for the climb up and down. Definitely not a hike for anyone with knee issues. The soft dirt presented a potential slipping problem going down. Fortunately, the narrow parts of the trail with a substantial drop were not long enough to trigger my height issues.

We made it to the top of North Butte, the highest point accessible to the public. The height is 1,863 feet, which is not scalable without a rope. The public isn’t allowed to climb the rocks.

Peace Valley is owned by the state, but not accessible by the public. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We had lunch at the base. From here are some iconic vistas. Sacramento’s skyline was distinct in the distance, with Mount Diablo just to the west. In the opposite direction were snowcapped Mount Shasta and Lassen Peak. Also visible was Sierra Buttes.

The closest point of interest was South Butte, which can boast of being the tallest point in Sutter Buttes at 2,122 feet. It is not open to the public.

While the Buttes are volcanic, the last eruption was about 1.5 million years ago. Glad no one was talking about them being overdue to spew lava.

After descending North Butte, we headed back in a different direction from where we started. This led to a vista of Peace Valley. That green area is a state park that is not accessible to the public. Our guide said there are talks to try to rectify that situation at least on a limited basis. The concern by ranchers is it would be overrun with people, and therefore would be a threat to their livestock. In the park is a historic cemetery.

While no native American tribes called the Buttes home, five tribes used the area. Remnants remain such as pounding stones, also known as grinding rocks.

More modern human evidence is found at what’s called Seismograph Hill. While there isn’t much seismic activity in these parts, if there is any, it will be picked by USGS officials. A sad sample of humans spoiling such pristine terrain was the graffiti on the rocks at the top of North Butte.

No wonder the only access to this area is to pay to hike through Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes, or to be one of the landowners or their guest. Sutter Buttes has multiple land owners, with three primary ones. We were on the Dean property.

It was a gorgeous hike, with green grass everywhere. Oak trees—blue oak, valley oak, and live oak—are the predominant flora. Though several wildflowers were in bloom—lupine, blue dip, popcorn, filaree and poppies to name a few.

Three species of oak trees call Sutter Buttes home. (Image: Kathryn Reed)



  • For more information about hiking Sutter Buttes, go online.
  • Driving around the Buttes is also an option.
  • This hike was 4.68 miles, had an elevation gain of 1,200 feet, with the lowest spot being 611 feet, and the highest 1,737 feet.

Tennis becomes sport of choice for millions during pandemic

A pandemic is a great way to get people to be more active, especially when the safest place to be is outdoors.

That’s where I’ve been the last two years, but that really isn’t anything new.

What is new is the number of people playing tennis, which is my No. 1 sport to participate in. According the U.S. Tennis Association, tennis participation increased 27.9 percent from 2019-2021. There are 22.6 million players in the United States, of which about 4.9 million are the newbies.

Of course all these new players mean more racket sales. Tennis Industry Association says sales increased 22.7 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, with 3.4 million rackets sold. The dollar value in this time frame surged 46.2 percent to $122.9 million.

While not new to the sport, I’ve been playing more tennis in the last year than years past. It has to do with more flexibility in my work life compared to running a 24/7 news site in Tahoe, as well as having more courts than just one primary one in Baja, and wanting to meet people in my new hometown of Chico.

I’ve met a great group of guys to hit with at the public courts, and fabulous women to play singles and doubles with at the private club. Just recently I’ve become a sub in a clinic taught by the club’s pro where doubles strategy is the focus. One would think I was a newbie to the sport based on what I’m learning. It’s been fabulous.

One of the great things about tennis is that all ages can play it. I started as a kid and continue to play now that I’m in my mid-50s.

I’m excited my niece is taking lessons after not playing much since high school. She’s in her 30s now. I’m looking forward to her next visit to Chico so we can hit some balls.

Tennis really is a lifetime sport, the cost is minimal, and the rewards are immense. Some of my best friends are the ones I met on the tennis court. I can’t imagine not playing. I often say being on the tennis court is being in my happy place.

Table Mountain a scenic wonderland

Coal Canyon, with the falls the dark spot in middle right. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Water and wildflowers are scarce at Table Mountain. Such are the hazards of a winter when the number of rainy days can be counted on both hands.

Nonetheless, this scenic tableau is never a disappointment.

One of the beautiful things about Mother Nature is that no two years are alike, therefore making so many destinations worthy of at least an annual visit.

This year I was at the 3,300-acre North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve north of Oroville on March 13. Last year I was there March 31. More flowers were in bloom and the waterfalls were more robust in 2021. While it’s possible more flora will sprout this season, the lack of moisture this last winter and this week’s record heat could dry everything up.

Ravine Falls at Table Mountain. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

This outdoor oasis owned by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife definitely resembles a table top when looking at it from the distance. It’s that flat. But on it, well, it’s an uneven wonderland of vernal pools and more than 100 species of flowers.

On this month’s excursion with the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventure group we meandered through poppies that were closed to ward off the morning chill, but later opened their petals as the warmth of the sun penetrated the clouds. Lupine was the most predominant flower.

Most striking was overlooking Coal Canyon. Simply breathtaking in its grandeur. Here is where the waterfall by the same name trickles down the rock. It’s better known as Phantom Falls, so named because much of the year it is not visible. Reports are someone devised a map with Phantom Falls as the name instead of its given name of Coal Canyon Falls; thus the reason for two names and a bit of confusion.

The limited flora at Table Mountain this year is still beautiful. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The waterfalls at Table Mountain are fed from rain water, so they are never likely to be visible in summer. Coal Canyon falls drop 164 into a pool at the bottom that eventually evaporates.

Regardless if there is a waterfall to see, the view of this basalt canyon is stunning. It’s as though the two sides have been severed and pushed apart to make this canyon opening. The rock walls continue to erode, creating piles at the base.

Before reaching Coal Canyon we were at the top and bottom of Ravine Falls. A year ago the water was visible from the top, not so this year. A trickle, though is still descending the moss laden rock, which can be seen at the bottom.

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