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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Remnants of days gone by fill Butte Creek Canyon.
Flumes first built in the 1800s by gold miners that were later used by PG&E for hydroelectric purposes make a serpentine path that today is used by hikers.
Now they are dry except when it rains.
While the sign at the entrance to the Lower Centerville Canal says don’t enter as well as use caution, the “don’t enter” request is often ignored without consequence.
The danger would be if one fell off the flumes, especially if they were full of water. At times the metal grates seem to be no more than a foot wide. As someone who has height issues, I felt fairly secure because I didn’t look down and the drop into the concrete flume was not far—though it still would have been a bloody, painful outcome had I fallen.
Other sections of the flumes are earthen, with plants growing in places.
This is definitely not a trail for dogs because of all the grates.
Signage at the start and along the way was placed by PG&E, but when one calls the number listed it becomes an automated maze, so the questions I had about the canals and power plants remain unanswered.
PG&E’s website says, “The DeSabla-Centerville Project generally consists of three small reservoirs: Round Valley, Philbrook and DeSabla Forebay. It also includes several small diversion and feeder dams, canals with tunnels and flumes, penstocks and three powerhouses: Toadtown, DeSabla and Centerville.”
The Chico News & Review from a story in 2017 reports, “… the 6.4-megawatt Centerville Powerhouse has been out of service since 2011, when PG&E determined that the penstock—the pipe that carries water downhill from the canal to the powerhouse—couldn’t handle high water pressure, said spokesman Paul Moreno. As a result, the company cut off the water that used to flow into the Centerville flumes, leaving only the DeSabla (18.5 megawatts) and Toadtown (1.5 megawatts) powerhouses in operation.”
The Library of Congress has this nugget of information, “The Centerville installation of the Francis turbine generation unit in 1907 was only the fifth Francis turbine installed on the Pacific Coast, and the first relatively high head turbine installed in the west, representing an innovative approach to long distance, high-voltage transmission. The success of the Centerville project encouraged further high head turbine installations throughout California and contributed significantly to the development and expansion of hydroelectric power generation throughout the nation.”
Fortunately, our hike leader is also a docent at the Centerville Museum. He relayed that the Centerville power plant was the oldest in the state at the time is was decommissioned.
On this excursion with the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventures group we clocked 8.77 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,639 feet. The lowest point was 971 feet, with the highest 1,707.
We made a loop by turning right up a short, steep hill that led us to a flat spot with a view that was ideal for lunch. Then we followed the dirt road to the main road we had parked on and took that down to the vehicles.
The route out was relatively flat, with a few wildflowers beginning to sprout. The views across Butte Creek Canyon are stunning.
- The flumes are accessed off Centerville Road, off Honey Run Road, which is off the Skyway in Chico.
- Parking is limited. If your bring several cars, suggested parking is at the cemetery, which is below the entrance to the flumes.
- Flume entrance is on the left with big signs warning people not to enter.
The beauty of spring can be fleeting. Perhaps this is why these seasonal flowers and blossoms are all the more special.
Throughout Butte County and all the other locales where almonds grow it is a sea of white sprouting from the branches. Almond blossoms tend to show themselves in February and March.
Get close enough and their aroma is faint, but sweet.
It’s not uncommon for locals (and others) to take a drive through the area this time of year to enjoy Mother Nature’s glory. Cyclists also find these routes to be glorious.
More than 40,000 acres in Butte County are planted with almonds.
As a commodity, almonds ranked No. 2 in Butte County in 2020 with a value of more than $147 million. Rice topped the list at more than $179 million, and walnuts were third at more than $128 million.
Anyone who has lived where a wildfire has ravaged the land knows all too well that the landscape is forever changed after the flames have been extinguished.
Such is the case at Hood Mountain in the Sonoma Valley.
The trail map shows more terrain that in inaccessible than accessible. This is the result of the 2017 Nuns Fire and the 2020 Glass Fire.
The Nuns burned the southern side of the park, where we started our hike in mid-January. Crews were still doing work near the trailhead entrance.
The Glass Fire was more devastating to the park, burning a larger area and burning hotter. It affected the northern side of the park closer to the Los Alamos Road entrance.
According to Sonoma County Regional Parks, “Overall, the (Glass) wildfire burned approximately 80 percent of the 2,000-acre park. About 50 percent was a moderate- to high-severity burn that killed or heavily damaged many trees. The fire burned the interior of the park, from the Santa Rosa Creek headwaters through the Sargent cypress forest, past the Hood Mountain summit and into Sugarloaf Ridge State Park.”
Having not hiked here before, the loss of vegetation did not affect me as much as it would a local who remembers what it was like pre-fire. But all of us who hike know all too well that our favorite places have suffered the wrath of a wildfire or is certainly susceptible to that occurring. All the more reason to appreciate what we have because one day it might not look the same.
Maybe I’ve been accustomed to the devastation of wildfire. I see a certain beauty in the aftermath. Mother Nature is so incredibly resilient. Grasses, shrubs and other flora sprout from a landscape that doesn’t look like there is fertile enough soil from which anything could grow.
The charred trees that stand like a naked forest are a powerful reminder of what fire can do. They, too, have a beauty all their own. Stare long enough and there is a sense of resilience, that they refused to fall. Those that eventually do will provide erosion barriers. Standing and fallen, both will provide habitat for various animals.
While it may seem like the forest is dead, look closer. Even a charred landscape is full of life.
Being immersed in the landscape it was easy to see where the fire burned hottest, how it jumped some stands of trees, and how crews eventually put out the flames, thus creating a line of sorts in the forest of burned v. untouched.
We started off by going up the road, which is so steep that a sign is posted for cyclists to dismount. I suppose that might have to do with the possibility of running into other trail users if speeds got so fast going downhill.
With so few trails open, for the most part we followed the signs for the Lower Johnson Ridge Trail and the Lawson Trail.
At the start the creek kept us company, with a few small waterfalls visible. Part of the trail is a dirt road, some of it is single track. With the fire, the contrast in terrain was striking from verdant green to midnight black.
A sign at the trailhead said, “On a clear day, you can see the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge from Gunsight Rock and the Valley View Trail. Please note that most trails are for experienced hikers in good physical conditions.”
By the end of our loop we had clocked just more than 4 miles. The highest elevations point was 1,895 feet and the lowest was 889 feet. Looking forward to when the summit opens; it’s an elevation of 2,730 feet.
Hood Mountain provides recreation for people on two feet, two wheels and horseback. Dogs on leash are also allowed. However, note that some of the county park trails link to Sugarloaf State Park and the state says no dogs allowed.
There is more than one entrance to this county park; we started at the Pythian Road trailhead. It costs $7 to park at this Sonoma County Regional Park.
Forty-one miles would make for more than a day hike, at least for me. While that is how long the Brad Freeman Trail is in Oroville, our group only bit off a fraction of it earlier this month.
The midway point was the lookout tower at Lake Oroville State Recreation Visitor Center. Climbing those narrow, steep stairs was the worst part of the excursion. The views from the platform were the best part, making the climb totally worth it.
Walking around the 47-foot-tall lookout gives a 360-degree view of the surrounding area, with Lake Oroville and the dam being prominent. However, the trail itself provided better views of the dam and this critical body of water—critical because it is one of the main reservoirs in the state. At least on Jan. 8 the water was noticeably higher than when I had been there last fall.
It is considered one of the most reactive reservoirs for rain, which means it can fill quickly.
Looking out we could see Sierra Buttes, Big Bald Rock, Coast Range, Table Mountain, and so much more.
The distinct green Bidwell Bar Bridge was easy to locate. The suspension bridge crosses the Feather River.
At least on the section of the Brad Freeman trail that we were on bikes were allowed, but not horses or dogs.
At the start it’s steep, then it is a more gradual climb after reaching the dam. While we weren’t far from the main road to the dam, it was still wooded and secluded.
We (this was a Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventurers excursion) finished the morning logging 5.32 miles. The lowest point was 844 point, with the highest was 1,248 feet. We started below the dam by the access to the Edward Hyatt Power Plant and Substation.
In hushed tones more than a dozen people walked the trails of Jack London State Park in mid-January. While the event was in the same week as the dead novelist’s birthday, this outing really had nothing to do with him. It was all about mushrooms.
The Sonoma County park hosted a mushroom foray on Jan. 15 that did not disappoint, especially for the price ($10) and the fact so many fungi were discovered.
In many ways it was like a scavenger hunt as participants and park volunteers crept along the walkway, scanning both sides in search of something protruding from the dirt.
A shout of excitement would go out when someone spotted a mushroom. We would all take our turns checking it out. The colors, size and shape are not uniform by any means, which adds to the wonder.
We were there to look and photograph. All specimens were left behind for the next mushroomer to appreciate.
It is said this is a banner season for finding these fungi because of the wet winter (well, it started that way) we are having compared to the last couple of dry winters.
As far as we know, none of the ones we came across was an edible variety—after all, January is when it’s common to find black trumpets, hedgehogs and winter chanterelles in the wild.
Some of the species we located include: mica cap (coprinellus micaceus), gilled polypore (trametes betulina), shellfish-scented russula (russula xerampelina) fragrant funnel (clitocybe fragrans) parrot mushroom (gliophorus psittacinus), lepiota rubrotinctoides (lepiota rubrotinctoides), Western witch’s hat (hygrocybe singeri) Western amethyst laccaria (laccaria amethysteo-occidentalis) and russula cerolens (russula cerolens).
Once upon a time I could practically roll in poison oak and nothing would happen to me. Now I say “poison oak” and it feels like I’m about to break out into a rash.
Poison oak was never a problem in Lake Tahoe. Nor was it an issue in Baja. Well, I’m now in the land of oaks, which means I’m surrounded by the poison as well.
Until moving to Chico I naively thought poison oak was something I had to worry about on a seasonal basis. Sort of like, out of sight, out of mind. Not so fast I’m learning. Fortunately, I’m learning the easy way and not by an itchy experience.
These are tips Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy has for identifying poison oak each season:
- Spring: Poison oak can be very green with varying amounts of red on the leaves, or no red on the leaves at all. It has erect stems and leaves in threes; the leaves have a shiny and smooth look to them.
- Summer: The buds of the poison oak have bloomed and are greenish and white. The plant is still pretty green; only at the end of the summer do the leaves start turning reddish.
- Fall: Around this time the leaves are no longer bright green; they now take on the famous reddish look.
- Winter: It can be difficult to identify poison oak during winter time because it’s dormant. It loses its leaves and looks like bare, erect sticks coming from the ground. Just because the leaves are no longer present, that does not mean the rash-inducing oils are absent. Be wary of the branches as well; look for cinnamon-colored branches.
I’ve always counted on the leaves as my way to identify poison oak. It wasn’t until I was on a group hike in Upper Bidwell Park in Chico last November that someone pointed out poison oak. No leaves. I didn’t intuitively understand. I thought I missed what was being talked about.
While I’m usually one who likes to learn new things, this bit of information that poison oak is something to be wary of year-round was not the fun kind of facts I prefer.
Still, it is good to know, especially since I had one of my worst bouts of poison oak last summer after contacting it in this same park.