Sutter Buttes erupt from middle of Central Valley

Sutter Buttes look moody with storm clouds circling. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While the Sutter Buttes are not that tall, they are hard to miss as they seem to be sprouting from the middle of ag land.

Rising to a height of just more than 2,000 feet, these volcanic domes are the highest points in Sutter County. With the buttes being 10 miles long and so much of the land around the area being flat, they can be seen from miles away in all directions.

Some have called this the world’s smallest mountain range.

From afar Sutter Buttes looks more imposing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Even though part of the land is a state park, it’s not accessible by the public on a regular basis. This is because private land surrounds what is public and landowners won’t allow an easement for access.

The private land owners decades ago allowed unlimited access, but then people started to disrespect the environment by leaving graffiti on rocks, not shutting the gates that kept animals in, and destroying the property in other ways.

The Sutter Buttes Regional Land Trust at various times offers guided hikes for a fee. Unless you know a property owner, the guided hikes are the main way to get onto the land.

Mom has been on one of these guided hike and says it’s worth doing. Various routes are available, some more difficult than others.

Sutter Buttes look different from the various angles along the drive. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

On most days, though, the only way to see the buttes up close is to take a driving tour or ride a bike. Mom and I opted for the car version.

We started on the edge of Yuba City on country roads that were best suited for the Jeep, though no four-wheel drive was needed and passenger cars would be fine. It’s just that the road isn’t always smooth. It’s about a 45-mile drive.

The one marker we saw touted how Maj. Gen. John Fremont camped in the area in spring 1848: “While on a march from Klamath Lake to Sonoma when he represented the United States government during the Bear Flag Uprising which resulted in the acquisition of California from Mexico.”

Being close to the formations they seemed less imposing, at least from the comfort of the Jeep. Still, it was interesting to view them from all sides as we drove in a clockwise motion around them. As the clouds filtered in and out it added to the natural beauty.

S. Lake Tahoe snowboarder Hight talks of failures, successes

Elena Hight conquers the big mountains of Alaska.

When someone has reached the pinnacle of their sport it can be hard to fathom how they might have self-confidence. But success is often riddled with doubt, second guessing and a fair amount of adversity.

South Lake Tahoe’s Elena Hight is a two-time Olympian, with seven X Games medals and a U.S. Championship in snowboarding. Her talk on Dec. 16 titled “Breaking through Comfort Zones: Pipes, Powder and Post Holes” shed light on the pressure she felt, her successes and failures, and how she rediscovered her love of snowboarding. This was part of Tahoe City’s Aplenglow Sports’ 16th annual winter speaker series.

Hight retired from competitive snowboarding three years ago to pursue big mountain snowboarding.

Surfing was her first board sport since she was born in Kauai. At age 6 her family moved to South Lake Tahoe, and snowboarding became her sport of choice. Kirkwood was her dad’s favorite resort, so that’s where they often went. Going through the gullies reminded him of riding waves.

By age 7 Hight was competing in snowboarding competitions.

“To be honest I was probably one of the most competitive children you ever met. I think I hated to lose more than I liked winning,” the 32-year-old said.

She was 16 when she made her Olympic debut at the 2006 Games. She finished sixth in halfpipe as the youngest member of the U.S. team.

“My competitive career took off after that. I landed on top of a lot of podiums,” Hight said.

Helena Hight of South Lake Tahoe talks Dec. 16 about life as a snowboarder.

She placed 10th at the 2010 Games in the halfpipe.

“Gretchen Bleiler and Hannah Teter were who I traveled with a lot. The people that you are with really makes the experience. I found a lot of comfort in this lifestyle living out of a packed bag, going to these events, pushing myself, partying and doing it all again,” Hight said.

“It sounds really exciting and fun, and it was for a long time. Somehow I got bored. I found myself in a rut.”

In 2012 she tried to find inspiration by perfecting a trick that had never been done before—by a woman or man—the double backside alley-oop rodeo. She landed it at the X Games the following year—the first to do so in competition.

“It made me super proud. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done in a halfpipe,” Hight said. “I had never gone upside down twice before. There is a lot that can go wrong.

“This was really a turning point in my career. Not because of the success, but because of stepping outside what I was comfortable with and pushing my limits.”

She was accustomed to being a trend setter. At 13 she was the first person to land a 900 in competition.

The problem, though, was that she became so fixated on the double backside that she didn’t qualify for the next Olympics in 2014.

In some ways this was life changing as she was invited to go ride Alaska.

“I almost said no because I was too afraid to fail. I had not been in big mountains. I was afraid of failing in front of people I looked up to so much,” Hight said.

While her fears were real, they were completely unfounded. She left there a changed woman. She describes it as having tunnel vision about Olympic and other competition in the halfpipe, thinking anything else would be a distraction.

“I soon realized this was the biggest inspiration I could have gotten for my snowboarding and my competitive career,” she said. “I definitely left Alaska in love with the big mountains. I also found a new spark for snowboarding. I had been so focused on the outcome of contests that I had forgotten I love the sport.”

Being reinvigorated landed her on multiple podiums the next season, including at the X Games. She was also a favorite to land a spot on the 2018 U.S. Olympic team.

“I fell on my face,” she said matter-of-factly. It had never crossed her mind she would not make the team.

“I think you learn lot more from failures than success. This failure taught me I was trying to run away from failure more than chasing success. It was a hard lesson to learn, but I learned it.”

Heartbreak as well as opportunity followed the Olympic trials. A few months after not making the team she got a call from big mountain snowboarder Jeremy Jones who invited her a little trip across the Sierra. She ended up starring in some of his film projects.

The experience with Jones led her to realize it was time to give up the halfpipe and pursue the backcountry. Some of her sponsors stayed, others severed ties.

“During this transition the biggest thing I learned is I found joy in learning just as much as a I did in succeeding,” Hight said. “I have failed more than I have succeeded. It makes the successes that much sweeter. Ultimately we find new comfort zones.”

Trek in Upper Bidwell Park a loop through constant beauty

Fog adds an unexpected beauty to Upper Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Ascending from the foggy parking lot, it didn’t take long before we were above the grayness. Remarkably, though, it was that layer of fog that created some of the most stunning scenery.

While thick in the canyon within Upper Bidwell Park in Chico, the fog became wispier at the sun burned through that watery mist. The filtered sunlight, the backlit oak trees—it all added to the delightful mid-November hike.

The rocky North Rim Trail is wide enough for two people. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

In some places it was like a moonscape with the basalt rock scattered about the landscape. Only the rocks were strewn about on fresh green grass from the early November rains instead of barren ground.

The route we took under the guidance of a Chico Orville Outdoor Adventurers leader is not one I would have done on my own. This is because to me it looked like the North Rim Trail ended and we were going to have to retrace our steps.

Not so.

Big Chico Creek spills forth along the Yahi Trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Over the edge we went. Yes, there really was a trail there that was not well traversed. All the better to feel like we were exploring a bit.

Before we got to that point we had some fantastic views of the park, into the lush city-owned Sycamore Canyon, and way beyond to the snow covered Trinity Alps.

Much of the North Rim Trail is wide enough to walk two abreast. Remnants of last summer’s fire are still visible.

Along the circuitous route we saw buckeye, live oak, pines, and wispy pipestem clematis.

A single-track trail meanders through oak trees. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

We did bushwhack a bit between North Rim and B trails, but not much. Then we hooked up with Middle Trail, before finishing the trek back to the Horseshoe Lake parking area via Yahi Trail, which parallels Big Chico Creek.

It was a glorious day to be hiking in our “back yard” with some fall color still apparent and the winter greening just beginning.

By the end of the day we had logged 8.51 miles, with an elevation gain of 1,156 feet. Our lowest point was 304 feet and highest was 1,350 feet.

Renewed appreciation for road bike riding

The road seemed to go forever with a headwind that made it feel like I was sitting still instead of pedaling forward.

I was afraid it would never end.

Sue and Kae cycling through the orchards on the outskirts of Chico on Nov. 7. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Amazing what a difference a 90-degree turn can make. Suddenly I was moving. A smile crept across my face. It also helped that the rest stop was in sight so I could refuel for the final push.

In November, Sue and I participated in a fund-raising ride for Chico Velo, the local road bike group. It had been years, probably well more than a decade, since I last rode more than 30 miles.

Incredibly, I wasn’t sore afterward. A flat 32.5-mile course at sea level had a lot to do that. Hills and elevation might have done me in.

I own two bikes, but don’t profess to be much of a cyclist. This made me want to get out on my bike more. We’ll see if that actually happens.

I have visions of doing the Wildflower ride next spring in Chico. There are 120- and 100-mile routes, along with shorter ones.

I’ve done one century in my life—the 2008 Mammoth ride. That was a killer. It started at about 7,900 feet and only went up from there. People in the know say if you can finish the Mammoth century, you can do the annual Death Ride in the Sierra. My ego likes thinking that is the case. In other words, I’m never going to do the Death Ride. I’m just going to assume at one point in my life I could have based on having done the Mammoth century.

For those who don’t cycle, a century ride is 100 miles.

This local ride was to raise money so the club will be able to put on the Wildflower ride. It’s a 40-year tradition in Chico that has been knocked off kilter because of the pandemic. Bicycling magazine has name the ride one of the top 10 centuries.

I need to get back in the saddle and start finding some hills so I’m ready to do more than smell the wildflowers next April.

Chico store hosting book signings by Tahoe outdoor author

Chico Sports LTD will be hosting outdoor book author Kathryn Reed on Nov. 27, Dec. 11 and Dec. 18. She will be there starting at 10am this Saturday, and at 11am on the two Saturdays in December.

Come out and say hello, then grab a copy of The Dirt Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Hikes, Snowshoeing Around Lake Tahoe: Must-Do Scenic Treks, or Lake Tahoe Trails For All Seasons: Must-Do Hiking and Snowshoe Treks. The latter is a combination of the first two books. All books will be signed and can be personalized by the author.

These guidebooks are different than most others because they are written in narrative form, so each hike/snowshoe is a story unto itself. Every trek is rated for scenic quality and difficulty. The author has done every snowshoe and hike.

Chico Sports LTD is located at 698 Mangrove Ave. in the Safeway shopping center.

If you can’t make it out to one of the signings, the books are available at the store now or contact Reed at to get a copy or two or three.

Jack London park awash in hiking trails

We had a vague idea of where we were going, then let intuition and strangers help guide us.

This was fortuitous because two women asked us if we were headed to the old redwood. We wondered, “What old redwood?” And off we went at their urging.

This ancient redwood is protected at Jack London State Historic Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

“After logging the old-growth forest, this 14-foot diameter giant redwood still stood. Often referred to as the Grandmother Tree, it is estimated to be 1,800 to 2,000 years old,” according to Jack London State Historic Park’s website. “Although the coast redwood is the tallest living thing in the world, this particular tree is wider than it is tall and therefore does not tower over the forest canopy.”

She is worthy of a visit. In some ways she looked like something that might reside at Hogwarts because of how some of her limbs are growing. Nonetheless, we were happy to make the short side trip on this late September hike.

The water level at Fern Lake keeps dropping. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The four of us started the morning at the Sonoma Developmental Center. Even though it is now shuttered, we abided by the signs saying only state vehicles beyond a certain point. We walked up the paved Orchard Road until we could veer right onto dirt paths that led us to the 13-acre Fern Lake, which is just outside the boundary of the state park.

Then we meandered a bit west onto the trails of Jack London State Historic Park. This area is south of the main park entrance where the historic buildings are located. Having been there a few times, I thought a different starting point would be fun and interesting. Looking at a map, I realize I’ve barely scratched the park’s trail system.

The tree canopy provides shade along the trail. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With so many leaves on the ground and needing to start off with long sleeves, we had definitely transitioned to fall.

A mix of flora dotted the trail and surrounding forest—pines, oak, ferns, and the aforementioned ancient redwood among others. The canopy provided shade on the dirt trails, while the paved area was exposed.

The parched earth was most dramatically in evidence on the last path we selected to go down. Cracks in the dried dirt made it look like the ground was crumbling in large chunks.

We finished the route clocking 4.68 miles, starting at 239 feet, reaching 982 feet.

Rain quickly changes the look of popular trail

At times Big Chico Creek is rushing along the Annie Bidwell Trail, other times it is calm. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Green. That was the significant difference two weeks made.

My first trek on the Annie Bidwell Trail in Upper Bidwell Park came Oct. 22 with the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventurers group. The dusk hike was an opportunity to stretch our legs for an hour after being cooped up because of the rain.

Looking toward the burn scar of the North Rim of Bidwell Park on Oct. 22, left, and then on Nov. 5. (Images: Kathryn Reed)

Two weeks later the excursion was with a friend from out of town, with the idea of seeing part of Bidwell Park she had not explored and to go a bit farther than I had before.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how dramatically different the landscape looked. Oh, the power of Mother Nature.

Rain and sun are making for the greening along paths, the meadows and on the burn scar in the park from last summer’s fire.

Big Chico Creek runs through Upper Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Sometimes it is easy to take these changes in the landscape for granted. We expect the greening of hillsides in Northern California in the winter. How glorious to have it occur in early fall after two years of drought.

This trek has a variety of scenic elements. Starting off it was something out of Harry Potter with the dead looking trees making a canopy of sorts that seemed a bit other worldly. It’s not long before Big Chico Creek comes into view with a multitude of deciduous trees showing off their fall colors. There is a point where it’s easy to get closer to the canyon walls of the creek that are coarse basalt. From there the trail opens up with broader views of hillsides beginning to green.

Rain and sun are turning the terrain green. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While mountain bikers are welcome here, it’s not a trail I would do. But that is not saying much.

The trail is mostly single track, with gradual ups and downs along the way. None of it was strenuous, though the rocks embedded in the dirt required paying attention. The longer hike was 5 miles, with 562 feet of elevation gain. Our lowest point was 299 feet, with the highest 509 feet. Both treks were an out and back.

Goats take a bite out of fire threat throughout Chico

Thorn eating, poison oak gobbling goats have been romping through Bidwell Park as an environmentally safe way to mow down the potentially fire-hazardous grasses and rid the area of invasive species.

This flock hails from Rancho Cordova-based Capra Environmental Services Corp. (Capra actually means goat.)

Between 200 and 500 of these goats started munching away in Chico in the summer and have continued their work this fall.

Goats munch on grass in Lower Bidwell Park in late October. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Typically, the animals work on 1 acre per day. They can be in an area 24 hours or longer. A sheepherder, trained dogs and electric fences keep them corralled.

Something about seeing them at work along Vallombrosa Avenue in Lower Bidwell Park brings a smile to my face. They seem to be having fun. Some look like they are about to climb a tree with their front hooves on the trunk as they reach to nibble on a branch. A few play around as they head-butt each other. Some are a little lackadaisical about this work thing as they lounge in the soft grass.

Even though they have been taking a serious bite of potential fire fuels in various locations throughout Chico, not everyone is thrilled with their presence. Naturally some dude had to write a letter to the local paper about how he thought there were better alternatives, and lamented how the brush would grow back next year.

A goat takes a break from eating in Chico’s Bidwell Park. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

True, it will. It will also grow if power tools had been used or heavier equipment.

The point isn’t to eliminate the grasses in their entirety, but instead to naturally mow down the area so if there were a fire, the spread would be practically impossible. Plus, the goats are getting rid of species of flora that are not good.

Sure, things like this use taxpayers’ dollars. But any mitigation plan costs money. Goats seem like a better way of solving problems than a lot of other decisions this City Council has made.

Thousands of trees make Chico an autumn wonderland

Colorful trees fill front yards throughout Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

Red, yellow, orange, pink, fuchsia, burgundy green, brown—these are the many colors of leaves dangling from trees and scattered about yards throughout Chico.

It’s hard to drive on a street in this city that is not full of trees. No wonder it is called The City of Trees.

Leaves come in a variety of colors. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

While fall brings out an abundance of color, the trees are magnificent year-round. It’s not just the flora in Bidwell Park that is so spectacular. It’s everywhere.

Some of these trees are owned by residents, some by businesses, and many by the city itself.

Trees line most streets in Chico. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

According to the city’s website, “Currently, there are approximately 25,000 street trees within the public right-of-way. Another 8,000 locations are available as future tree planting sites.”

It also says, “Chico is known as the City of Trees, with a robust urban forest history that began with John Bidwell.”

It’s hard not to slow down to admire the trees. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

The city was founded in 1860 by Bidwell. Many of the trees were here when he arrived, many more have been planted since then. Exactly how trees now exist could not be found.

The California Native Plant Society lists 39 trees native to Chico. They include cottonwoods, maples, pines, incense cedar, oaks, willows, Douglas fir, ash, elder, sycamore, laurel and more.

Some trees have a kaleidoscope of color. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

All the almond and walnut orchards have their own beauty and symmetry; most of these are found on the outskirts of town. The Northern California Black Walnut is native, according to the CNPS.

This vibrant tree brightens an otherwise gloomy fall day. (Image: Kathryn Reed)

With all these trees, it’s not surprising for 37 years Chico has been named a Tree City by the Arbor Day Foundation. In 2020, 3,676 cities received this designation.

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