Friday, March 18, 2016

There's a Tiger in my Tale

Ever been to Oroville, California?

Wouldn't blame you if you haven't.  There's actually not a lot of reasons to go to Oroville, California.  Maybe go by, or through, but not to.

How do you compliment a woman from Oroville?

Nice Tooth.

Get the picture?

Oroville, California is a rather economically depressed little city town of 16,000, give or take, with about 55,000 living in the greater Oroville area.  There's not a lot of reasons to live in Oroville, unless you're a woman with one tooth.  Or you're looking for inexpensive real estate.

Why do I know so much about Oroville?  A couple different jobs took me there over the last 20 years.

I sold digital satellite in the foothills surrounding the town back in the mid 1990's.  More recently I did quite a few real property occupancy inspections for banks from 2009-2011 around the area.  Both those jobs allowed me to get a good feel for the town.  Which, pretty much was a pass through this town only kinda feel.  Quickly.  Unless you're looking for a one toothed kinda gal.

Its location is stellar, which is why it's there, and which is probably the only reason why you would ever find yourself there.  Passing through.  Unless, of course, you have a fetish for...

Oroville is about 70 miles north of the California state capital of Sacramento and sits on the Central Valley floor, right on the Feather River and right at the base of the Sierra Nevada Foothills.  Stellar location.  It was originally established there, on the river, in 1854 to supply gold miners up in them thar hills.

It also sits right on Hwy 70, which, about six miles north of Oroville veers North East and up into the Feather River Recreation Area.  The highway follows along the Feather River canyon for quite a ways, a simply gorgeous drive which also leads to some of the most beautiful mountain country in the state.

Twenty some miles up the road is the turn off to Buck's Lake, one of the loveliest little Sierra lakes on the planet.  In the Sierras.  There's a lodge and everything.
If you stay on the visually stunning drive another 40 miles or so you'll come to a fork in the road at Hwy 89.  Make a right (south) and in about 85 miles you'll end up in Truckee.  But those 85 miles contain some of the prettiest high sierra vistas and views you could imagine.  You'll pass through Quincy, which is not a bad place to stay if you're doing a weekend road trip.

Quincy was named #8 on the list of America's Coolest Small Towns by Budget Travel in 2013.  There are a number of clean, inexpensive drive up to the door independent motels and lots of decent eateries.   It used to host the Strawberry Music Festival, but the spring version is now located a few miles down the road from me at the Nevada County Fairgrounds.  And the fall version is located somewhere in Tuolumne County.

A little further down the road is Graeagle, which has a few lovely high sierra in the pines golf courses, a few motels and a few restaurants.  Graeagle is a nice, low key high sierra summer destination.  Especially if you like to golf.  If not, scenic Sierra hiking and stream as well as lake fishing abound.

Further down the road you'll come to the intersection with Hwy 49.  Turn there and eventually you'll come to my house.  But not before traveling through some more stunning high sierra country.  You'll also pass through a couple darling high sierra mountain towns, Sierra City and Downieville.   Both offer a variety of overnight accommodations and eateries and are gateways to vast recreational opportunities no matter the season.  There are also quite a few mountain inns, motels and resorts all along the North Fork of the Yuba River.

If you keep heading south on 89 (instead of turning on Hwy 49) you'll be traveling through high sierra valleys and meadows that make my heart sing.  Eventually you'll come to the one saloon little town of Sierraville.  If the antique galleria in a portion of the old restaurant is open you simply must stop.  Both the contents and the owner are eccentrically eclectic.  Eclectically eccentric?  I get so confused.   

Twenty more miles down the road and you're in Truckee.  Then you really have to make a decision.  Go home to obligations or go to Tahoe.

If you turn left on Hwy 89, you know, back at the original fork in the road, you'll pass through a few classically quaint, cute, little high mountain towns of Indian Falls, Crescent Mills and Greenville.  It's been a while, but I kinda recall Greenville as being the cutest.

In another 15 miles you're at Lake Almanor, another spectacular high sierra lake.  Almanor is much bigger than Bucks Lake, much smaller than Lake Tahoe.  Got it?

Lake Almanor, where the Sierras meet the Cascades, hosts great fishing as well as many other outdoor recreational activities.   Resorts and cabins abound, and at the north end of the lake in the little town of Chester is the Lake Almanor Tavern.  I swear that place could be the back woods country chop house where John Candy consumes the massive steak in the movie "The Great Outdoors."  Besides good beef, the Tavern also has a host of other great eats as well as decently priced cocktails.

A little further up the road is Lassen Volcanic National Park.  My lovely wife and I conquered that peak about twelve years or so ago for our 50th birthdays.  Ten thousand four hundred fifty seven feet up.  More than two football fields.  And it was all up until we got to the top.  We discovered it was real hard on the lungs going up, real hard on the knees going down.  That was the trip that motivated me to start taking a hiking stick along when we go back woods trekking.

Those are just a few of the treasures I know about that you can experience if you road trip on up Hwy 70 into the Feather River Recreation Area.  The smaller county roads that surround Oroville also hold treasure.  Wildflowers abound in spring, especially on the plateaus north of town.  The lush rolling countryside is also at its best in spring, a bright verdant green, with mustard and wildflowers in bloom everywhere.  That all turns to a drab, highly flammable brown come summer.
If you head east out of town and up towards the hills, one of the first things of note you'll come to is Lake Oroville.  They dammed the Feather River back in 1968, and the result of that, Lake Oroville, is now one of the largest reservoirs in the state.  And it actually has a lot of water in it now.

Lake Oroville also boasts great fishing.  I once went on a private weekend fishing derby there with an old drinking buddy and about forty of his chums from the bay area.  There was a lot of alcohol involved, even by my standards.  There was also a great BBQ both Friday and Saturday nights with close to gourmet eats.  These guys were from the affluent areas of Woodside and Atherton on the peninsula in the bay area, they knew how to play.

That was also the first time I saw a rock of cocaine the size of a fist.  The huge, crystal blue white diamond sparkled effervescently in the moonlight.  And in my brain.  Yeah, those boys knew how to play.

We didn't catch a fish the next day.  Had quite a few beers nursing a colossal hangover, but didn't catch a fish.  I never catch fish anyway, unless I'm on Pyramid Lake with Commander Kenny.  About twelve boats from our group went out, only a couple trout were caught.  Bad day for fishing on the lake.

It was a worse day for the idiot from our group who showed up at camp that night with his arm in a sling.  He'd spent most of the day in the ER after falling out of a tree.  Yep.  Seems this city slicker decided to tie himself in his sleeping bag twelve feet up in a tree so that he would not be attacked by snakes.  You know, those cold blooded slithering creatures of the night.  He fell out in the morning after apparently rolling over and after everyone had left on the derby.  And I thought I had caught a buzz the night before. 

Further on up the road past Lake Oroville are the little one horse mountain towns of Brownsville, Forbestown, Challenge, Clipper Mills and La Porte.  Definitely worth a day drive, but bring a picnic lunch.  Unless you like four day old deli market saran wrapped sandwiches.  There are a few places to dine, maybe even stay overnight, but a lot of their availability depends on the time of year.

There are a number of places to camp, like Little Grass Valley Reservoir just outside of LaPorte.  We went camping there one time one September with a group of friends and our very young children.  It started raining Saturday afternoon and did not stop.  Since this was in the days before doppler, nobody brought rain gear.  Hell, if we had known it was going to rain we would have stayed home and played Parcheesi.

But since we drank a lot of beer and ate a lot of food we brought along plenty of large, black plastic trash bags.  Which we proceeded to make three slits in, one at the bottom and one on each side.  We then flipped them upside down, put our heads through the bottom slit, our arms through the sides and wore them like ponchos.

After a sopping wet dinner one of our female friends finally packed up the herd of four small girls and drove the couple hours back to a structure and sanity.  The rest of the adults, including our two year old son, rode it out through the night.  We were hoping the storm would break and we would then be able to break camp in relatively decent weather.

Didn't happen.  It was raining harder in the morning.  Talk about a bad hair day.  There wasn't a hat on the planet large enough to hide the mess the females were in.

Ever break camp in a torrential downpour?  It was not fun.  No sense in packing it up nicely.  Everything was just haphazardly tossed into the vehicles and scrunched down.  Like a sponge.  Sopping wet.  I had gear drying in the garage for days after that.  But as with all adventures that go awry, it is a great, funny story that's still shared today among good friends.

There's also a seasonal road that runs from LaPorte to Quincy.  It's in good shape, both dirt and paved, but it's only passable four or five months of the year with a regular automobile.  The other eight months you need a snow cat or snowmobile.  It's a very scenic and not oft traveled trail, about 30 miles long.  Allow about 1 to 1.5 hours to make the trek, but depending on where you end up it's still gonna take some time to go anywhere else.  Like, if you end up in LaPorte it's going to take you another 1.5 to 2 hours to get to Oroville.  Or any where else for that matter.

One of Forbestown's only claims to fame besides it's country market is a Black Bart Monument located probably nearby.  Or next to the post office.  That's all there is in Forbestown, so the monument shouldn't be too hard to find.  Apparently the genteel outlaw made one of his infamous 28 stage coach robberies in the vicinity. 

Oroville itself and some of the surrounding communities may be depressed, BUT it may be interesting to note that not one but two Indian gaming casinos grace the area, Feather Falls and Gold Country.   At least gambling gives the poor people something to do.  Drive by their parking lots on any given Wednesday morning and they'll likely be close to full with Buicks, El Caminos and old Winnebagos. 

My lovely wife and I recently found ourselves once again passing by Oroville the other day, but not before taking a not so secret short cut to avoid going all the way into Marysville and then back tracking north

Yeah, it's a pretty well known jog most folks from Nevada County are hip to.  Instead of following Hwy 20 South and then eventually west again, one can jettison the highway at the appropriate moment and go straight on Woodruff Lane.  Woodruff will take you straight onto Hwy 70, cutting a good twenty miles off your original projected route.

Or, if you're really hip, you turn right at the silos off Woodruff and onto Mathews Road.  Then you can scream along on a patch potted road past the always busy with nature rice fields.  When filled with water, you can always catch quite a few birds out in the fields.  Egrets, ducks, geese, swans and sea gulls to name a few.  No pink flamingos though, dang.

When dry, you can always catch a hawk or two on top of the power poles along the road overlooking the fields looking for a meal.  On one commute to my satellite job in Live Oak morning I counted seventeen hawks all lined up on these poles that were about 70 yards apart.  I would usually spot two or three, maybe four, but seventeen?

It was about to be a very dark day indeed for little furry four legged creatures.  Survivors and members of the Rodent Historical Society probably compare it to the attack on Pearl Harbor.  A definite day to go down in rodent infamy.   

Mathews Road has quite a few little to medium pot holes by the way, some of which have been insufficiently filled with asphalt by junior achievers of the county's pot hole program.  I mean, a ten year old could have done better.  So enjoy the ride.  Forty-five will get you there almost as fast as sixty.  Almost.

After a few miles Mathews "T's" at Ramirez.  Make a right and you will soon be hopelessly lost in a maze of back woods country roads leading to seemingly no where except more back woods country roads.  You may get out if you have a compass and know how to use it.  Or if you know how to talk to old people whittling kazoos in a rocking chair on the front porch.  Spittin tobacco and drinking home made hooch. 

So, don't go right.  Go left.  If you go left you'll "T" at Hwy 70 in a couple miles.  Whiz right over the railroad tracks, which is why you went this way anyway.  If you went straight on Woodruff you'd hit Hwy 70 too.  But not before having to almost come to a complete stop to cross the tracks.  Even with the turns and pot holes, Mathews/Ramirez is quicker.  Plus entertaining.  As long as you don't go right on Ramirez.

Once you hit Hwy 70 from either location, make a right and head North.  If you make a left you will head south into Marysville, which would be completely idiotic.  Why take a short cut that just takes you back to the place you originally wanted to avoid in the first place?

Hwy 70 north of Marysville is surrounded by orchards.  Winter can be stark, but Spring through Autumn offer an ever-changing display of visual delight.  Both sides of the road were in bloom when we passed, pink and white blossoms were everywhere.  Plus the inviting bright yellow blooming mustard plants were firing up  underneath.  The drive was awash in color.

This vision also makes my heart sing.  I walked about a half mile to school in my kindergarten and first grade years.  We lived in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains at the time, and part of that walk took me through a plum orchard.  Every day.  It was glorious.

Hwy 70 eventually turns into a four lane highway a little south of Oroville.  Right about the time you pass Dingerville, USA.  Yep, a high class, upscale 9 hole golf course, RV and mobile home park catering to social security retirees who want to live the good life.  I understand the golf course is now closed to the public, which means membership must be at a zenith.

If you go to their site, you'll notice all the inviting pictures show there's green grass surrounding everything.  That lasts about three months out of the year.  The rest of the year it's brown because it bakes out there.  North central valley gets into triple digits all the time during summer.  They also don't tell ya your closest shopping mecca is Oroville.  But other than that, it's an oasis.  As long as your AC works.    

We blew by Dingerville.  We blew by Oroville.  Six miles later we started heading up towards the majestic Feather River canyon.  But just a couple miles later we made a left onto Pentz Road.  In a few hundred yards we made a left onto Durham Pentz Road.  Two back woods country roads.  With names.  Another few hundred yards or so later we arrived at our destination for the day, the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Foundation.

You see, my lovely wife is a cat whisperer.  She loves the feline species, and they love her.  Back when we lived in the little seaside hamlet of Capitola we used to take a four block walk down to the wharf.  We started keeping track of the cats she coaxed out of hiding to come and say hi.  I think fourteen was the pinnacle, which is a lot of cats.  I doubt there were very many rodents in that neck of the woods either.

Anyway, when our son informed us there might be a possibility she could hold a tiger cub, well, how could we resist?

Founded in 1994, the Barry R. Kirshner Wildlife Sanctuary is located in the foothills outside Oroville in Butte County.  It's a regular house sitting on 10 acres, and it is equal parts wildlife sanctuary, educational park, and research center.  The sanctuary is home to a remarkable assortment of non-releasable wild and exotic animals, many of them endangered species.  It's also home to the person that runs the place, and one of their roommates in the house is that baby tiger.  The photo was taken on the front porch.

By the way, that baby tiger is probably no longer available for holding.  He was already getting pretty big when we were there.  He was also verrrry interested in a volunteer that was wearing a red T-shirt.  He was close to squirming away from my lovely wife, who was getting close to jettisoning the relationship as well.  Fortunately the red shirt disappeared and he settled down for the photo opp.

We were told a baby bear would be there soon and available for cuddling.  So, if you are a bear whisperer or just want to hold a baby bear, get on up to Oroville soon!  I'd give them a call first, just in case this author has no idea what he's talking about.

Lions and tigers and bears.  Oh my!  And there are Ligers too.

What is a liger?  Well, that would be a cross between this

And that

Unfortunately we didn't get a shot of the Ligers, but you get the idea.

The have a few bears too.

There are a number of other exotic animals there, but you can easily see everything within an hour.  So, like, don't go there expecting to spend the day and have some popcorn.  But do go there and buy admission and help support the good work they are doing.

Out of all the animals, except for maybe the baby tiger, the lemurs turned out to be our favorite.  They seemed quite content warming their belly's in the morning sun.  As if they had nothing better to do.

Speaking of large cats, our son works for a company that inspects power lines for PG&E here in Northern California.  He gets way out in the sticks at times, way out, and has run into all sorts of wild critters, both large and slitheringly small.  Some of 'em rattle too.  Only one encounter has really shook him though, and that was recently coming across a mountain lion when he was a mile or more from his vehicle.

He did it all text book pure, getting a long branch and placing it across his shoulders in an endeavor to make his head look BIG.  Plus that stick could turn into a defensive weapon if need be.  He also made a lot of noise as he slowly retreated, watching the big cat fade into the hillside brush above him.  Slow and steady, in no way hastily running, he made his way back to his vehicle.

A couple days later he was up in the same location to complete his previously interrupted mission.  He took along a supervisor named Big Ed.  It wasn't so much that Big Ed could take on a Big Cat, it was more so that my son figured he could run faster than Big Ed, if need be, and that's all he was concerned with.

As they made their way deep into the sighting locale, they completed their mission without any further sightings.  However, as they were starting their return hike, they heard what sounded eerily like an adolescent child crying out in pain.  It sounded an awful lot like this: Mountain Lion Yowl

Here's a thought.  If you're out in the sticks and you hear this yowl, don't confuse it with the cry of a child in distress.  Holler out, you know, with words.  If you don't get a holler back, you know, with words, find a big stick.  And skedaddle.  Slowly. 

We hear that yowl every so often here in our lovely little valley.  Mostly at night, when they are typically on the prowl and not day hunting an arborist.  Just night hunting deer.  Hopefully.

The high sierra drives mentioned in this post can be a good get away in the heat of summer.  But if you want to take any lower level foothill drives spring is definitely the best time of year.  The hills will be typically be green from February through April.

Happy trails.

Homestead Rain

Prior to March, we were sitting at 34.5 inches right here at the gauge on the picket fence.  In each of the last two years we only received roughly 32 inches.  Normal is 56.

We're now sitting at 47.75 after getting 13.25 inches in the last two weeks.  That's like almost an inch per day.  Hallelujah.  Brother.


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