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Tastes of Chico

Gingko biloba, Esplanade, Chico (11/19/18) Robert Kermen

“Smoke from the Camp Fire has lifted somewhat,” allowing Robert Kermen to get out of his northern Sacramento Valley home to do some errands in Chico.


Gingko biloba, Chico (11/19/18) Robert Kermen

He found gingko biloba in full peak along Chico’s Esplanade.


He was moved by an American flag, seeing it as a symbol of Butte County  rebounding from the Camp Fire, where many of Robert’s friends and relatives lost their homes and businesses.

While in town, he stopped to pick persimmons which he plans to turn into  persimmon cookies and jello for the holidays.

Robert recommends using the Hachiya persimmon for cooking, not the Asian or Japanese (Fuyu) persimmon (Diospyros kaki). The latter can be eaten like an apple and are great on a salad topped with vinegar and oil.

Hachiya persimmons must ripen completely before they can be eaten otherwise they are astringent. 

American robin, Persimmon (11/19/18) Robert Kermen

That doesn’t stop wildlife from getting to them before they’re picked, as the American robin is doing in this picture.

Persimmons are favorite fare for opossums, rodents, white-tailed deer, raccoon, fox, black bear and skunks.

The Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources reports, Ozark “Folklore tells us that if you slice a persimmon seed lengthwise, you will find the image of a spoon, knife or fork. Supposedly, the presence of a knife means we are in for a rough, unsettled winter. A mild winter is predicted by the image of spoon. If a fork is seen, our winter is supposed to be medium to bad.”

In Korea, dried persimmon (gotgam) are said to scare away tigers. 

  • Chico (197′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
Persimmon (11/19/18) Robert Kermen


Nelson Family Vineyards, US 101, Ukiah, Mendocino County (11/9/18) Walt Gabler

A year ago, we were writing about Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and how they had recovered from then-recent wildfires.

The above image is of Near Peak color in Mendocino County vineyards near Ukiah. Proof that things do get better with time.

Today, our thoughts are with the people of Paradise whose Northern Sierra foothill town, ten miles east of Chico, has been ravaged by wildfire.

At least for now, luck seems to have run out for a town that a popular local legend says was named in the late 1870s after the “Pair o’ Dice Saloon.”

However, if California gold rush history tells us anything, panning out isn’t a permanent condition. Good luck will roll again in Paradise, even if hard times are now afflicting many good people hurt by this disaster.

And so, we’re #ParadiseStrong. 

Post Note: Walt reports that “The last few days have been unusually cold with the temps the high 50s.  The forecast for this week was supposed to be for sunny weather and temps to be in the high 70s.  These low temps and heavy smoke (just like last summer with the local fires) has had an effect on the seasonal color of the vines.  The heavy smoke is keeping the sunlight out and daytime temperatures cold.  Some vines are still turning, but today (10/11) I noticed that many have suddenly dried up and have turned brown or dried green.  I don’t know how long this will last.”

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Path Less Traveled to Jonesville

Cowboy’s Shack, Humboldt Rd., Plumas County (10/5/18) Robert Kermen

Butte Creek, Humboldt Rd., Plumas County (10/5/18) Robert Kermen

Bracken Fern, Humboldt Rd., Plumas County (10/5/18) Robert Kermen

Butte Creek, Humboldt Rd., Plumas County (10/5/18) Robert Kermen

Indian Rhubarb, Butte Creek, Plumas County (10/5/18) Robert Kermen

When you take the path less traveled, you’re sure to pass the unexpected.

North Sacramento Valley color spotter Robert Kermen did just that, on a return trip from Nevada to the Sacramento Valley, choosing a route he’d taken rarely, thereby scoring a First Report for the route.

Kermen drove the historic Humboldt Wagon Road, west from Lake Almanor. It winds past Humboldt Peak, eventually crossing into Butte County above Jonesville. In Plumas County, it’s county road 307.

The route was envisioned as a toll road across the Sierra in the mid 1860s. Hotels were built at stage stops and one of California’s richest pioneers (John Bidwell) lost a fortune developing it, when the idea was surpassed by the Big Four’s (Leland Stanford, Mark Hopkins, Collis Potter Huntington and Charles Crocker’s) Central Pacific Railroad which reached the Gold Country by 1867.

Today, the mostly forgotten route passes quiet, “surprisingly large”  meadows foraged by cattle that are grazing on autumn’s last grasses and awaiting their late autumn drive down to the Sacramento Valley.

Cowboys on horseback used to drive cattle down the Humboldt Road. Today, the cattle drive is done by truck and all that remains of that era are the cattle and an overgrown rancher’s shack that stands as a weathered remembrance of those days (40° 8’37.33″N, 121°14’54.38″W).

After crossing Humbug Summit, the road drops into Jonesville by way of Scott’s John Rd. Peaking bracken fern line the route along with Patchy aspen and alder carrying various shades of green, lime, yellow and gold.

Along the banks of Butte Creek, Indian Rhubard (Darmera) are still Patchy, their large, orange-red umbrella-shaped leaves brighten the shoreline.

Kermen recalled his family’s Jonesville cabin where as a youth he fished Butte, Colby and Jones Creeks, returning home with strings of big German brown trout.

Jonesville is having a sort of revival. The last existing stage stop along the Humboldt Rd., the Jonesville Hotel, is in the process of being restored and preserved as described HERE by the Chico News & Review.

On his drive back along memory lane, Robert Kermen found unexpected beauty along a path less traveled. 

Humboldt Road (Plumas 307) – Patchy (10-50%)


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Mass Ascension

Mass ascension, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

When a “mass ascension” occurs at one of the Sacramento Valley’s many wetlands, rice patties or wildlife refuges, virtually tens of thousands of birds lift off all at once.

They take to the air when predators (bald eagle, redtail hawks and falcons) approach.

Similar to the effect of the flashing silver and black flanks of fish in their schools, the swirling mass of white and dark wings in a mass ascension confuses raptors and makes it more difficult for them to snare a meal.

Mass ascensions are breathtaking sights that are often seen, in autumn, north of Sacramento.

Kermen knew to visit a wetland, south of Durham. If you open the California Fall Color map on the right side of this page and search for Durham or Colusa, anywhere you see large ponds of water are sure to be gathering places for waterfowl. For the easiest viewing, visit the Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Refuge or Colusa NWR. Roads pass through both of them and your vehicle serves as your “blind.” Bring binoculars and, if photographing, a telephoto lens and tripod or window camera mount (which turns your car into a tripod).

White-fronted Geese, Durham (11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Snowy egret, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Close up photographs of wildlife are best captured with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras using lenses greater than 300 mm.

A 400mm lens is considered to be an ideal length when starting to shoot wildlife. However, long lenses – particularly those with larger apertures that will take sharp pictures in low light – come with a hefty price tag. For example, Nikon’s 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens (admittedly, a very expensive lens) costs over $11,000 (Canon’s similar lens is $1,000 less).

Snow Geese, Durham (11/25/17) Robert Kermen

Considering the high cost of telephoto lenses with large aperture settings, starting amateur wildlife photographers might consider first purchasing a zoom lens in the range of from 100 to 500mm, but with a smaller aperture setting, such as a Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 ($1,400) or Canon 100-400mm f5.6 ($1,200).

Another way to increase focal length is to add a teleconverter to a smaller focal length lens (about $300 for a 2x teleconverter). They do not provide the sharpness of a set lens, but are not budget breakers and result in fine photographs that impress, if you’re not selling your work or making gallery-quality prints.

For clarity, a smaller f-stop means a larger aperture, while a larger f-stop means a smaller aperture.

Bald eagle (middle right, sitting) (11/22/17) Robert Kermen

With these options, you will lose the ability to shoot action in lower light conditions, but can more affordably begin shooting wildlife and thus gain experience before making the investment on a more expensive lens.

For these shots, Kermen used a Canon 80D with 70-200mm f4L IS USM lens, which he keeps at hand on the console of his vehicle, so that he doesn’t miss a great shot when motoring along one of California’s backroads.

Click on photo to enlarge.


Nearing Peak Near Chico

Chinese Temple, Oroville (11/6/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

Biggs (11/6/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

Midway, Durham (11/6/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

Shasta Cascade color spotters Danie Schwartz and Cindy Lee Hoover are reporting signs of peak approaching throughout Butte County.

Oroville and Biggs (to Oroville’s west) are near peak with Chinese pistache throwing off increasingly iridescent color around the ancient burgundy walls of Oroville’s Chinese temple.

Maple, Sank Park, Oroville (11/6/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

Dogwood, Sank Park, Oroville (11/6/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

At Sank Park in downtown Oroville, maple, dogwood and more Chinese pistache are peaking.

West of Oroville, Biggs Pond is ringed with yellow, chartreuse and lime-colored brush. The Valley oak are carrying the first signs of orange and yellow color.

Traveling north from Oroville, the Midway between Durham and Chico continues to transition with some orange appearing among yellow and lime oak and pistache, though many leaves along this boulevard have dropped. Walnut orchards up and down CA-99 are coloring up.

Esplanade, Chico (11/6/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

Paradise Lake, Paradise (11/6/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

In Chico, the Esplanade, its famous boulevard, is overhanging with patchy Valley oak and Chinese pistache, though near peak color should arrive this weekend and peak continue to Thanksgiving Day.

Further north in Paradise, color has peaked. The last remaining black oak leaves hang proudly from trees around Paradise Lake.

Oroville – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Biggs – – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!

Chico – Patchy (10-50%)

Paradise – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!


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It’ll Be Paradise At Peak

Esplanade, Chico (10/21/17) Danie Schwartz

Trees are Just Starting to turn color in Chico, but it’ll be paradise when the Esplanade (seen above) is peaking. Then, it is one of the most fall-tastic boulevards in California.

What makes Chico’s Esplanade so exceptional is its blend of vibrant Chinese pistache and landmark Valley Oak that drape the roadway with fluorescent red, yellow, orange and lime leaves.

A trip to Butte County (northern California – CA-99) to see Chico’s peak fall colors is a favorite excursion of ours.

We make a point to stop at the Sierra Nevada brewery for lunch, visit its gift shop, tour one of Chico’s art galleries (they’re known for great galleries), then drive up the Esplanade, continuing north past peaking walnut orchards along CA-99 to Vina and the Abbey of New Clairvaux where an inspiring gothic vaulted interior from an 800-year-old monastery has been restored. It will all be peaking in two to three weeks.

Patrick Ranch, Durham (10/21/17) Danie Schwartz

Black oak, Paradise Lake (10/22/17) Cindy Lee Hoover

In nearby Durham (south of Chico – First Report), orchards arch roadways with changing color. This one is next to the Patrick Ranch on Midway Rd. Large walnut trees provide green, gold, yellow and rust colors at peak.

However, once you reach Paradise north of Chico (Yes, there is such a town), you’ll find the black oak to be at the high end of patchy. Bigleaf maple, vine maple, California buckeye, California ash, Northern California black walnut and miner’s dogwood all provide seasonal color at this elevation.

Chico (197′) – Just Starting (0-10%)

Patrick Ranch (1671′), Durham – Patchy (10-50%)

Paradise (1,778′) – Patchy (10-50%)


As Autumn Approaches, Shasta Cascade Reports

With the first day of autumn approaching (Friday, Sept. 23), few reports received yet include significant measurements of fall color anywhere in California.  Yesterday, Leilani, a color spotter from the Shasta Cascade region (northeast California) reported:

0-15% – Butte County – The colors in Butte County are not expected to change much until closer to the end of the month.  The area has been experiencing unseasonably warm weather.

Sundial Bridge (11/4/2009) © 2009 John Poimiroo

0-15% – Redding – Nothing yet to report, but plan to visit in early October to see the riparian vegetation and oaks along the banks of the Sacramento River framing Sundial Bridge with shades of yellow, orange and burnt sienna.

0-15% – Whiskeytown National Recreation Area- The national park is not experiencing any fall color changes, as yet.

0-15% – MacArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park– The Vine Maples at the bottom of the falls at Burney Creek are just beginning to turn.

0-15% – Lassen Volcanic National Park–  Neither upper elevations at the park or Manzanita Lake are experiencing any foliage change yet.

0-15% – Bizz Johnson National Recreation Trail-   Colors along The Bizz Johnson Trail in Lassen County are not expected to change until the middle of October.

0-15% – Lassen National Forest – The national forest will most likely not experience fall color changes until early October.

0-15% – Modoc National Forest – No color changes yet in Modoc County, but conditions are perfect for spectacular fall color, as the nights are starting to turn pretty cold, with warm days meaning that as the days shorten, the beginning of color change is expected in the next week or so.

0-15% – Mt. Shasta – California’s beautiful northern volcano, Mt Shasta, is not yet surrounded by fall color.

0-15% – Weaverville – Trinity County surrounding this fascinating gold rush era town along CA-299 has not yet seen any fall color.  Last year, we reported very lovely color along 299 and in the area.  Look to the middle of October for the color to truly swirl here.

0 – 15% – Plumas County – One of California’s premiere places to see fall color, Plumas County always delivers wonderful fall color and 2011 should be no change.  Area botanists are saying the colors are expected to be spectacular this season thanks to all the rain Plumas County has had throughout the year. Our dear friends at the Plumas County Chamber of Commerce will be posting to their fall webpage starting on Friday (Sept. 23).  Their reports feature local and visitor testimonies and pictures from all parts of this colorful destination.  Keep checking here for their reports, as well.  The Chester/Lake Almanor Chamber of Commerce in Chester stocks copies of a guide to regional fall color drives, many of which are on state and national scenic byways.