Saturday, November 14, 2009

A Walking Tour of Bidwell Park

If you're anything like me (and I know I am) there are days where you've finished your errands and you feel the strong pull to put on a sweater and go walk where there are trees. In Chico we are blessed enough by the great foresight of our forerunners to have one of the 25 largest municipal parks in the country. Carved out in the middle of town is Bidwell Park, named for John and Annie Bidwell, the latter of whom donated the land to the city in 1905 with the stipulation that the land be preserved (They were close friends with John Muir. If you see pictures from my wedding ceremony, the area behind our flowered trellis and communion altar is Annie's Glen, a picnic area of the park named for Annie Bidwell. In fact they've just completed an underground tunnel which extends beneath Mangrove Ave. which connects the park on the other side and Annie's Glen. We drive over it a few times a day and every time I think "Hey, I haven't checked that out yet.") For the most part, the city of Chico has mercifully followed Annie's wish to preserve the area.
I took a walk to clear my head and because I've been meaning to get there to photograph the trees for weeks. Ever since I've moved here I've meant to, starting sometime in the Spring, find a spot in the park to go at the same time every day and take a picture. The trees are phenomenal in Bidwell Park.
A good deal of my visit was spent thinking how much I really should be raking our yard instead. Which I'm still thinking right now.

I used to go to Upper Park several times a week when I first moved to Chico. Upper Park is far less wooded, but has trails that wrap up into the hilly wild lands. About an hour of hiking and one can easily imagine being the last human on Earth. You can go up the steep North Rim Trail around a cliff face and by the time you get to the other side you'll find that very few people have the endurance or desire to make it that far.

Over to the right of the North Rim area is the Bear Hole area which is a pooling area in the creek. People, mainly intoxicated people in their early 20s, go there to swim. I've hiked past it once. There actually is a hole in the rocks at the bottom of the pool, which is the actual Hole in Bear Hole. About once a year a drunk gets it in their head that they can swim through that hole and they die at the bottom of that pool. When I hiked past it, needless to say stone sober at the time, I could see the attraction. It really looks like something one could drive down and swim through with ease like some inland Siren calling to feed your life to the creek.

There's also an observatory which is open something odd like clear Thursday nights. It's a decent little observatory and it's out there and there are signs on the road going to it instructing you to please turn off your headlights when driving up at night. The observatory is a more recent addition next to Horseshoe Lake and the Rod and Gun Club building, but far enough from the golf course that the telescope really should never be in danger of being hit by stray golf balls. At least I've never heard of that happening but I suppose one ought not underestimate golfers.

One Mile is flat and much more like you would imagine a municipal park. There are picnic areas (although next to the trees, as you can see in this picture, everything man-made often looks absurd and toy-like next to the magnificent trees), at one point the creek was encased for a length in concrete back in the 1920s to form a pool (although the fish ladder didn't come until the 1950s) which for some reason Chico novices actually swim in (most people know that the several miles of upstream creek are often campground and, not to put too fine a point on it, also a toilet for indigents. I remember one rather graphic story about one of the major churches in town holding a massive baptism in One Mile and everyone being baptized got Giardia. One finds oneself struggling and apparently failing to not make a joke about the theological position of that church.)

I tend to walk behind the Caper Acres Children's Playground, which was built in 1970 and is a fenced play park which features castles and slides and Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall and a water fountain shaped like a lion and giant hunks of swiss cheese all made of concrete. They don't make play parks like that anymore where you can fall and hurt yourself and things are made of metal and I think we are all the poorer for it. I'm glad Caper Acres exists. Also on that path is the Campfire Boys and Girls Club Fire Pit, built in the the 1950s. The path goes toward the Freeway overpass which always makes me think that a really bitter battle was lost by someone at some point. Like a good deal of Chico, the overpass that passes through the park is one of the few parts of Bidwell Park I am of the opinion ought not be.

The 1930s Errol Flynn Robin Hood film was filmed in Bidwell Park. It's a hoot and a riot if you've never seen it. When they were filming, they built a building as sort of a dormitory for the actors (perhaps to regulate Flynn's movements and activities.) It's now the Youth With A Mission camp north of town. The road must be the original road and has never had a single pothole filled. I used to deliver there. It is the single worst road I've ever driven upon. The building is a wonderful pre-WWII "cabin" big enough to house dozens of people. Not to be crass, but I was always impressed that the bathrooms had all of their original fixtures and that, when using them, I was going somewhere that Errol Flynn went.

Sometimes I walk nearly all the way up to the Five Mile Area. One can take a nice forty minute stroll or one can take a four hour+ hike.

I cross the creek by the freeway overpass and go under. On the other side two roads diverge and I tend toward the unpaved one through the woods that's only wide enough to walk two abreast. Mountain bikes zip dangerously close to you. On the walk I realized about 10 minutes in that I not only had my camera on my person, but also one of the rare times I was carrying a large sum of cash for the business cards I'm having printed. One does hear stories of bad things happening in the park (although, as a testimony to our very good law enforcement community in Chico, I haven't heard any stories like that in a few years.) But sometimes there's something liberating about walking through a secluded area with a large sum of money and getting yourself to the place where you have no fear.

So often, if you go on the unpaved paths and especially on sparsely populated weekdays, you'll turn a corner to a scene that seems like you're likely to meet a hobbit at any moment.
You will also meet wildlife. You'll see hawks, woodpeckers, blue jays, sparrows and vultures instead of the pigeons you see in town. You may happen upon deer, squirrels, coyotes, abandoned cats, and even I am told on occasion in upper park, bears.
And there's a certain time of year when the caterpillars come out en masse.

Chico has a lot of iconic locations. While you see them every day you find if you live here for any length those locations start to become part of your life. The iconic Hotel Diamond is where we spent our wedding night. The alley behind is where, on Saturdays, our friend Augie gives yo-yo lessons out the back door of Bird in Hand. Big Al's, the 1960s burger joint where Laurie and I have probably eaten more often than any other eatery in Chico, is also where we had our rehearsal dinner. Not all of your memories may be good, but that's part of the benefits of iconic and enduring place. You can make new memories there as well.

The stump in this picture is where I sat when I proposed to Laurie.

I walk past it every time I walk in One Mile.

Here's what it looks like from the path. I proposed over on the right hand side. That was a nervous moment in both of our lives. I noticed the lovely yellow leaves on the tree behind it.

And, as is so often the case in natural settings, especially in the autumn, you'll suddenly find yourself facing something absolutely stunning. The yellow tree in the center of the picture stopped me in my tracks.

We have such a wonderful resource in Bidwell Park. When I go too long without partaking in this resource I feel as if I'm wasting a wonderful opportunity. Like being poor and desiring to read but never going to the library or being laid off and broke but not applying for unemployment benefits. We need to be out in the wild areas like this or our soul goes all wonky. We forget the important things. We forget to live. Bi-secting the middle of Chico is a vast reminder.

We need to remind ourselves, as we go around in our mad and dinky little lives, that somewhere all the while there are trees, there is a creek running, there are birds pecking trees and there probably still will be when all of your nonsense is finally over.
To me there is never a moment wasted in Bidwell Park.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice walk! Thanks! And, yes, that little yellow tree must have been stunning in person, or would that be "in tree".