At first glance from the road it appears to be a large restroom adjacent to Horseshoe Lake in Upper Bidwell Park. However the sign from the road gives it away as the Chico Community Observatory.
Hidden in this little white building are three impressive telescopes which with the help of volunteers are available to help Chico area residents see the stars. The observatory was built on public land in the summer of 2001. The observatory was built through the generous contributions of many individuals but the project was initiated by the local Kiwanis Club.
When I visited in mid February I ran into a man named Mike Davis who was going out to service the observatory building. While not open he took me on a little tour of the facility. He showed me the two active telescopes that are part of the observatory. The Observatory's current two telescopes are 14" Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain telescopes. They looked impressive. The two telescopes have their own "go to" computer system, allowing volunteers to plug in what object they ant to see. Mike explained that the telescopes can see as far out as 35,000 light years. Most impressive.
The telescopes are open Thrusday to Sunday nights weather permitting of course. There is no charge to enter the observatory and wait in line to take advantage of these marvellous instruments.
As you drive out of Yuba City, to the west lies the Sutter Buttes. The buttes are considered the smallest mountain range in the world. They cover only a circular area of about 10 square miles and about 75 square miles in total. On clear days the buttes can be seen from Sacramento which is about 50 miles away. The buttes represent the remains of an inactive volcano that is over a million years old. The highest peak in the buttes is called South Butte and is just over 2,100 feet in height.
There are a few unusual things about the buttes. All of the land is in private ownership and is used primarily for cattle and sheep ranching. There is no public access off of the highway to the buttes. The only access directly to the hills is through a group called the Middle Mountain Foundation. They organize hikes and educational programs about the buttes geology, ecology and history. Information on how to take part in these activities can be found at;
On a late weekday afternoon in the end of October I decided to take a ride out and see the Honey Run Covered Bridge. The bridge is located down Honey Run Road, also called Humbug Road, about 4.5 miles off the Skyway (a road that runs between Chico and Paradise).
The bridge is just off of the main road over traverses Butte Creek. Above the creek are the low peaks of Butte Creek Canyon. The bridge is a surprisingly long 240 feet and open only to foot traffic. Walking on it you can almost here the wooden planks move and stress. When I walked on and under the bridge I felt as if I had been transported to another time over 100 years ago when wagons were the principal means of transportation between Chico and Paradise. The beauty of the steep hills and the sounds of the creek made this a very nice setting.
The bridge is unique in that it was built in three trusses, the only bridge of that construction in the United States. From what I learned there are only 12 covered bridges left in California.
History of the Bridge
When gold was discovered in California in 1848 the population of the state soared over night. To access remote areas in hilly and mountainous areas bridges were necessary to be built over creeks and rivers. Within just a few decades over one hundred timber truss bridges were built in Northern California and many of them were covered. Tolls were often charged by owners for access across the bridge.
Discussion of the need for a bridge grew out of plans to construct a road from Butte Creek Canyon to Paradise Bridge. As part of the planning of the road it was also determined that there was a need for a bridge over Butte Creek. In 1886 the Honey Run Bridge was constructed by the American Bridge and Building Company for approximately $ 4,300. The original bridge was not covered. When the original bridge was washed away in a storm a new bridge was constructed in 1896 and apparently at or just after that time the bridge became covered.
In 1965 a truck accident did serious damage to the eastern span of the bridge. Due to the limited load capacity of the bridge, a new steel and concrete bridge was built to handle traffic along Honey Nut Road.
Based on the hard work and donations of local residents and businesses Honey Run Covered Bridge was restored and opened up for pedestrian only traffic beginning in 1972.
Today the bridge is maintained by a local community association. They rent out the bridge for special events and weddings. While there is no charge to walk across the bridge it is requested that visitors pay $ 3 for parking.
GETTING TO THE BRIDGE: Coming from State Highway 99, take the Paradise Skyway East. The bridge is located at the intersection of Honey Run Road and Centerville Road about 4.5 miles from the Skyway to Paradise.
East of Chico is the tiny town of Centerville, which dates back to the 19th century. The old cemetary is the final resting place for some of the early settlers in the region.
Go out Skyway to Honey Run Road, turn left, and follow it. It becomes Centerville Road. Just beyond the covered bridge, the road goes uphill, and the cemetary is on the left.
East of Chico, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, is a curious covered bridge. It's unusual because it has a wide section in the center, and two narrow ones on either end. There is a token admission fee to get in, but you can see it fine from the road. Go out Skyway to Honey Run Road, turn left. It turns into Centerville Road. Follow it to the bridge.
Outside Chico, to the east, is a canyon even bigger and more spectacular than the one in Bidwell Park. From downtown Chico, take Highway 99 south. Turn off on Skyway, heading east. The road has a few vista points, which are unmarked. They are on the left as you head out toward Magalia. Keep a sharp eye out for these places, as they are a bit hard to find.
With the Sierra Club a hike on the flume in Paradise just an hour north is a wonderful way to spend the day. Althouth a bit scared, I managed to take a few photos. Hiking to eat lunch was another adventure but we managed with lots of team work.