Thursday, October 28, 2021

UC-Davis Arboretum


Spofford Lake

The central valley of California is dry and hot. It sits between two ranges of mountains that do a very good job of blocking rain from reaching the area. So, finding an oasis of green is always a good thing. The University of California - Davis Arboretum offers a wonderful respite from the heat.

UC-Davis was founded in 1905 as the agricultural school for the state’s university system. In 1959 the school was designated as a general campus of the University system Today, it is still the center of education in fields relating to farming crops and raising live stock, but also in environmental and ecological studies. UC-Davis offers 102 undergraduate degrees and 101 graduate degrees.

The southern edge of the campus is where you will find Arboretum and Public Garden. This hundred acre woods was created along the what had been the north fork of the Putah Creek. The creek flows east from the coastal range of mountains to the Sacramento River. It was diverted in 1879 toward the south by the town of Davis in order to deal with flooding issues. In 1936, the college used the creek bed, bringing water back to it, as the center it new arboretum and public gardens.

The arboretum is open 24 hours a day for walkers, skaters and bikers. It is a wonderful place to escape the heat or enjoy some time away from the dorm for students, or from town for those who live nearby. But this is not a park. The Arboretum is a teaching facility. It is  maintained and used to study trees native to a Mediterranean climate. More importantly, the Arboretum is a resource to teach about the environment, and to inspire its visitors to appreciate it.

The arboretum is divided into different gardens, arranged by the type or origin of the trees and plants in them. If you love shade, there is the T. Elliot Weier Redwood Garden, near its eastern edge. Here you can sit among these beautiful conifers.

If you are looking for some sun, there is the East Asian Collection. It sits along the Lake Spafford, and you can enjoy its wide lawns and shade trees.

Or just walk along the 3.5 mile loop around the garden. Who knows what you might see.

When are finished in the garden, head into Davis. It is very nice college town. It comes complete with excellent restaurants, a great book stores  and cute shops.   

Nuts and Bolts:

The Arboretum is free, and open all day, every day. It can be accessed from many points along its path. There are several visitors parking lots on campus. Parking is $10/day and free on weekends.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Empire Mine State Historical Park


The Empire Gold Mine was the largest, most profitable gold mine in California’s history. It was located in the area that became the town of Grass Valley, about 50 miles northeast of Sacramento. Today that mine, out of service since the 1950’s, sits at the heart of a California State Historic Park.

Going down to work in the mine

In 1850, gold bearing quartz was discovered in the mountains of California. Gold in this form is much harder to mine. Since it is not pure, you can’t pan it out of the water. Instead “hard rock” methods must be employed. The rocks have to be drilled or blasted from the ground, and then crushed to a powder. The powder was then mixed with copper covered with mercury. The gold and mercury mixed together formed an amalgam that was separated from the copper. Then the gold was purified. In 1905, the mine adopted a method that used cyanide instead of mercury. These methods both created issues of water and ground pollution. The cleanup of the area went well into the 1980’s.

At the height of its operation, the Empire Mine had almost four hundred miles of tunnels, and reached a maximum depth of twelve hundred feet. From 1860, until the mine closed in 1956, produced approximately $8 million in gold, in today’s dollars. In 1975, the state of California bought the land and created the Empire Mine State Historic Park. In addition to the many hiking trails on the mountainside, there is still a lot of the mine’s history that you can explore.

Map from the CalParks brouchure

When I arrived at the park, I started at the the Visitor’s Center. After paying my entrance fee, I spent some time exploring the museum there. I went to the “black room,” were the owners kept a three-dimensional model of the entire mine. The model looks like a something put together from a giant erector set, but it allowed the managers to keep track of what was happening in the mine.

Part of the mine model

My next stop was the Empire Cottage. This English Manor home was built in 1897 for the mine’s owner, William Bourn Jr. Along side the house are a reflecting pool and a formal garden.

Empire Cottage

Reflecting Pool

Reflecting Pool

In the garden

When you are finished exploring the home and garden, I headed over to the mine area. I passed the the Empire Club House and the Caretaker’s Cottage.

Caretaker's cottage

The space is dominated by a large open area that is where the Stamping House originally stood. The Stamping House was the place where the ore was crushed and purified. The crushing was done by massive machines with large steel stamps or heads. While most of this building is gone, there is an example of the the stamps standing next to the space.

Stamp House

Small crusher


The rest of the park is comprised of the buildings that supported the mine. Several of the offices and have been turned into a museum.

Mine offices

There are also the machine shop, mine head and a blacksmith shop, complete with an actual blacksmith on weekends.

I was fascinated by the display of mine equipment that has been created in the yard.

Gold mining was an important part of California’s history. A visit to the Empire Mine State Park is a great way to explore that history.


Nuts and Bolts:

Drive 24 miles north of Auburn on Highway 49 to Empire Street exit in Grass Valley. The park is located in Grass Valley at 10791 East Empire Street.

There are 14 miles of hiking trails, and access to them is free. The entrance fee for the mine area is $5 for all visitors aged 6 and up.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Boston's Urban Parks


Boston Public Gardens Foot Bridge

Boston is a beautiful and historic city, and there are plenty on walks that explore both of these aspects of the city. On a recent visit, I decided to spend some time exploring a few of Boston’s historic urban parks.

Boston Commons and Public Gardens


Parkman Grandstand

In the center of Boston’s downtown are two parks that harken back to the European cities that the its founders came from. The Boston Commons is the oldest city park in the United States. It was created in 1634 as a local grazing area for cows. In 1830, the cows were banned (along with Blacks and Native Americans) and the commons was turned into park. In addition to being a green island in Boston’s urban center, over the centuries it has been a gathering place for political rallies and demonstrations, and the site of many concerts.

Sailor on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Education, on the Soldiers and Sailors Monument

Across the street is the Boston Public Gardens. Originally a rope walk, an area where long strands of material were laid out and and then twisted into rope, this marshy area was filled in with rocks and soil from the removal of Mount Vernon, a hill in the Back Bay neighborhood. In 1839, it was designated a public park, however, a dispute between the cities of Boston and Roxbury delayed its development until the 1860’s.

The Pond in Boston's Public Gardens

The Boston Public Gardens is best known for three things. First are the swan boats on its beautiful pond. They carry visitors, giving them a 15 minute, water level tour of the park, powered by the strong legs of its drivers.

Second is the historic foot bridge over the pond. It was built as a suspension bridge in 1867, and then converted to a girder bridge in 1921.

Finally, are the park’s ducks, made famous in the book Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey.

From the Book Make Way for Ducklings

Ducks have special rights

Make way for Ducklings statue by Nancy Schön

The Back Bay Fens


The Back Bay Fens are part of Boston’s Emerald Chain, a series of parks that ring the city’s urban center. A fen is a peat accumulating, marshy area, usually filled with salt water. There is a large fen in Boston that runs along the Muddy River from Jamaica Plain to the Charles River. Its northern end, in the Back Bay neighborhood, was turned into a park, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted in 1910. The park offers miles of walking and biking paths along the river, along with a running track and football field.

A blue heron enjoying the Muddy River

Clemente Field

Most interesting, for me, is the 7.5 acres of the Victory Gardens. These five hundred allotments were started during world World War II, and they are still being used today. The lots are given to members of the Fenway Garden Society, which is open to any resident of Boston, for the nominal fee of $40/year.

Of course, the Back Bay Fens also have lent their name to the nearby Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

Entering Fenway under the bleachers

Nuts and Bolts - Getting There:
Boston Commons and Public Gardens - Take the Red or the Green lines to the Park Street Station, or the Green line to the Boylston Station.

The Swan Boats operate between April and September and cost $4.50 Adults/ $3 children

Back Bay Fens - There are many places to enter the park. They T-stop closest to the Victory Gardens is Kanmore Square on the Green B,C, and D lines. Walk south along Brookline Ave., past Fenway Park. Turn left onto Boylston to the Fens.