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One Perfect Day in Oroville

Visiting Paris, New York City, or San Francisco? I’m not and I’m so over it. 

Real travel is best when I transport myself into a different culture, not rush into a frenetic overly-touristy area that overstimulates. That’s why lesser known cities and towns are the best locations to experience what I call Impact Travel

Impact travel is ‘slow travel’ with a kick: I get to enjoy local history, small collectors museums and a culture very different from my own, even if it might be located only sixty minutes away. I have to spend a little extra time reading the plaques and learning. I also put money into their local economy, while taking out some priceless gems, such as bearing witness to memories otherwise forgotten and discovering unknown ways of doing things that might improve all our lives.

Today, I want to visit Oroville as a case in point.

Ishi Makes Contact In Oroville

Along a suburban two-lane road, a placard commemorates the Yahi man found at this location in 1911. Estimated to be 51 years of age, he appeared outside a slaughterhouse and did not speak English. A sheriff took him to jail and soon this man, named Ishi because he refused to say his real name, was taken by an anthropology professor and housed at the University of California museum in San Francisco. Before then, Ishi had spent his life in the foothills of Mt. Lassen. When the pioneers encroached upon the Yahi tribe’s land, killing them all, only Ishi remained. He lived without human interaction for many years until he emerged at this spot. Nobody knows why he decided to turn up in Oroville, but as a consequence, linguists and anthropologists studied his language and culture until he died five years later of tuberculosis.

A Slave Discovers The Sierra Valley Pass That Leads To Gold

The pioneers who came to California had unique histories of their own. James Beckwourth, for example, was born in Virginia in 1798 to a slave mother and an English father. Beckwourth was a slave until 1824 when his father signed his Deed of Emancipation. At that point, Beckworth became a trapper, trader and explorer. In 1828 he was captured by Crow Indian warriors, but mistaken for a lost son of their chieftain, so he lived with the Crow tribe for eight years and became a war chief.

By 1840, he went to California in search of gold and his explorations led to the discovery of a pass in the Sierra Valley that bears his name. The pass provided access to the northern mines of California and he was likely the first wagon train over this trail, which began in the Trukee Meadows (now Reno) and ended at Bidwell’s Bar (now a spot submerged under Lake Oroville).

Oroville has a Pioneer Memorial Museum with items like “snake oil” that claimed to cure all ails, trunks such as the “whaleback” or humped trunk and a military room of items from the Civil War. (California was involved in the Civil War by providing gold to the Union and securing New Mexico Territory against the Confederacy.)

The Chinese Settle In Oroville

A large number of Chinese came to Oroville as well, some in search of gold, but mostly they were hired as unskilled laborers for the creation of the California railorad. The Chinese Temple still exists that once had 10,000 community members. Today, the temple is preserved along with a hall that charmingly includes shadow puppets. The Chinese community left in 1917 when their community was struck by a flood and the inhabitants moved to Sacramento or San Francisco.

Passionate About Tools

Bud & Laila Bolt also display their unique collecting passion at the Bolt’s Antique Tool Museum. The couple began collecting antique tools in 1957 and today display over 10,000 tools, including blacksmith tools needed for carriages, tools used for the automobile and tools for tractors. They even display a history of wrenches.

The Oroville Dam

Probably the most interesting feature of Oroville is their dam, created in 1967. The tallest and one of the largest earthen dams in the U.S., it’s 770 feet high and 6,920 feet long. Over 80 million cubic yards of material were needed to build the dam and it created 167 miles of shoreline along a lake that now touts water sports and even floating campsites.

The Fish Hatchery

The downside of the dam’s creating was that fish no longer had a place to spawn, so a fish hatchery was created for the chinook salmon and steelhead trout. Nowadays, when the fish are ready to spawn, they remember to return to their place of birth at the Oroville Hatchery. They travel long distances from the ocean to freshwater rivers until they arrive here, swimming up a ladder to the main hatchery complex. They first go into a gathering tank and a mechanical sweep pushes them into a tranquilizer tank. The fish are then sorted for spawning. A somewhat brutal process to the virgin eyes, the salmon are humanely killed (they would have died during spawning naturally as well) and their milt and/or eggs are extracted. Since Steelhead trout, however, don’t die during spawning, so their eggs are extracted and they are again released.

The hatchery fertilize the milt and eggs and place them in an incubation room. After 60-75 days, they go into rearing ponds and eventually are released into the ocean.

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