Breezes swirl down a corridor made by trees standing up to 100 feet and perched atop levees, which form the banks of the 200-year-old Bear River. Above rustling branches and the calls of nearby eagles, the hum of an engine cuts through the tranquil air. Dave Jewell of Blue Sky Powered Paragliding takes thrill-seekers—some as old as 80 years of age—soaring up to 500 feet above rolling, farm-dappled country and between Bear River's banks on propeller-powered parachutes. Though currently surveying Californian skies, Dave has led flights and organized clubs in Japan, Nigeria, Mexico, Germany, and France, and he continues to draw on knowledge of flight mechanics from extensive Air Force parachute training. Today, Dave takes off from 24 acres of campground, where a paragliding club meets occasionally to heckle poorly shaped clouds.
A sweeping bonfire pit, rustic picnic tables, and grassy swathes for RVs welcome campers waiting their turn to fly. Dave also mans a parachute and equipment shop where he conducts repairs and reanimates the corpses of dead kites. Dave insists that he never tires of his sport, as the weather and surrounding terrain are always changing, making his higher-altitude experiences "terrifying without being terrifying.” With a small wingspan, the motorized parachutes can also approach wildlife more closely than other aircraft; on one flight Dave found himself flanked by two bald eagles, beating their powerful wings just 20 feet away.
The nonprofit Heidrick Ag History Center harvests the rich history of agricultural machinery and transportation through an extensive collection of vintage tractors and trucks. The 130,000-square-foot space houses both the Hays Antique Truck Museum—home to such artifacts as a one-of-a-kind Breeding steam-powered truck and broccoli steamer from 1916—and the Fred C. Heidrick Antique Ag Collection, an assemblage of olden-day iron horses and golden cows collected over a period of 60 years.
Using skills acquired from his childhood days building his own planes and combines from scraps of wire and wood, Mr. Heidrick himself restored most of the equipment—some of which was formerly little more than heaps of rust—to its original condition. Palettes of green, red, and yellow pop from John Deere tractors from the 1930s to the 1950s, a Deering reaper machine from 1891, and a 120-horsepower Holt built in 1917 to tow artillery during World War I.
A pilot sinks into her cockpit, buckles up, checks the controls, and gets ready for takeoff. The engine hums to life and soon the ground rolls beneath her, until she lifts away and the buildings nearby shrink to the size of dust motes. But there's something unusual with the scene: the pilot isn't old enough to see a PG-13 movie let alone pilot an aircraft. That's because the Aerospace Museum of California doesn't let age become a barrier to flight. Children of all sizes climb into airplanes, pilot virtual jets in simulators, and experiment with the physics of flight while adults do the same, exploring the history of aviation both on Earth and beyond.
More than 37,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor exhibits chronicle everything from the very first airplanes made of cloth and wood to futuristic Mars-destined craft made of space-wood. Some of the museum?s prize possessions include the McDonnell-Douglas A-4C Skyhawk I, better known as one of the Blue Angels? stunt rides, and the Grumman F-14D Tomcat, just like the one co-starring in the 1986 film Top Gun. The Fun with Physics exhibit hammers home the idea of hands-on learning, letting young engineers play with simple machines, whereas the engine room dishes up eye-candy for motorheads, including specimens from 1910?s Le Rhone to the marvels that propelled the Titan rockets.
Each April, a tear in the space-time continuum opens up along the Sacramento River. Through it rolls a first-class locomotive right out of the 1940s and 50s. For 45 minutes, passengers in the train's coach and luxury first class car soak in the sights of California's fruit-growing deltas as the vintage diesel engine carries them into another time.
The California State Railroad Museum conducts these scenic, historic train rides. The excursions play a crucial role in the museum's mission to chronicle California's railroad history from the early days of the Gold Rush to modern agricultural transports and the proposed railroad to Mars. Spanning centuries, 21 restored locomotives and train cars blanket the museum's 225,000 square feet of exhibit space. A Pullman-style sleeping car and a dining car filled with fine china both sit on display, while the museum's Sierra Scene places a vintage steam locomotive next to a breathtaking mural of snow-dusted mountains. The popular Small Wonders: The Magic of Toy Trains exhibit currently commands the second floor, and with hundreds of examples of early electric toy trains and accessories such as stations, signals, tunnels, and bridges, it should delight even the most discerning miniature conductor.
Behind the Victorian columns of Crocker Art Museum?s 126-year-old gallery building, ornate chambers house works that span six continents and several centuries. Established in 1885, it remains the first art museum in the Western United States, boasting collections that pay homage to the region?s cultural lineage with a robust Californian collection.
The museum updated its look and tripled both its exhibit space and running time for games of hide-and-seek in 2010 with the addition of the Teel Family Pavilion, a 125,000-square-foot building that boasts geometric designs and sunlit rooms. The expanded gallery furthers the museum?s mission to function as a community hub by hosting Art Mix, social events that feature live music, djs and a cash bar on the 2nd Thursday of every month. Studio-art classes keep adults informed, and children?s programs inspire young artists to commit their creativity to canvas, rather than living-room walls or ephemeral Mr. Potato Heads.
Gina Rossi's art comes to life in a flurry of sparks and cauldrons of heat. A self-taught artist and certified metal-inert-gas (MIG) welder, her work incorporates fused glass, paintings, and organic metal figures, and has been featured in the Sacramento Press, as well as KCRA Channel 3 news. When she was young, Rossi's forays into art and imagination provided stable solace from her tumultuous and oft-troubled childhood, and her passion eventually flowered into a full-time endeavor. Through her growth as an artist, she adopted a trash-into-treasure approach, working with recycled metal and glass, and earning notoriety for getting Oscar the Grouch evicted to craft a piece from his former home. Her regular welding and fused-glass-art classes share her talents with eager students, as do her efforts with community art projects, which empower young, disabled, and elderly people to make their creative mark in the world.