Up The Road: Turtle Bay

Jun 1, 2016

The Turtle Bay Museum is an invaluable resource for parents.
Credit Photo used courtesy of Turtle Bay Exploration Park

  The Maidu explain the world differently than most of us do. Turtle has a starring role in one version of the Maidu creation story, greatly abbreviated here:

“In the beginning there was no sun, no moon, no stars. All was dark, and everywhere there was only water. A raft came floating on the water. It came from the north, and in it were two persons—Turtle and Father-of-the-Secret-Society. The stream flowed very rapidly. Then from the sky a rope of feathers was let down, and down it came Earth-Initiate. When he reached the end of the rope, he tied it to the bow of the raft, and stepped in. His face was covered and was never seen, but his body shone like the sun.” 

Eventually Turtle asked Earth-Initiate to make some dry land, so he could come out of the water sometimes. Turtle offered to dive for some, and was gone for six years. When he returned, most of the earth he brought back had washed away, though there was a small amount under his nails.

Earth-Initiate rolled that speck of earth, the size of a small pebble, around in the palm of his hand till it was round. He laid it on the stern of the raft. Later he went to look at it: it had not grown at all. “The third time that he went to look at it, it had grown large enough that he could span it with his arms. The fourth time he looked, it was as big as the world, the raft was aground, and all around were mountains as far as he could see.”

The visible river exhibit a cross-section view of the mighty Sacramento River.
Credit Photo used courtesy of Turtle Bay Exploration Park.

Turtle Bay the place is an excellent spot to contemplate and explore the miracle of this world, right here, right now. This 300-some acre park in the heart of Redding—on dry land alongside the Sacramento River, with mountains all around—is an impressive tribute to the area’s history, natural history, and culture. You can wander most of it for free, like locals do, walking dogs, skateboarding, cycling, running, greeting friends and neighbors. It’s not by accident that the Sacramento River Trail intersects the park. Turtle Bay seems connected to everything.

Long known as Turtle Bay, this area was once a quarry site for aggregate used to build massive concrete Shasta Dam. You can still see rusting remains of the ambitious conveyor belt that carried excavated river rock from here all the way to the dam, near the tailings that make up Willow Pond in the McConnell Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.

Butterfly Garden at Turtle Bay McConnell Arboretum.
Credit Photo used courtesy of Turtle Bay Exploration Park

Some features charge admission, including the multimillion-dollar Turtle Bay Museum near the river and Sundial Bridge. Natural history exhibits begin with a walk-through replica of a Shasta Caverns-like limestone cave, and a 22,000-gallon open-air viewing tank, a fish-eye Sacramento River slice of life. Redding's own Merle Haggard, who just left us, still gets great radio play in the 1957 Chevy truck. Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp is a replica of a logging camp and interactive children's center complete with a model of Mt. Shasta and the Sacramento River. The camp’s seasonal Butterfly House, cooled with misters, is aflutter with some 1,000 butterflies, all native North American species.

Kim Weir is founder and editor of Up the Road, a nonprofit public-interest journalism project dedicated to sustaining the Northern California story. Weir is also a long-time member of the Society of American Travel Writers, and a former NSPR reporter.