Gerhard goes flying

Every summer a close friend from Australia spends a couple of weeks with us so he can go flying at a local airport. Last year I flew with him to Willows, a small Sacramento Valley town about an hour north of here. Check out this post for photos.

This year we flew from Davis to Auburn in the Sierra foothills east of Sacramento.


It’s amazing how much you can see from a small Cessna. Like last year, we started out with a great view of Interstate 80.


Soon we saw the Sacramento River and the lush farmland on either side.


Visitors to the Sacramento Valley are typically surprised to find out that it’s a major rice-growing region. In fact, it produces short-grain rice of such high quality that huge quantities are exported to Japan.

From a relatively low altitude of 3,500 ft., the rice fields are a beautiful sight. A month ago the color blue would have dominated because the rice would still have been under water. Now it’s grown enough to poke above the water line and the dominant color is a vibrant green.


Today, most rice fields are precision-leveled using lasers. This removes depressions that impede water movement, which in turn results in significant water savings since less water is needed to ensure a minimum depth. The older contour-levee method requires much more water but seen from the air produces wonderful squiggly lines.


Compare the previous photo with the next one. Amazing what a difference irrigation can make in a place where there is typically no precipitation between May and late October.


As we headed east, the lush irrigated fields gave way to parched land. Still, there is much beauty here. Check out the burned patch in the next photo crisscrossed by vehicle tracks…


…or the circular fields in the next two photos. Either these fields are just now being started (which I doubt, given that it’s July) or they are simply not in production this year. Typically, these circles would be a verdant green.


Just as I had gotten used to this sere landscape, this scene presented itself like a mirage in the desert.


Massive suburban development overlaid on the dry land, in this case in the town of Lincoln.


I found the man-made patterns to be as fascinating as the natural ones, although I couldn’t shake a certain unease about the scale of this development (just one of many in the greater Sacramento area).


From this angle, the houses look like Monopoly pieces.


After landing at Auburn Municipal Airport, we had breakfast at Wings, the airport diner, which was remarkably busy on a Sunday morning.

On our way home, we first flew east for a few miles before turning around. It’s amazing how quickly the dry, parched valley floor gives way to tree-studded hills which eventually turn into the Sierra Nevada. The bridge in the next photo is just south of Auburn. It spans the North Fork of the American River and is the highest bridge in California (730 ft.).


The lushness of that scene was short-lived as we headed back towards Lincoln. The next photo is of Thunder Valley Casino outside of Lincoln. It looks like it was dropped in one piece from a space ship onto the surface of Mars.


Forty minutes later we were back in Davis, and this enormous field of sunflowers was a welcome sight.


We approached Davis from the northeast and actually flew over our part of town. Our house is circled in the photo below.


I’m very grateful to our friend for giving me the opportunity each year to discover yet another area of our beautiful state from the air. See you next summer, matey!


  1. I love seeing the "boring" ground from the air. It's just fascinating!

    You have to get him to come out when the lavender is in bloom, and fly over those fields next year. :-)

    1. The Mt Shasta Lavender Farm is too far away, unfortunately, but there's a new lavender farm west of here that I haven't visited yet. It should be neat to fly over that one!

  2. Such great images in this post, thanks for sharing them! I've only flown in a small plane once, and that was to cross the Olympic Mountains here in Washington. Your view was much more interesting.

    1. Crossing the Olympic Mountains sounds fantastic. However, having lived in the mountains, I know that sometimes there are just too many trees to get a good view.

  3. Really enjoyed flying with you Gerhard! great to see the rice fields, I never realised rice was grown in the States!. I was lucky to see the rice terraces in The Philippines a few years ago, snaking up mountain sides. Intersting to note about the laser levelling!


    1. I'd love to see the rice terraces in the Philippines. That must have been spectactular. No mountain sides here, not even hill sides, just flat terrain. But I love the flatness of the Central Valley. It feels so open and spacious.

    2. Beautiful pictures of a wonderful adventure. The shots of Lincoln remind me of the Malvina Reynolds song "Little Boxes." Looks like you had a good time!

  4. There is a small lavender farm just north of Gridley on 99. Enjoyed the pictures. I think my first flight was to the Auburn airport.


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