Red Bluff was named for the red hue in the bluffs along the Sacramento River, which the river carved as it flowed south. The town grew rich during California’s gold rush as a terminal for the riverboats that carried miners, supplies, camp followers, and gold down the Sacramento River to the San Francisco Bay area. The well-to-do built Victorian mansions on streets named Washington and Jefferson.
Today, over-the-road trucks have replaced the river-borne commerce that put Red Bluff on the map, and ranching and farming have replaced gold as Red Bluff’s economic motor. Red Bluff is a hardworking town that celebrates by going to the river or the fairgrounds. Most of the Victorian homes and buildings are still there, anchored by the towering red brick Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Main Street.
Visitors can plan ahead to attend scheduled events. Red Bluff is host to what townspeople claim is the biggest three-day fair in the country. There are also the Nitro National drag boat races on the river, watching salmon swim upriver to spawn in the fall, and other notable events such as monster truck meets. The tree-lined streets shelter visitors as they visit antique stores and the Victorian homes in this small town along the mighty Sacramento River.
“The population signs at the edge of Red Bluff haven’t been changed since I was born, and I’m 20 years old,” said Ryan, a driver, as he shuttled me from the airport to town. Red Bluff hasn’t grown much, so it’s easy to walk and explore. The chamber of commerce, located at the foot of Main Street near the Red Bluff City Park and Marina, is the best starting place for information about the town and local events.
Red Bluff has a population of just more than 14,000. The chamber’s calendar of events lists a flood of events that take place out at the fairgrounds, located a couple of miles east of the junction of Main and Antelope streets. It seems as if every weekend is full of 4-H and FFA events featuring cows, goats, sheep, horses, mules, and burros.
Two events are famous. The first is the five-day-long Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale each January. The other is the Red Bluff Round-Up that takes place during the third week in April. This three-day event features the Chili Cook-Off and Foal Chip Bingo Contest, a cowboy poetry reading, a pancake breakfast, and the annual Round-up Parade.
Toss in a full slate of specialty shows featuring fundraisers for organizations such as the North Central Houndsmen Association and the Tehama Firefighters Burn and Benevolent Fund Crab Feed, and unusual events such as the Ghost Riders Drive-It or Drag-It car show and swap meet and a re-enactment of the Civil War battle of Dog Island and you’d think that you’ve got a handle on Red Bluff. But there’s more.
The Tehama County Visitors Guide cites five parks in and around town, including the William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park, which is located at the north end of town on the east side of the river. William Ide served as the commandant of the short-lived Bear Flag Republic for all 22 days of its existence in 1846. He later joined the Gold Rush, had some success and purchased part of land grant called Ranchero de la Barranca Colorado (Red Bluff Ranch.) The Ide Park features a small adobe home, a smokehouse, and a carriage house.
Red Bluff Diversion dam is located just south of town. During summer months the gates are lowered to divert a portion of the river waters to an irrigation canal. This slows the flow of water and creates Lake Red Bluff—a swimming, fishing, and water-skiing-friendly body of slow-moving water that provides visitor and locals with a cool respite from the baking-hot days of summer.
Lake Red Bluff is where the two differing boat drag races take place. The peaceful-except-for-catcalls-and-hoots-of-joy canoe and kayak drag races are run the weekend before Memorial Day, while the Nitro Nationals Drag Boat Festival—a really noisy event—takes place on the lake over the Memorial Day weekend.
In early September the diversion gates are raised to ensure that sufficient water flows on southward. Returning salmon swim up the Sacramento River during August and September. The salmon-viewing plaza at the end of Sale Lane near the Sacramento River Discovery Center at the Red Bluff Diversion Dam Recreation Area provides visitors with an ideal vantage point to view this yearly migration. The annual Return of the Salmon Festival will be held on October 20 at the Coleman National Fish Hatchery, a few miles farther upriver in Anderson.
Red Bluff is located in Tehama County, 120 miles north of Sacramento, 190 miles west of Reno/Tahoe, and 155 miles south of the Oregon border. It is the gateway to the Lassen Volcanic National Park.
The Red Bluff airport has a single long and wide runway that is aligned almost perfectly with the prevailing winds. Runway 15/33 is 5,700 feet long and 100 feet wide. There are two GPS approaches and a VOR-DME approach. 100LL is sold at a self-service island located north of the terminal building. The Comfort Inn (530-529-7060) offers free shuttle service. There’s also an Enterprise Car Rental office (530-529-0177) in town.
Valeigh’s airport restaurant is touted as a good airport restaurant and is located in the terminal building. It’s open for breakfast and lunch with hours from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. seven days a week.
Red Bluff played an important role in the early days of California. Then things quieted down. Pilots that look down as they fly over see only a small quiet town on the river. Those that take the time to stop and explore will find activities of every stripe and hue in Red Bluff.
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