Riverfront parks and trails

Parks and trails along the Sacramento River near the Sundial Bridge

Begin a visit to the Turtle Bay Exploration Park on the south side of the river at the visitor center. The first thing you notice is the Monolith, an interpretive sculpture created by Seattle environmental artist Buster Simpson from the ruins of the site's original gravel plant. Catwalks take visitors through the area, where art teaches about industry. Next, you can walk through Paul Bunyan's Forest Camp, with its logging and ecology exhibits. Cool off in the mist-sprayed butterfly house (closes Sep 6) and then view the hawks, eagles, and other raptors cared for here.

The main museum combines the arts, cultural history, and natural history in its exhibits. Calatrava's initial sketches for the bridge, some done on placemats in a Los Angeles restaurant, are on display. A 22,000-gallon aquarium, which looks like a slice of the Sacramento River, holds 12 of the river's 58 kinds of fish, including white sturgeon and the river's most sought-after denizen, the rainbow trout.

Kris Kennedy of the Fly Shop in Redding insists that "the Sacramento is now one of the best trout fisheries in the country." Most fishing is done from drift boats, because fluctuating water levels can make wading dangerous.

Hikers, bikers, and in-line skaters can explore the river's banks via the 20 miles of the Sacramento River Trail. A good 10-mile loop from the north bank of the bridge passes through increasingly wild country, where lizards and snakes skitter out of the way, and mountain lions make an occasional appearance. After 5 miles, the trail crosses the 420-foot concrete-and-cable Ribbon Bridge (1990), then loops back downstream to the old Diestelhorst Bridge (1915), crossing the river to make its return.

The day ends where it started: at the Sundial Bridge. As you stand on the glass deck near sunset, almost floating on the scented breeze, the importance of the span is clear. Santiago Calatrava didn't simply give Redding a bridge ― he gave the city its river.