After a long drive, my mother and I are starving. So we pop into Red Bluff's crowded Green Barn Steakhouse, where the guys in the next booth are wearing spurs and cowboy hats. My mom orders deep-fried pickles. We're definitely not in the Bay Area anymore.
We're in town for the Red Bluff Round-Up, in what residents call "Tehama Country," 200 miles north of San Francisco. For 84 years, Red Bluff, with 13,000 residents and a whole lot of Victorian homes, has hosted this annual celebration of roping, racing, and riding.
At the fairgrounds, we slap on newly purchased cowboy hats and try to blend in. Steer wrestling, bull riding, and barrel racing are on the agenda, with cowboys named Flint, Tyson, and Wyatt; the horses are Buttercup, Johnny Cake, and Boogie Man.
Then a parachuter drops into the arena carrying a gigantic American flag, two FA-18 planes buzz the bleachers, and, with a hearty "Hya!," a blond cowgirl races her palomino across the track so fast that they become a golden blur. My mom and I cheer right along with the locals. Red Bluff Round-Up (Apr 15-17; from $10; 670 Antelope Blvd., Red Bluff; www.redbluffroundup.com or 530/527-1000); Green Barn Steakhouse ($$; 5 Chestnut Ave.; 530/527-3161)