Tag Archives: Sacramento Delta

Return to Locke

Babs Delta Diner

Sign outside Babs Delta Diner. Our favorite breakfast place.

Rob, my son, was visiting from the UK. As he had never been to Locke we decided to take him for a day visit. The weather was not kind to us at all, in fact it rained for most of the time.

We also had a task to do. Cathleen made a comment on our Delta Eco Tour asking about an abandoned building on Ryer Island. We have never noticed any such building on the island but decided to see if we could find it.

(Click the images for larger versions)

Our first stop as ever was for breakfast. As Babs Delta Diner in Suisun City is the best breakfast place we have been to, we decided to take a detour and introduce Rob to their wonderful breakfasts. Babs didn’t let us down. I went for the oatmeal again and Tom, who has always had the corn beef hash in the past, went for the sour dough French toast. Rob, on the other hand, ordered the Short Haul which was two hotcakes, 2 eggs and 2 slices of bacon served with country potatoes. When he was asked how he would like the eggs he said ‘fried’ but of course over here that is not enough information. Did he want them sunny side up, over easy, over medium or over well? Rob was speechless and didn’t know what the server was talking about. After we explained he opted for the sunny side up. We were all amazed when Rob’s meal turned up on three plates – potatoes on one, bacon an eggs on another and two enormous hotcakes on a third plate served with butter and hot syrup. He was so impressed he even took a movie of it. And he very nearly ate the lot!

To reach Locke we took the scenic route by crossing the river on the Real McCoy Ferry over to Ryer Island. We were hoping to ask the ferry operator about any abandoned buildings on Ryer Island but he never ventured out of the cabin. Who could blame him as the rain was coming down hard. Once on Ryer Island we turned left. Usually we turn right and go round the southern tip of the island to reach the next ferry but decided to take a different route to look for any old buildings. We drove across the island on Route 220. At one point I thought we’d struck gold. Ahead was an abandoned building and it looked like there was a wooden cross on one end. Cathleen mentioned she thought the building could be a church or a school. But I was deceived. When we got a little closer I realized that what I thought was a cross turned out to be the top of a telegraph pole. So we were unsuccessful in our endeavors Cathleen.

In Locke we parked on Main Street. There were a lot of cars but nobody was walking around. None of the shops were open so where was

Al the Wop's in Locke

Al the Wop's in Locke

everybody? We walked up and down Main Street, peering into shop windows. Some had signs saying there were open but the doors were locked.

Outside Al the Wop’s bar a man was smoking. He called across to us from the other side of the road and made some comment on the weather and then said it was the only place open and if we’d never been inside (which we hadn’t) it would be a good way to warm up. Nothing daunted we ventured inside. Al the Wop’s history goes back a long way. When the building was originally built it was a Chinese restaurant. In 1934 it became the first non Chinese business in town when Al Adami bought the building.  He opened a bar and restaurant and called it Al’s Place, which became affectionately known as Al the Wop’s. Inside it has a long bar and tons of memorabilia on the walls. The biggest novelty were the dollar bills hanging from the ceiling. I asked the barman how they got there and he said it would cost a dollar to find out. Tom handed over a dollar bill and the barman stuck a tack through the bill and folded the bill in a specific way. He then put a Tahoe slot coin (in the past they used a silver dollar) and covered it with the folded bill with the sharp end of the tack sticking up. The next step was to throw the whole lot up to the ceiling. Tom went first but it all fell back to the ground. Then Rob tried and failed and so did I. Rob had another go and he succeeded. The tack attached the bill to the ceiling and only the slot coin fell to the floor. The guy with the cigarette said that once a year all the bills are taken down and donated to charity. It’s a very special occasion when this happens and the bar serves a liver and onion supper and they have a big fundraiser at the same time.

I did ask the only other group of people in the bar if they knew of any old buildings on Ryer Island. They were not locals but came regularly to the area on their boats. None of them knew of any abandoned buildings at all.

Tom and I had Irish coffees to warm ourselves up. Rob declined as he was still full from breakfast. At the back of the bar is a small restaurant where the food is apparently very good. The boaters recommended the cheeseburgers.

Inside Al the Wop's

Rob inside Al the Wop

When we left the bar the rain had eased off a bit. Rob found a shop open and so we all went inside. It was a sort of antique shop though most of what was on sale would be classed as collectibles. This sort of shop is always interesting to browse around. I was absorbed in the books and found a small book of very short one act plays. Tom was perusing the old vinyl records where he discovered albums by Earth Wind & Fire, The Mamas and the Poppas, Joan Baez and many more. Rob was searching for license plates or old tin advertising signs but he drew a blank.

We then took a walk to the back of the town and showed Rob the toilet bowl garden. This is where Connie King, the unofficial mayor of Locke, used to live. She died a couple of months ago. Our last stop in Locke was to the museum in the old boarding house. We were the only visitors and the docent on duty was very interesting to listen to. He told us that most of the people living here now are not Chinese. Most of the Chinese moved away from Locke as soon as they earned enough money to move on. The museum has only been open eighteen months and it cost over a million dollars to bring it up to code. In the 1940’s it was owned by a Japanese family. They lived downstairs and the upstairs was turned into small bedrooms which had two beds in each. It is difficult to say how many bedrooms there were because I’m sure some of the rooms have been made into larger rooms but there must have been at least 8 bedrooms. There was just one tiny bathroom. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese family, along with thousands of other Japanese families, were forced to leave their homes to live in isolated concentration camps. They were never able to return to their property (a shameful bit of American history).

Before starting the long journey home we stopped off at Mel’s Mocha and Ice Cream for a vanilla malt. We can’t bring Rob all the way here without giving him the pleasure of tasting one of the best malts around. I got talking to another customer there and asked her if she was a local. She said she had live here for ten years. I asked her about any abandoned buildings on Ryer Island and she couldn’t think of any but she suggested I go next door to the realty office and they might be able to help. I did just that but the office was closed.

It was great to visit Locke again but such a pity the weather was not perfect. We could have done so much more if it had not been raining so hard. And sorry Cathleen we could not solve the mystery of the abandoned building. Maybe if you let us know exactly where it is we can have a look next time we are in the area.

Old Sacramento

Drawbridge across the Sacramento River In Freeport

Drawbridge across the Sacramento River In Freeport

After breakfast at Alma’s River Cafe, we drove to Sacramento.  The fog had lifted slightly.  At least we could see to the other side of the river.  It looks like the sun will win through and we will have a nice day.

We took Highway 160 all the way into Sacramento and the road ran alongside the river for most of the journey.  It was a very scenic drive along the levee with water on one side and pear orchards and vineyards on the other.  At one point we passed a large heard of goats and they were all pressed up against the fence.

At Courtland, Tom pulled off the road.  He had seen the courthouse and wanted to take another look.  It seemed a huge building for such a small place.  Tom thought it might have originally been a Carnegie library but it’s looking pretty neglected now.  I checked online when I got home and could find only minimal information about Courtland and none at all about the courthouse.  We drove a little further into Courtland but there was no main street and only a few houses.  We also stopped at Freeport.  Tom wanted to investigate the abandoned railroad track but there was not too much to see at all apart from a bridge over the old tracks.

Soon after Freeport we left the river.  Just after driving under I5 there was a huge water tower – or at least we took it to be one but it looked more like a flying saucer on legs – which had a ‘Welcome to Sacremento City of Trees’ emblazoned upon it.  Soon after that the road was lined with huge trees with their leaves beginning to change color and fall.  It was a pretty sight.

Our destination was ‘Old Sac’,  which is in the historic downtown of the city.  We were looking for First Street and the History Museum.  There is an hour long walking tour which leaves

Old Wells Fargo Stagecoach.  Must have been a bumpy, dusty ride.

Old Wells Fargo Stagecoach. Must have been a bumpy, dusty ride.

the museum at 11 am if only we could find First Street.  We entered Old Sac on a cobbled road.  The buildings were all gold rush era and very quaint.  We parked on Front Street at a parking meter.  The charges were a bit steep at 25c for 12 minutes and the limit was two hours.  I put in $2.50 for two hours of parking and we set off to find First Street.  We walked up one block and found ourselves on Second Street, so where on earth was First Street?  Fortunately I spotted the Visitors Center so we popped in in there to ask.  While I was waiting to speak to the assistant, I got into conversation with another lady.  She was here for a week from Kentucky and staying in a Elder Hostel and was looking for things to do in Sacramento.  I told her about the walking tour and she was interested.  Maybe we will meet up again later.  The assistant answered my query – Front Street is First Street!  He gave me a map of Old Sacramento and marked where the History Museum was.

We had half an hour to spare so took the opportunity to look round the Wells Fargo exhibition in the Visitors Center.  One exhibit was an original stage coach.  I tried to imagine what it would be like to travel across country in one.  Not only did the seats look uncomfortable and cramped and there were no springs, but I wondered what ladies did when they wanted to go to the bathroom.  The clothes they wore, apart from being extremely tight and cumbersome, would have made the procedure difficult.  Part of the exhibition was on the Pony Express.  We learnt that the riders worked 72 hour shifts, only stopping to change horses every 12 miles and the company preferred to hire orphans.  More surprising though was that the whole operation only ran for 18 months before the telegraph put them out of business.

On our way to the History Museum we stopped off to buy some salt water taffy and a bottle of water.  Tom found some wax lips.  I thought they were candy but Tom explained they were just for fun but I couldn’t see the purpose of them at all.  Guess you have to be a kid.

At the History Museum I went inside to inquire about the walking tour and to pay.  I was told the tickets were $7 each but no money would be taken yet as the guide had not turned up.  This news did not go down too well with us.  Afterall we were likely to run out of money on the parking meter before the tour ended if it didn’t leave more or less on time.  We decided to wait a little longer just in case the guide did turn up.  We sat outside in the shade and met up with the lady I had spoken to in the Visitors Center.  We seemed to be the only three waiting.  After waiting ten minutes we decided to abandon the idea.

We went instead to the Railroad Museum which was almost next door.  The entrance fee was $9 each with no discounts for seniors.  Now trains do not particularly appeal to me but the exhibits here were well displayed and it was possible to go inside a lot of them.  The first I ventured inside was the 4294 which was enormous, positively a behemoth.  The cab was ahead of the engine and was specifically designed that way so that fumes from the smokestack did not asphyxiate the driver or the fireman when traveling through the many tunnels in mountainous areas.

Margaret getting a lesson in mail sorting at the Sacramento Railroad Museum

Margaret getting a lesson in mail sorting at the Sacramento Railroad Museum

The next and most interesting to me was the Great Northern Railway Post Office Car No. 42.  This particular train traveled the Chicago to Seattle route.  A docent took a lot of time to explain everything to me, pointing out the pigeon holes and describing how the whole operation worked.  There would have been twelve people working to sort the mail, doing a range of duties.  It was high paid work but it needed to be because it involved being very fast and efficient plus remembering every stop along their section.  The trickiest job is being the mail catcher because he had to throw the mail bags out at many places along the line, sometimes in the coldest of weather, while, at the same time, catching the mail with an ingenious contraption.  All the while the train is traveling at least 50 miles an hour.  It must have been extremely hard work.

I wondered around the rest of the museum looking at various information boards scattered around and peered into the windows of the luxurious Clegg carriage.  Talk about how the other half lived.  There was an plush sitting room, complete with a fireplace; an office; a dining room; a kitchen and, right at the end, the servants quarters.  The latter were extremely cramped and the toilet was open and exposed.

I looked at my watch and saw that the parking meter would run out in ten minutes.  I left Tom still absorbed in the exhibits to return to the car and feed the meter.  There was still seven minutes to go before the time expired so I decided to wait it out.  There was a convenient seat nearby so took a rest and did a bit of writing.  When I glanced up there was a meter maid standing in front of the car and the excess flag was up.  Fortunately she had not started to write out the ticket and she said it was OK to feed the meter.  I had the quarters ready in my hand but as I feed them into the meter, I dropped one and it rolled away and then disappeared through a crack in the boardwalk.  Both the meter maid and I laughed at the absurdity of it.

The meter maid struck up a conversation with me to say she liked my accent and asked where I came from.  When I told I came from England she asked which part.  She had never heard of Guildford but she went on to tell me of where her ancestors came from.  It is always fascinating having these conversations.

Not fifteen minutes later I was back in the Railroad Museum and chatting with another person about where I came from.  Tom and I had gone upstairs to look at the model railways.  While Tom wandered around and relived his childhood, I sat on a bench in front of the moving display.  This time it was a docent who sat down beside me and asked if I was doing my homework.  At my age, he must have been joking.  I happened to be once again writing in my journal.  He told me his wife came from Scotland and neither of them had visited there since 1965.  I told him it was about time he went back again.

When we walked back outside the museum the heat hit us.  We decided to take a walk round and look at a few of the shops but we were very disappointed.  The outside of the shops were authentic and it was fun to walk on the covered boardwalk but most of the shops were just tourist traps selling T-shirts, forgettable souvenirs, body piercings and fast food restaurants.  Several people tried to thrust adverts into our hands as we passed.  Beside all of this, the place was getting crowded.  It was time to move on.

Back in the car we then had to find our way to Highway 160.  Tom’s keen sense of direction soon had us heading the right way.  We passed the State Capital

Some very big equipment at the Sacramento Train Museum

Some very big equipment at the Sacramento Train Museum

on our left.  Just past there we saw a large gathering of people in a small park.  There were flag carriers and I saw somebody in uniform holding a big drum.  Then we noticed a lot of people in uniform, mostly policemen.  Along the sides of the road were parked hordes of police and fire department cars and trucks.  Later on we drove through a very nice area with huge shade trees.  In front of most of the houses on the roadway were huge mounds of leaves.  One of the drawbacks of having these trees outside your house at this time of year but adequate payment I’m sure for the beauty of the trees themselves.

We were back in Locke by 2.30 and had a quick snack.  We stopped to buy rolls on the way home and made sandwiches with the steak left over from last night.  Then we took another walk around Locke.  Today it is much busier than yesterday.  As it is the weekend most of the shops were open.  There are no high end shops like Carmel.  Locke does not pretend to be something it is not.  Most shops are very rickety with dark interiors.  The busiest place was the bar called Al’s Place or ‘Al the Wops’.  Outside were a good dozen flashy Harley Davidson motorcycles.  Some of them were really smart.  Tom pointed one out where the passenger seat not only had a padded back and armrests but also speakers on each side of the seat.  Positively comfortable I’m sure.

In the evening we drove into Isleton in search of somewhere to eat dinner.  Isleton is larger than Walnut Grove or Locke and more seemed to be going on.  There were even a couple of casinos.

We found a Mexican restaurant and a Chinese restaurant but picked Isleton Joe’s because they serve crawdads.  Apparently you must have crawdads if you go to Isleton.  Crawdads, by the way, are called crayfish in England and are very small fresh water lobster.  As I didn’t know whether I would like them, I did not want to order them on their own but chose to have them with pasta and alfredo sauce.  Tom had the crawdads with pasta and pesto sauce.  To begin with there was a choice of soup or salad  Tom chose the salad and I went for the split pea soup.  When I came to sample the soup though it was very salty so only had a couple of mouthfuls.  Our server was excellent and changed it for the clam chowder, which was much better.  The pasta and crawdads was very good but there was so much of it.  We both had as much as we could eat but hadn’t made much of a dent in the amount on our plates.

Then it was home for another early night.  Next door appeared to be having a party as there was loud music playing but we could hardly hear it inside the cottage and it did not stop us getting another good night’s sleep.

Alma’s River Cafe, Walnut Grove

Almas River Cafe on a foggy Sacramento Delta morning

Alma's River Cafe on a foggy Sacramento Delta morning

After a wonderful night’s sleep, Tom was up at 6 to walk round Locke to take some early morning photos.  When he returned he mentioned he saw lots of bats flying back to their day time roosts in the attics of houses.  Unfortunately he didn’t manage to get any photos of them.

One of the questions we had asked Deborah yesterday was where we could get breakfast  I had looked online and had found nothing.  She told us of Alma’s in Walnut Grove, which is only a mile away.  So that’s where we headed to at 8 am.  In the half an hour since Tom had got back from his walk, fog had descended but we are both convinced it won’t be here for long.  The river looked really pretty in the fog though.

Alma’s was easy to  find, just a few steps away from Mel’s Mocha & Ice Cream and overlooking the river, hence the name.  On the window were painted bold palm trees with a swirl of blue and white underneath each to represent the sea, so the place is easy to spot.

Inside it was small, clean and inviting.  A pretty, young  girl greeted us and told us we could sit anywhere.  She also took our order and served us.

There was just one other customer when we arrived but several more locals turned up while we were there.  The place has a really friendly feel about it.  As I said, it is small with only five tables seating four people and one with seating for two.  Lots of room at the long counter though with a total of 10 stools.

On our way to Alma’s, Tom asked if I was hungry, especially after our big meal last night,  I said I could eat a bowl of oatmeal.  It has been some time since we have been anywhere where oatmeal has been offered but I got lucky today.  I ordered it with bananas $5 and toast for $1.20.  Tom ordered the chorizo scramble $6.75.

The decor is understated with just a couple of photos of skiers and some advertising plaques.  One painting is hidden behind the cold cabinet so have no idea what the subject matter was.

Our food was served promptly.  Tom asked for his hash browns to be extra crisp and that is what he got.  My oatmeal came in a pretty round bowl and there was plenty of oatmeal inside.  The sugar, raisens and sliced bananas came in individual ceramic bowls and the milk in a large stainless steel jug with a lid.  The oatmeal was hot too – just as I like it.  Excuse me while I enjoy this delicious breakfast.

Of course, no breakfast would be complete without a trip to the restroom.  The restroom itself was unadorned.  The water was nice and hot though.  The restaurant may not have had a lot of decoration but the corridor leading to the restroom was a different matter.  There was plenty to look at: a large oil painting of the sky (I think); black and white photos – 3 of Marilyn Monro, one of a car and a motor cycle near the San Francisco auto ferry (long since defunct) and one of nine children and a dog from the early ’50s I’m guessing; plus two lst place speedway trophies on each side of a color photo of the winning car.

Summing up our visit, Tom said his scramble was not spectacular but enjoyable.  I thought my oatmeal was great.  Would we go again?  The answer is more than likely.  Alma’s is friendly, the service could not be faulted and the food was good.  Another plus factor was the price which turned out to be very reasonable.

Alma’s River Cafe
14147 River Rd
Walnut Grove, CA 95690

Locke, California

I have been planning this weekend for some time but at the last moment I thought it was not going to happen.  It is Tom’s birthday next week and, as

Downtown Locke, California

Downtown Locke, California

a surprise, I booked two nights in Locke at a vacation rental.  It is described as – ‘A Delta Gem – Unique Loft – Historic Chinese Locke’.  Check out the website.  Doesn’t it sound idyllic?

Also on the agenda was a meal at Giusti’s, Saturday in Sacramento and a canoe tour on Sunday.  Tom knew we were going somehwere in the Delta but did not know exactly where.

Locke is a wonderful, small Chinese town just south of Sacramento.  We last visited in March.  I thought it would be great to actually spend a couple of days there instead of driving all the way up and back in a day.

Work though nearly ruined the whole weekend.  Without going into too much detail, I had to work on the Friday, which is usually my day off, with a chance that I would have to go in on Saturday and maybe even Sunday.  We had planned to get away at lunchtime on the Friday.  Fortunately I was able to get away from work at 2.30 so Tom picked me up and off we went.

There is always such a lot of traffic making its way out of the Bay Area on a Friday and we did not want to get caught up in the rush (or rather the crawl) out of town.  We did have a couple of slowdowns on 680 but managed to avoid the bad jams which were bound to occur later on in the afternoon.

Old building in Locke, California

Old building in Locke, California

I must say it made a big difference traveling north on 680 in the afternoon instead of our usual time of 6 am.  Then it is always dark but in the middle of the afternoon there is so much more to see.  Our route took us over the Antioch Bridge and it was amazing how quickly we left the rat race behind us as we crested the bridge.  Ahead of us the Delta was holding out its arms, ready to embrace us and we readily succumbed to the peace and utter tranquility of the area.  It was a lovely warm day and there was no wind at all.  There was not a cloud to be seen in the sky.  The water was calm with only the occasional small fishing boat to ruffle the surface.

We followed Highway 160 all the way to Locke, passing through Isleton and Walnut Grove.  Tom was surprised when I told him to turn right into Locke.  We passed the end of Main Street, which did not appear to be busy at all, and turned right onto Key Street.  Our destination was right at the end.

Ten minutes later we were inside our home for the next two days.  The couple who own and refurbished it are Deborah and Russell.  Inside it is marvelous and much bigger than we expected.  There is a cozy sitting room with a corn burning stove, a large, well equipped kitchen, a bathroom big enough for a party with a laundry room off of it and a wonderful loft bedroom upstairs with a small seating area as well.  Outside is a well screened porch and a garden.  Deborah was a mine of information on where to eat in the area.

After a quick wash and brush up, we took a walk around town.  It was was only a block away and to get to it we walked down a narrow ally between tall, flimsy, wooden buildings.  A couple of days ago there was a huge storm in the area – some people called it a 30 year storm – and there was a slightly damp smell in the air.  On Main Street I noticed a newspaper clipping stuck on the inside of a shop window.  It was an obituary for Connie King who died just a month ago.  I was very saddened because on our last trip here in March I met and spoke to her.  She was a legend in her own time and was affectionately called the ‘unofficial mayor of Locke’.  A wonderful character who will be greatly missed.  In fact the house we are staying in is very

Rental cottage where we stayed in Locke, California

Rental cottage where we stayed in Locke, California

close to Connie’s house with its toilet bowl garden.  I wonder who will tend it now.

We wandered down the both sides of the street.  Not too many shops were open.  Tomorrow will be busier I expect.  At the end of the street we turned right, passing Locke Garden Chinese Restaurant and then turning right again and walked back along the highway, passing the back of the the houses on Main Street and turned right again into Locke.  Then we kept walking to the back of the town, passing a huge walnut tree and a bit further on in the Community Garden, a pomegranate tree.  We were looking for a footpath which will take us to the levee at the back of the town where we have to report on Sunday for our canoe trip.

Earlier Deborah mentioned that Russell would be working in the Wood Shop which was on the footpath.  As we approached the Wood Shop we saw someone outside so, guessing it was Russell, we went over to introduce ourselves.  He was most welcoming and showed us around his little factory.  He uses recycled wood only and he had an amazing collection of many different types of wood af all colors and grains.  He introduced us to his colleague, Alfredo, and they both showed us what they do with the wood.  At the moment they are making cutting boards, each one made out of strips of multicolored wood.  They are glued together, planned, smoothed and varnished.  Each one is signed with Russell’s name.  They are definitely a ‘must have’ article.  Not only functional but extremely decorative.  An ideal gift for any kitchen.  He showed us one he was in the process of finishing which had a distinctive green strip in the middle.  Russell turned on a machine and demonstrated how they are planned.  I immediately put our name on it.  Russell promised to have it ready by Sunday.  What a memento of our weekend and it will be even more precious because we actually saw it before it was finished.  Alfredo showed us some little wooden picture frames he makes.  He paints pictures on them and gives them as gifts to people.  Russell is also a cabinet maker so he is a really busy guy.

Our walk down the footpath resumed.  It was not a very long path and we were soon climbing up the levee.  At the top was a gravel roadway which was also a car park for the boat ramp.  This is where we have to meet for the canoe trip on Sunday.  We clambered down the other side of the levee through trees and bushes to a beaten path next to the water.  This is the Railroad Slough and very peaceful it was too.  We heard a lot of splashes and saw ripples so the fish were rising.  This must be a good spot for fishing and in fact we did see one girl trying her luck.

Time to go to dinner.  Tonight we decided to try out Giustoi’s.  Thank goodness Deborah explained exactly where it was.  For some reason I thought it was over the bridge at Walnut Grove on the far side of  the Sacramento River.  When we arrived there was a lot of cars in the car park and we thought we would have to wait for a table but there was space for us.  We both ordered filet mignon with blue cheese sauce.  Here they served a ‘family style’ dinner – all meals come with a tureen of soup to share, bread & butter and a salad with salami, garbanzo beans, kidney beans and a lovely dressing.  We were nearly full before our steak was served.  The steak was really tasty.  Although Giusti’s is a no frills restaurant they do serve really good food.  They don’t accept credit cards though so I’m pleased I brought my check book along this weekend.

We walked back to the car and found our way to Locke and our little house.  No television but we were content to write (me) and read (Tom) before sinking into the wonderful bed.  What bliss to be somewhere where there is no noise from aircraft approaching San Jose airport, trains blowing whistles a quarter of a mile away or cars passing down the street.

Sacramento Delta – Hartland Ecotour

From Hartland Nursery

From Hartland Nursery

We’ve been looking forward to this trip for a few weeks.  As Tom’s family were not able to get together for Easter, Jim, Tom’s cousin, suggested and then booked a Delta Eccotour.  Hartland Nursery. on Grand Island, run several boat trips a year and we were booked on the Tule Wilderness tour on June 6.

Tom and I left very early – so nothing new there.  We decided to go via Suisun to have breakfast at Bab’s Delta Diner.  After another fabulous breakfast, we made our way through Rio Vista and over the two ferries, thus retracing our previous trip.

(Click on the images for larger versions)

After crossing the Steamboat Slough to Grand Island we tuned left and drove a couple of miles to Hartland Nursery.  The tour started at 10.00 but we were asked to report in by 9.30.  Tom and I arrived just before 9 so we were in good time.  Hartland Nursery is mainly  a wholesale retailer to landscape and restoration professionals but is open to the public on Wednesday and Saturdays.  They specialize in plants native to Northern California’s Central Valley.

Tom and I had plenty of time to wander around.  I discovered, in a grove of gated woodland, lots of free range chickens.  Later I found out the eggs are for sale and bought a dozen fresh eggs.

The rest of the family did not arrive until just before 10.  We were getting worried and beginning to think we would have to go without them.  Don and Arlene, Tom’s Dad and his wife, were unable to come at the last minute due to sickness, so our party was smaller than expected.

Captain Tule

Captain Tule

The boat, the Tule Queen II, is a 45 seat catamaran.  Today though there were only 30 people on board.  Our driver and guide was Jeff Hart – known as Captain Tule.  He is a naturalist and owner of the Hartland Nursery and he informed and entertained us for the four and a half hours of the tour.

We set off down Steamboat Slough and turned right on Sutter Slough.  Captain Tule explained that the Delta was fresh water though there are some

who say it isn’t.  It’s true that due to higher water levels there is more salt water flowing in.

The folks at Hartland Nursery are experts in growing plants native to Northern California’s Central Valley.  They also specialize in an ecological approach to restoring natural wetlands and protecting levees.  During the trip Captain Tule pointed out all the places we passed where they have landscaped, using various methods to stop the levees from crumbling.  Many methods have been used by a variety of organizations over the years but the most successful have been by using rocks and plants.  The roots of the plants attach the rocks to the levees themselves and the rocks stop the levees from being eroded by water and wave action.

On our right was Sutter Island and Ryer Island on our left.  Traveling round the top of Ryer Island we entered Minor Slough and Prospect Island was on our right.  An osprey was spotted almost overhead.  I was hoping to see it hover and swoop but it flew steadily away from us.

Abandoned fishing boat named Merluccius out of Fort Bragg.

Abandoned fishing boat named 'Merluccius' out of Fort Bragg.

Some of the land we passed looked neglected.  Captain Tule called it ‘benign neglect’.  There is not enough money around to maintain the levees or the land behind them.  Due to subsidence, many of the islands are sinking and if the levees are breached, many acres of land will be under water.  Then, of course, there is always the danger of earthquakes.  The last major earthquake in the delta was before the levees were built.  Now, many of them are in such sad repair, that, if an earthquake struck, it could be a catastrophe equal to Hurricane Katrina with Sacramento itself threatened.

Along Minor Slough we saw several interesting things.  There was the abandoned fishing boat named ‘Merluccius’ out of Fort Bragg.  It’s rusting hulk was grounded on the bank.  We also spotted a green heron taking off.  Captain Tule pointed out a Buckeye, with a lovely display of white flowers, on the bank.

We came to a waterway junction with the Sacramento River Deep Water Canal, which we proceeded to cross, and entered Cache Slough.   Soon we turned right into Prospect Slough and entered the wilderness.  On our left was Liberty Island.  This was the focal point of our trip.  Liberty Island was flooded when the levees were breached in 1998.  Hundreds of acres of farmland were inundated and are still under water.  It took nearly two hours to circumnavigate the island and it was an eerie trip.  Not too many people venture this far up the delta and it is truly a wilderness.  Taking a boat through the levees to explore what remains of the island would be dangerous but it would be an interesting expedition for kayakers.

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Delta Towns-Walnut Grove & Locke

Corrugated sheetmetal building in Walnut Grove, California

Corrugated sheetmetal building in Walnut Grove, California

Instead of turning right at Ryde we turned left on Highway 60 to the next bridge and crossed over the river into Walnut Grove.  We parked the car and went for a wander around the small town.

(Click on the images for larger versions)

Walnut Grove is one of the earliest settlements along the Sacramento River.  At the start of World War II, the town was racially segregated with whites living on the western bank of the river and Asians on the left bank.  The eastern side was segregated further into a Japanese section and a Chinese section.  Today it is a sleepy little town.  The main street is Market Street which is divided into two sections, historic Chinese town at one end and a historic Japanese town at the other end.

We walked around the China town first but there were not many businesses left.  On the corner of the street was an Mexican restaurant which was open but not at all busy.  Further along was a building with an adobe front with two large round windows which were blacked out.  The rest of the building was made out of corrugated sheetmetal.  On the opposite side was a old building with Chinese Free Masons on the front.  There was a buildings with fading pictures of underwater scenes painted by children and a building with a sign proclaiming it to be the Pump House.  Then I realized it was a fitness center.  Japan town was more interesting.  The first building had a wood veranda and a sign which read All Sure.  It was only when I checked the internet when I got home that found out it should read A.L.L. Sure.  It is a construction company which began operating in 1922 and is still a going concern.  But looking through the window is misleading.  On one of the windows is a very interesting newspaper article, dated January 1996, on the history of Walnut Grove, Courtland and Locke.  There are also old tools and bottles and an ancient train set.  One of the bottles is a Mason’s Root Beer with a small American flag stuck inside.  Further along is Ben’s Drugs, which is a large room with work benches inside.  Goodness know what they do now, for in the window is a set of false teeth and an old aerosol can of Colgate shaving Cream.  All the buildings look a bit ramshackle.

At the end of Market Street is A Street.  Here it was mostly houses but in the middle on the right is a community garden.  It is divided into about

Old firetruck in Walnut Grove

Old firetruck in Walnut Grove

twenty small plots with a variety of vegetables and flowers being cultivated.  At the back was a large cat sitting.  Behind the garden, we could see the back of the houses on B Street and on the roof of an upstairs veranda a pair of pigeons were engrossed in a mating dance.  Also on this street was the Walnut Grove Market.

I could see Tom making a beeline towards something.  A rusty truck had caught his attention.  It was an old fire truck and he busy taking photos.  I continued wandering along Grove Street and started all the dogs barking.  I wasn’t too worried as they were behind fences and their tails were wagging.  On the corner of Grove and C Street I spotted a really old tree and heavily coppiced tree.  Half of it looked dead but it spread out a long way and all the branches were supported by a weird collection of wooden and metal props.  On another corner, this time C Street and Tyler is the Kabuki Gallery.  In the garden to the side I passed the time of day with a lady sitting in the sunshine, enjoying the moment.  Just after that, Tom caught up with me and we returned to the car.

Downtown Locke, California. One of our favorite little towns.

Downtown Locke, California. One of our favorite little towns.

Our next stop along the way was Locke.  Now this is one interesting place and if you visit nowhere else in the area, Locke is one place you just have to go to.  It was built entirely by the Chinese.  Back in 1915, when a disastrous fire in Walnut Grove destroyed most of China Town, Lee Bing came to an agreement with land owner, George Locke, to establish a settlement.  Until recently, the residents of Locke owned the buildings but not the land.  There are only three streets in Locke – Main Street, which is just a few yards down from River Road, Locke Road and Key Street.  All the shops and businesses are on main street and all the houses are on the other two streets.  Finding Locke is not difficult but easily missed.  It is only half a mile north of Walnut Grove.  Watch out for a large boathouse on the left hand side.  There used to be two roads into Locke but they have been turned into one way streets.

We parked right outside the Chinese School, which is now a museum.  All the buildings on Main Street are two stories and narrow and most of them have verandas over the sidewalk with balconies above.  All the supports don’t look sturdy or straight enough to hold up the balconies and some of the buildings look very unstable.  Most of the buildings are shops with several galleries and one famous bar.  The bar is called Als Place but it has the politically incorrect name of Al the Wops.  The building has been a bar since it was built in 1915 and Als Place since 1934.

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Sacramento River Delta

The clocks were put forward last night so we had one hour’s less sleep but we were still up at 5.  I had to stop thinking that it was really only 4 am!

We were on our way to the Sacramento River Delta, so called because this is where the Sacramento River flows into the San Francisco Bay.  Tom read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle by Tom Stienstra entitled ‘Sunday Drive: Sacramento River Delta’.  The drive includes two ferry crossings.  This weekend is the first really nice weekend for quite a while and we felt this would be perfect for a nice day out.  We did discuss going the opposite way round but then eventually decided to follow exactly the same route.

At 6.45 we crossed the Benicia Bridge and headed towards Fairfield.  It was still dark and the mothball fleet was barely discernible.  To the east though the sky was becoming lighter. We stopped in Suisun City for breakfast – see previous post.

After the best breakfast ever, we were heading east on Highway 12.  The sun was up, the scenery intoxicating and I felt in my bones that it was going to be a great day.  We passed rolling green hills and cattle grazing.  The road was a two lane highway with a concrete barrier down the middle.  Without it I’m sure there would be a lot of head on collisions.  On our right was a wind farm and later there were windmills on both sides of the road.

Rio Vista Bridge over the Sacramento River

Rio Vista Bridge over the Sacramento River

At 8.30 we entered Rio Vista.  The directions were to turn left on River Road at the foot of the bridge.  The last turn on the left before the bridge was not River Road so we ended up going across the bridge.  The Rio Vista Bridge is a long, low bridge with a central drawbridge to allow passage to large ships on there way to Sacramento or to the ocean.  On the far side we turned around, drove back across the bridge and followed the sign to Ryer Island and the first ferry two miles away.

(Click on the images for larger versions)

We stopped near the bridge to take photos.  It’s not a pretty bridge but it has a certain elegance about it.  The river here is wide and I noticed there was quite a lot of debris floating downstream, probably caused by the storms over the last couple of weeks.  There was not much traffic around, either on the road or on the river.  Along the river back there were quite a few fishermen and one of them even had a BBQ going.

Soon we arrived at the Ryer Island Ferry.  We had to wait for a few minutes

The Ryer Island Ferry called, The Real McCoy

The Ryer Island Ferry called, "The Real McCoy"

before we could drive on board the flat bottomed boat.  There was a sign next just before the ferry which said the ferry was closed every day between 7.20 and 8.20 am.  It seems such a strange time of day to be closed.  Before long we were waved on board.  The ferry is called ‘The Real McCoy’ and has two propellers.  There was room for about six cars but we were the only passengers this trip.  We got out of the car and spoke to one of the operators, who was sporting a marvelous beard.  He was an interesting guy, who has been working on the ferry for 24 years – ‘Beats working in an office’ he said.  He was telling us that the ferry is free running and could turn in a circle or a square.  He also explained how repairs were carried out on the propellers by means of a coffer dam.

All to soon we were across Cache Slough and on Ryer Island.  We drove off the ferry and turned right but stopped almost immediately to take photos looking down on the ferry as it made it’s way back across the slough.  In the distance we could see the Rio Vista Bridge.  All was peaceful with just the sound of birdsong filling the air.  It was a pretty drive down to and around the southern tip of Ryer Island, passing vineyards and then driving north with Steamboat Slough to our left.  The land to our left was lower than the road and we passed several orchards.  Then we drove past what we thought was an island in the slough and worked out later on that it was a long peninsula.

Steamboat Slough ferry accross to Grand Island

Steamboat Slough ferry across to Grand Island

Soon we arrived at the second ferry, this time across Steamboat Slough to Grand Island.  This ferry has a diesel engine but is guided by a cable.  We found out why the ferries are closed between 7.20 – 8.20 am – it is lunch time.  Both ferries operate 24 hours a day and, by the way, are completely free of charge.  This time there was another car waiting to cross as well but we had to wait for the ferry to come back from the other side.  At first we could not see the cable, but when the ferry started to move the orange cable came to the surface.  As the ferry crosses, a red light flashes on the roof and all boats have to wait.  If they didn’t the propellers on the crossing boats could drag on the cable and that’s not good news for either the ferry or the boat.  This crossing was much shorter than the first and soon the ramp was being lowered and we drove out on the far side.

Once again, we pulled over for a photo op.  I wandered across the road, where, below the level of the road, was a small farm with a large cactus plant and several goats.  We turned right onto Grand Island Road, drove for a short distance and then turned left on Highway 220, which we followed all the way to Ryde.  Here we diverted from Tom Stienstra’s directions and for the rest of our interesting day on the Delta, you will have to read our next post.

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