Finding adventure on the delta
Courtesy of Google News
BY DIANNE HARDISTY, Contributing writer
firstname.lastname@example.org | Monday, Jul 25 2011 01:47 PM
Last Updated Monday, Jul 25 2011 01:49 PM
Talk about the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta these days often deteriorates into a heated water rights debate that is simplistically depicted as a battle between saving some stinking little fish and delivering much-needed water to thirsty Central and Southern California.
But this decades-old water war, which is far from being settled, has overshadowed a California treasure that is unknown to many of the state's residents.
Considered to be the most extensive inland delta in the world, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta features approximately 60 islands that are protected by 1,100 miles of levees. It is home to 3.5 million people, including 2,500 family farmers. While most of the region is devoted to agriculture, the delta offers an abundance of boating, fishing, hunting and tourism opportunities, including wildlife viewing and photography. Its natural beauty and colorful history recently spawned a proposal to establish the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Natural Heritage Area.
A left turn somewhere near Lodi
But for those of us who love to jump into our cars and go exploring, the delta provides an unparalleled back-road adventure.
Fresh out of college and a newbie refugee from Southern California to the San Joaquin Valley, I discovered the delta in the 1970s, while living in Hanford. With nothing to do one boring weekend, my husband, Jack, and I climbed into our Volkswagen van and headed north on Highway 99. A left turn somewhere near Lodi landed us in the middle of a snarl of levee roads that led to an old Chinese settlement called Locke.
It was love at first sight. We had stumbled onto a piece of California that we never knew existed. It was like stepping back in time, where the pace of living was oh so much slower, the hospitality was genuine and the food -- including my first taste of crawdads -- was delicious.
The twist and turns of levee roads expose funky old stores, delicious ice cream shops, haunted hotels and scruffy old guys selling asparagus from the trunks of their cars.
The years that followed our first visit have been filled with many more bumpy rides along narrow delta roads that are interrupted by drawbridges and ferries that lift travelers across rivers and levees.
A move to Bakersfield a decade later and our purchase of a 16-foot outboard motor boat from Galey's Marine Supply has meant that our annual delta excursions now are done from the surface of the many waterways that eventually empty out into the San Francisco Bay.
Crawdads washed down by a cold beer a summer delight
Whether it's from the seat of a car or bow of a boat, visitors will never forget their trip down the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, across bays named Suisun, Honker and Grizzly, and around islands named Grand, Staten and Empire. A trip to the delta is simply unforgettable.
There is no "good time" to visit the delta. Each season paints a different face on the rivers, sloughs and towns. The delta hunkers down in the winter, comes to life in the spring, bustles with activity in the summer and braces for the cold, wet months ahead in the fall. A bowl of crawdads washed down by a cold beer is a summer delight. But as the cold and fog set in, the smell of bacon and eggs sizzling in the roadside cafes is the draw for townsfolk and visitors, alike.
There are many ways to visit the delta. While hotel rooms are scarce, hearty travelers can find an abundance of campsites and rustic cabin rentals in several resorts, with one of the largest being Vieira's Resort on the Sacramento River, near Isleton. Go to www.deltaboating.com for lodging and visitor information. Additional information about visiting the delta can be found on the Chamber of Commerce's website at www.californiadelta.org. The chamber also produces an email newsletter, the California Delta Scuttlebutt, which lists activities and events.
A delta visit requires a good road map and a marine map. Both will provide critical navigation information, including GPS coordinates, as well as the location of rivers, sloughs, levees, marinas, resorts and services, such as food and gas. Whether you are in a car or boat, knowing the distance between fuel stops is important.
Keep in mind that where there is a levee, slough or river, there generally also is a road. And those roads lead to picturesque bridges -- stationary and drawbridge. They also lead to ferries, which were once the most common way to hop between islands.
They run on delta time
Today, four ferries remain in operation, but only the "free running" Real McCoy, which crosses Cache Slough to Ryer Island, and the cable-drawn J-Mack, which crosses Steamboat Slough, are accessible to the general public. There is no set operating schedule. When the pilot sees a sufficient number of cars waiting at the shoreline, he loads them onto his ferry and takes them across the water. Don't be in a hurry. Just about everything, including the ferries, operate on Delta time.
The farms, towns, bridges and ferries that stand today are reminders of the delta's rich history. Originally the area was a swampland occupied in dry months by the Miwok Indians. But folks who tired of looking for gold in the 1850s recognized the delta's rich soil and potential for farming.
These early settlers built levees and reclaimed the first parcels of land. After the completion of the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s, the levee-building was turned over to an abundance of Chinese laborers. The delta town of Locke, which still stands and now is the focus of a redevelopment effort, was built by and for these laborers.
Many of the fragile levees and sloughs that comprise the delta were dug from the dirt by hand more than a century ago. The heated debate over the delta's future was best summarized earlier this year by David Hayes, deputy secretary of the federal Department of the Interior. Hayes noted the delta is "one seismic event away" from collapsing, halting the flow of water to Southern and Central California, and washing away delta islands, farms, businesses and homes.
Agreement over a "fix" to preserve this California treasure -- likely requiring the construction of a canal or tunnel to divert water around the delta and take pressure off the fragile levees -- is caught in a heated fight between competing interests. Regrettably, no end to the fight seems to be in sight.
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