Monday, October 17, 2011


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I GUESS I MUST BE OVER-EAGER to see some fall colors. My last two trips to the Sierra have been busts. Too early. Today, I ventured down to the Sacramento River Delta, along state route 160 and several secondary roads.

THE SACRAMENTO DELTA holds arguably the most fertile soil in all of creation. Prior to the completion of the trans-continental railroad, Colusa, a bit up north, was one of the nation’s biggest wheat shipping ports. Agriculture has always been huge in this land of alternating flood and drought. Acreage currently in wines grapes, used to bear sugar beets, I think…

Why else would they call it the "Old Sugar Mill?" In the past decade, local wineries have pooled their wares and turned the old mill into a destination. Closed this day, the interior is vast, dark and cool. Perfect for barrel aging the good stuff.

But with the correct amount of squinting and a few color filters, one can imagine the great brick building falling into decay from years of disrepair. It's gratifying to see the ol' gal brought back to life.

AS A KID IN CHICO, Diamond Match had a lumberyard next to the railroad tracks until it burned to the ground one night.

Years later, when I lived in Gridley, an old guy named Bud Spurgeon bought a similar Diamond Match lumber yard there and revived it stocking lumber, building materials, plumbing, home wares and sage advice until he couldn't work any more.

I expect that these wood-framed lumber yards were darned near everywhere in the 40s and 50s, back when “do-it-yourself” was the only way it was going to get done, and if you needed a single specific washer or nut or a few finishing nails, the proprietor simply said, "Over there.  Go ahead and take 'em."

Here’s what remains in Clarksburg, a few blocks south of the Sugar Mill.

BELOW CLARKSBURG, just past the turn off to Bogle Winery (take a picnic lunch; try their Old Vine Zin or their renowned Petite Sirah) is a Yolo County operated boat ramp. This group of folks has found a past time the equal of what I was doing for this Monday morning.

Quick, place the following activities in the correct order: Working. Motorcyling. Fishing.

THE DELTA IS CRIS-CROSSED with bridges, all of which must be lifted when ship (or recreational sailboat) traffic ventures up the channel. Can't recall the last time I'd seen one elevated, so I stopped for this shot. Huge concrete blocks (look closely over the operators shed) serve as counter-balance for gently raising and lowering the multi-ton structure.

Where State Route 160 crosses a slough, an old gas station site remains. The pumps, clearly, are gone. I think I recall this was a Shell station in its last incarnation – and they had a pump down at river level for maritime traffic.

The bridge across the slough was closed. A contractor is painting it. I am forced onto an alternate route. The day just gets better and better.

Sutter Island Road traces the slough's levee, winding beneath a pleasant canopy of valley oak.

Here, the little Moto Guzzi is parked at an angle because she's resting on her sidestand. Not sure why the pump house is resting at a similar angle.

There's been talk of removing the trees from the levees because their roots can rot and provide tunnels for water (left, above) to seep into the farmland (right.) The Corps of Engineers has not completed a definitive study, but my hope is that they discover the roots actually knit and hold the levees together - which, I believe, has been the thought for some time.

GREAT OLD FARMHOUSES harken back to the times when people worked the soil and agriculture was king. Every few miles along the levees, one comes across an example of architectural elegance that complements the bucolic nature of the land.

Near Walnut Grove, a different kind of residence possesses a similar attraction. Simple and elegant in it own right, this houseboat is moored, rising and falling with the flow of the river.

Looks pleasant enough to me.

WINE GRAPES are not the only crop raised in these fertile soils. Here, a few acres of three or four year old pear trees indicate the farmer is slowly rejuvenating his orchard. Peaches, plums and apricots are also grown. Come February, these orchards will again provide a rainbow of pastel blossoms.

Back up north, rice replaced the wheat. Here, where the bottoms are soggy, these corn stalks are about to be chopped, mulched (not burned, thank you very much) and plowed under.
No traffic on this road enabled me to park on the wrong side for this picture. No traffic on this road enabled me to hear the soft delta breeze caress the dried corn leaves and whisper to me as I knelt for a shot.

In a land where crops grow so well, so grow the weeds and brush. An eager and willing group of goats have been hired in for control of unwanted vegetation.

ALL-IN-ALL, A GOOD WAY to spend a couple of hours is touring the Delta. Easily, one is transported back to times when working the land was considered noble, and when an evening's entertainment might involve watching the sun descend over the Coast Range – experiencing azure skies turn to shades of orange and purple until slipping into midnight blue.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dave,

    Always enjoy meandering the Delta with you. Thanks for sharing!