Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Napa - Sonoma Marsh Ride

off CA State Route 37

The principal difference between the average driver on I-80 and Michael Andretti is that Mr. Andretti knows how to drive fast.  Drafting, sudden lane changes, going 20+ miles per hour over, debris, frequent abrupt slowdowns not "under yellow" and hordes of amateur Michael Andrettis and Kyle Pettys are par for the course on the section of freeway between Sacramento and San Francisco.  Thus, I avoid I-80 whenever possible.

It is the case, however, that in order to get from home to one set of grandkids, that stretch of the interstate is pretty much “it.”  One of the pleasures, though, is the cut off State Route 37 takes between Vallejo and Novato across the top of San Pablo Bay and the Napa Sonoma Marshes. 

The road offers pleasant views across a wide and muddy flat to a distant ridge of the Coast Range.  Up close, great blue herons and snowy egrets stand reflecting in the still, briny, topaz-blue waters.  Normally racing to see how much the little ones have grown, we don’t stop.  This day, I took the bike and braved the freeway with the sole purpose checking out this area.

My selected day and time of day, could, most certainly, have been better.  A thin, gray overcast foretold of a storm approaching maybe a day and a half off.  The tide was low, thus the reflective blue sky-blue water that seems so enticing so many times from the car window was muted.  And those graceful shorebirds decided this day to play hard to get.

I paused at a nicely maintained vista point on I-80 west past Cordelia Junction and checked out the view toward the marshes.

State Route 37 splits from I-80 just a half mile further on, then arches over the Napa River before settling onto a raised straight stretch across the wetlands.

At select points, wildlife viewing access is indicated.  Speeds along the highway range above the posted 55, and the turn-offs to these viewing kiosks can be rather exciting.  Watch for gravel!

The state, in concert with a conservancy has built viewing platforms and access for kayaks and canoes.  Ample parking is provided.  Nicely graded trails head through the wetlands on levees constructed, perhaps, by long-ago rice farmers.  All one needs to view waterfowl is a spotting glass or some good binoculars and – some waterfowl.

Out this way, Skaggs Island Road heads north, but after only about a mile, one comes to a locked gate – military reservation? – and a bunch of busted glass.

A sucker, myself for sheds and small buildings, I spot a corrugated assemblage decaying by a levee.  I stop for a close-up and wonder about its original purpose.  Perhaps a pump station.

A bit further on, a tiny shack sits abandoned next to a powerless power pole.  I considered the effort involved in slogging through the bog to construct anything at all and understand why, along with the seasonal clouds of flying insects, there are no large structures out this way.

I made five or six stops along this seven or eight mile stretch.  Absent the birds, always entertaining were the wildflowers and the changing views of the distant hills.  And those little buildings. 

At the Sonoma County Raceway, also known as Sears Point, State Route 121 heads north and east toward Napa.  This much preferred alternative brought me round to 128, Lake Berryessa, Winters and home.  I’ll do this ride again checking the weather for a more crystalline day and the tide charts for a better possibility of some birding.


Winters, CA (file photo)
Today’s Route:  I-80 west to SR 37.  37 west to SR 121.  121 north through Napa toward Lake Berryessa and SR 128.  128 east to I-505 or on to Davis via Russell Road and I-80.

© 2013
Church of the Open Road Press

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