Saturday, October 4, 2008

Rush Ranch - Marsh & South Pasture Trails

"Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends,
have become global garbage cans."
-Jacques Cousteau

Locale: Rush Ranch, Solano Land Trust, Suisun City, Solano County, California
Date: Saturday, October 4, 2008
Price: Free
Duration: 4.6 miles total or 2.2 for Marsh Tr and 2.4 for So. Pasture (2.5 hours for both)
Activity Level: Easy
All in All: a unique educational hiking experience that incorporates marshlands and ranchland.
Rating: ****
Maps & More Info:

In an era that only seems to care about getting our economy back on track and battling countries for oil, our environment tends to take a backseat to other priorities. That's why it can be refreshing to go to Land Trusts where you feel relieved (for the time being anyway) that this area can be preserved. This hike was far more worthy then I had actually expected. We wanted to hike somewhere close by and something not intense. I came across this hike in "101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area" by Ann Marie Brown. Take I80E into Fairfield. Take Hwy 12E from there and follow Hwy 12 for about 5 miles. Then turn right on Grizzly Island Rd for about 3 miles until you get to Rush Ranch on the right. As soon as you approach the ranch, you will most likely see a few cars by the various fishing spots. You will also see a sign which announces the Suisun Marsh as the largest contiguous estuary in the country meaning the largest area where fresh water mixes with tidal water.

Rush Ranch is no ordinary ranch. It hosts many events including carriage rides, blacksmith demos and nature hikes every month. Many schools come here on field trips. We were pretty surprised by the amount of artists who were enjoying a peaceful spot beneath the trees on the ranch sketching and painting the landscapes. After parking, go to the visitor's center and get two brochures called the Rush Ranch South Pasture Trail Guide and the Rush Rance Marsh Trail Guide. Head out the back door and start on Marsh Trail. What my boyfriend and I really appreciated about this hike were these two guides. On both trails are numbered posts. The numbers are indicated in the brochures and they tell about the wildlife, flora and fauna, the water and even history about the Native Americans who lived here centuries ago. Another thing that struck us about the Land Trust was it's cozy down-home feel. My boyfriend comes from the Iron Ranges of Northern Minnesota near Lake Itasca - the source of the Mississippi River. A river with such importance in our country and sometimes while walking along Marsh Trail we were reminded of the muddy shores of the riverbanks. I came from the farmlands of Wisconsin. My father's side has a long line of dairy farmers who worked the lands 365 days a year through bitter winters that caused chapped hands to bleed. Spending half of my childhood on a farm, I got a bit homesick when looking around the hilly pastures and grazing cattle.

Marsh Trail has excellent views (on a clear day of course) of the wetlands, boats, flora and fauna and bluffs. You will pass by many blackberry bushes and cattails. Below is a picture of handmade levees that are placed in the marsh to drain the water low enough so cattails do not grow and to provide more open space. Below is a brief video of the panoramic view of the area.
You can faintly see Mt. Vaca, the Potrero hills and Mt. Diablo.

Following Marsh Tr is quite simple as it's the only wide trail at this particular spot and following along with the guide is quite educational. It is a short trail however and before you know it you are through the gate and back where you started - at the ranch. But you are only halfway done.
Prior to starting the South Pasture Trail, check out the water tower and windmill. Next to it is a 'boneyard'. When equipment is being saved for later use or is no longer able to be used it's placed here. There's rusty wheels, plows and even an old tractor.

The South Pasture trail may seem a bit similar to another hiking spot in the Bay Area - Briones Park near Martinez. Like Briones, S. Pasture Trail is open lands under blue skies and a warm sun. It also has many many cowpies, cattle fences and of course, grazing cattle. After exploring the Indian grinding rock site, continue towards the cattle grazing near the water tank.
We have been on many a hike where cattle grazed. I grew up around cows and farm animals. But wait, what if the entire herd is starting to jog towards you? This was the first time in my life where I actually was in fear of cattle. As the picture above illustrates, the entire heard of cattle came towards us fast. They were not charging but damn close. The three horses in the back stood motionless during our presence but their eyes never left our sight. The picture was taken during the second time the herd came towards us. The first time startled us so much we backed off and headed diagonally off the trail getting poked by thorns. This was enough for the herd to retreat towards the water but we wanted to continue our hike. "Should we tempt them when we have such a short hike?" My calm but wary boyfriend asked. We did. After the second time they came towards us, they retreated and broke up into two groups. One went off, the other milled around and stared us down til we left.

At this point, we were a bit confused as to where the trail was. We had zigzagged so much and the literally shitty trail was no longer clear. Alas we found the post to set us back on the right track. On South Pasture Trail, all you will hear is the wind rustling and some cattle mooing and occasionally a military plane taking off from nearby Travis Air Force Base.
It caught me off guard because I had gotten into the country cozy feel of this half of our hike that I nearly forgot how close were to Fairfield and civilization. After post 13, there will be a narrow path to the left of the main path. We found a fallen post on the ground that denotes direction. Take the left narrow path even if it doesn't look right. Follow it to a large fence that may or may not be an electric fence. There will be a tiny gate to go through to continue on the trail. There will be a post and wooded planks. This area is a creekbed which only rises with water in the winters. As the path turns left, you will see a small pond and cow heaven. Cow heaven is a place where ranchers placed dead cattle. Upon exploration, we found a pelvis and other bones.

Another .25 mile or so and the hike is finished, back at the ranch. This hike is by far unique. It does not have the beautiful redwoods of Muir Woods nor the endless Pacific Ocean of many Marin hikes but there is a definite spark igniting the intrigue of this hike. Maybe it's because I was born and raised in the green hilly pastures of western Wisconsin and the heaps of information at every post throughout the hikes that differentiates Rush Ranch from any other hike. All I know is I wouldn't mind coming back to it, after all there must be something about it because with all the beauty that Northern California offers with the Redwoods, the ocean and the mountains, why did we so many artists enjoying the breezy humid air around the ranch and being inspired to draw? As the great landscape and nature painter Claude Monet said, "I only draw what I see."