Friday, January 24, 2020
The Aquatic Fauna of the Sacramento Valley
Shape-shifting clouds of starlings weave in and out across highway 104 as we speed westbound through the rural landscape. A hillside of goats and one shaggy guard dog go by on the left. The decommissioned Ranch Seco Nuclear Power Plant's giant cooling towers sit ominously on the horizon.
Past the small city of Galt and then hard by Interstate 5, we reach our destination - the Consumnes River Preserve.
It's late October and the annual migration of Sandhill Cranes has hit the area. These tall and slender birds are attracted to the corn fields around the preserve and spend a couple of months here at harvest time. The preserve has trails leading through the wetlands that these birds call home while they're here.
A one and a half mile accessible trails leads out from the visitor's center, across the street to several ponds of wetlands. A half mile boardwalk leads out to a remote viewing platform.
We only see a few of the cranes, in the distance on the other side of a large pond, because in the middle of the day they're off eating corn at nearby farms. Still, we see plenty of other birds.
Thousands of Canada Geese dot the water and occasionally take flight to circle overhead for a few laps before plopping back down in the water.
Mud Hens troll for insects and worms and a lone kingfisher sits on a log looking for a juicy fish to each.
After the wide open wetlands, the trail continues across the street near a busy set of train tracks.
It continues into a lushly wooded area with a few more ponds before crossing a bridge back to the visitor's center.
We would have liked to see some more of the cranes but it's still a very nice hike through nature. It's time for us to head on to another destination but first, a stop for lunch.
In nearby Lodi, it's a delicious and cheap lunch at A&W Root Beer. The burgers and fries are washed down with that delicious root beer in large, glass mugs.
While that might sound rather ordinary, what makes this special is that this is the oldest A&W stand in the world. A&W started here in Lodi in 1919 when Roy Allen purchased a root beer recipe from a pharmacist in Arizona. Using that recipe, he opened a stand at a local parade to sell it for a nickel.
Seeing how successful this was, he join forces with Frank Wright to open a drive-in restaurant four years later. This is now the location on Lodi Avenue, which features a display case full of company memorabilia, along with shelves of old A&W stuff up on the walls.
Hunger sated, it's back on the road...up the 99 to highway 50 in Sacramento. East to Folsom, then north to the American River next to the Nimbus Dam, which holds back Lake Natoma.
It's because of this dam that our next stop is here. When built, the dam blocked the migration of the native steelhead trout and chinook salmon. The Nimbus Fish Hatchery was built to help the fish survive and to keep them from becoming extinct.
We're here three days before they open the ladder. When the salmon return from the ocean to spawn, weirs in the river guide the fish to the entrance of the ladder, where they climb up into the hatchery.
Eggs are harvested from the females, fertilized with milt harvested from the males, and the eggs are hatched factory-style in the hatchery. When the fish are big enough, around 4 million are released back into the river to head out to sea.
Down at the entrance to the ladder (a sign says it's not wheelchair accessible but it is nicely ramped and Tim had no problem getting there), we see thousands of excited salmon waiting to get in.
Next door is a rainbow trout hatchery, where we go and see hundreds of thousands of fish being reared to releasable size.
Both destinations we visited are accessible and free to visit. Click on the links above to find directions and other information for the preserve and hatchery.
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