California Marathon Road Trip: The California Delta


After our visit to the John Muir National Historic Site, we decided to take the scenic route back to Roseville.  We found CA Highway 160 and set off into the California Delta.  The reality is that much of the area just south and west of Sacramento is a delta; in its natural state the California Delta is a freshwater marsh with significant annual flooding, and a series of channels and sloughs with islands of peat.  The official name is the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta because it is located at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers.

Beginning in the mid 1800s enterprising Americans decided that seasonal floods didn’t really work for them, so they set out to control nature and remade the Delta into fertile farmland that now rarely floods.  The rivers are contained with high built up levees on either side, which happens to be perfect for a highway, right?  The delta also happens to deliver a significant amount of the water supply for the San Joaquin Valley and southern California through an elaborate pump system.

So you drive along an elevated road, with the slow moving river on one side and large farmhouses on the other, and you feel like you have been transported into the Louisiana bayou, only with less vegetation and no Spanish moss.  And no alligators.  I imagine that in the summer the heat is probably pretty similar to the south, but perhaps with less humidity.  But otherwise it is EXACTLY the same.  Really.  And there are probably just as many mosquitoes.

One of the many bridges spanning the river

One of the many bridges spanning the river

Along the way, we stopped in a couple of small towns that modern life seems to have largely passed by.  Isleton (population 804) announced that it had a historic point of interest, so we set off to find out what is was.  It wasn’t clearly marked, so I’m not exactly sure what we were looking for or if we found it, but what we did find was a small town with several turn of the last century buildings in various states of disrepair.

The second story of an abandoned building in Isleton - its Chinese immigrant past still visible.

The second story of an abandoned building in Isleton – its Chinese immigrant past still visible.

And we found a woman who seemed to be on drugs, who proceeded to follow us around and stop where we stopped, and continue when we did, peeking into cars along the way.  So, due to the fact that this woman was creeping Jon out, we didn’t hang around long in Isleton.  Note: there were an awful lot of cars parked along the main street for as dead as the town appeared to be.  We could only find a handful of businesses that were actually open (or in business for that matter); certainly not enough to justify the number of cars that were parked.  We also found that stereotypical car covered with cats – so we took a photo of that too.

A couple of the more maintained buildings in downtown Isleton, California

A couple of the more maintained buildings in downtown Isleton, California

Cats on Cars

Cats on Cars

Our next stop on the Delta was in the historic town of Locke.  Locke was founded in 1915 by Chinese immigrants who were prevented from living in the nearby communities with whites.  This was once a thriving town with a Chinese school, traditional Chinese doctors, and restaurants and shops catering to the Chinese population.  You can see what it once was by the Chinese writing remaining on some of the buildings.  Technically, Locke isn’t a town, but an unincorporated area, but the historic buildings and its connection as a Chinese immigrant community earned it a designation as a National Historic Landmark District.

A row of historic buildings in Locke, California

A row of historic buildings in Locke, California

Someone (I cannot remember who) had told me that Locke was a quaint little historic town with art galleries and shops.  What we found wasn’t quite what I would describe as quaint – although it was certainly trying.  There were only a few shops open – a couple of art galleries and a consignment shop.  And a tiny little museum on the history of the Chinese in the area.  And wow, historic is an understatement!

Locke has as many abandoned buildings as it does occupied ones – and some of them seem dangerously close to falling down.  I would not want to be in Locke when the next earthquake hits California!  The upside was that there weren’t any tweakers in Locke, and it did give me the opportunity to take some interesting photos of the old, run-down buildings.  Other than that though, it wasn’t much of a destination – I was glad we had just chanced upon it rather than heading out there with a plan to spend awhile…

One of the not so well maintained buildings in Locke

One of the not so well maintained buildings in Locke

Our cruise of the California Delta was certainly interesting and beautiful, giving me an opportunity to see something new in California.  Jon lived in Sacramento for a few years and never knew this was right outside of the city!  This is definitely not a world of strip malls and pavement.  And at the end of our delta tour we happened upon a converted beet sugar mill – I will post about that next!

Have you ever visited the California Delta?  What did you think?

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2 thoughts on “California Marathon Road Trip: The California Delta

  1. I’m fascinated — from an artistic perspective — by abandoned houses (I learned the term “ruin porn” not too long ago). So your trip to Isleton sounds so very interesting. I’m worried about those cats, although they look a little too well-fed to be strays.

    • As far as abandoned buildings go, these were very beautiful. Most wooden buildings from the turn of the last century were demolished long ago if they weren’t being used, so I do appreciate that these are still there. I don’t think the cats were strays, and I wonder if they were all sitting on the car because it was warm. It was an unseasonably cold winter day for California, as highs only got into the 40s on our trip! It was far warmer than the low temp of 9 at home though!

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