For years we’ve driven across the north end of San Pablo Bay towards Vallejo and I’ve said, “Let’s stop here and take a walk.” Long distance views, colorful wetlands, hundreds of birds and a big blue sky called to me.
Good idea. Bad idea.
We have stopped at some of the vista points, but we were looking for a long walk.
Off of Hwy 37, near Hwy 121, we pulled into a small parking lot, littered with broken glass at one end and garbage bags and empty paint cans at the other end. We tried to make the best of it, thinking it was a Clean-up Day. But I fear, people had decided it wasn’t a place to watch birds and rather was a place to dump those excess garage items.
Hungry Avocets, feeding in the mudflat, were unconcerned. We admired their beauty and industry and they encouraged us to start our trek to the Bay.
Most of the walk is on a levee. The land to the east is drained and supports vast hay fields. To the west, depending on the tide, there are varying amounts of water. Tolay Creek feeds into the waterways. Sunday morning, the tide was coming in and overpowered the creek.
There were distant views all around. We could see Mt. Diablo and Mt. Tam. Beautiful layers of land, water, mist and dark-outlined mountain intrigued us. We could look into the stands at Infineon Raceway and up the ridges of mountains dividing Sonoma and Napa Counties.
The first area of the walk is a State wildlife area, technically the Napa-Sonoma Marshes Wildlife Area. Dogs on leash are allowed in this area. At less than a ½ mile is another marker and a sad-looking picnic table.
After this spot, the trail is in the San Pablo Bay Wildlife Refuge. Pheasant and waterfowl hunting is allowed from October 18th to January 25th. No hunting is permitted closer to the bay.
The levee top became looser dirt and more uneven. Actually, in several spots the levee is undergoing some rebuilding. Part of that rebuilding does not include leveling the top. We had to descend to a very dusty road and re-climb the levee from time to time to see if the trail was passable. Higher is better, in order to see the vistas of mountains and to see the creek and bay water.
Somewhere during this part of the walk, races started at Infineon and rifle shots rang out from private land across the creek. There are many deterrents to this walk, so check the race schedule online and avoid the hunters and the muddy season.
A lone gull or egret occasionally flew by. Avocets continued to work the mudflats, though the tide was visibly rising.
Near a pump house, we came to places where the path was overgrown. We alternated having our legs scratched in the dry weeds and walking on the dusty road. This entailed walking up and down the levee.
At almost 2 ½ miles into the trek we saw a walkway into the wetlands. This toy bridge and an almost indecipherable path are undoubtedly for a dedicated biologist.
After 3 miles, we were close to the Bay. Bench, picnic table, garbage can and wasps decorated the area. We went on.
We knew this was going to be a long walk, but perhaps with a payoff. We were rewarded by the Bay gently lapping on the rocks where we settled in for a rest and a snack. The racetrack and gunfire were very faint.
We gradually picked out the landmarks: Carquinez Bridge, Union Oil refinery, Pt. Pinole, Richmond, Sutro Tower, and the Transamerica building.
We knew we would not have the energy to circle Tubbs Island, so we retraced our steps. Lower Tubbs Island Setback was once drained agricultural land in the early 1900s and is now being restored to a tidal marsh.
It was a long dusty march back. We were spent, yet proud of ourselves. Glad we had gotten to the Bay, I think next time we’ll access the north edge of the Bay from the Napa River or the Port Sonoma Marina.
See you on the Trail! But probably not this one.
Photos by Mike Millar
P.S. I forgot to tell you that we were also looking for heat relief. With no wind, we broiled in the exposed landscape.
Wheelchairs: It’s rough. Maybe the first part of trail. Is it worth it? No, there are better places.
Dogs: On leash in State controlled area.
Bikes: Okay. But on the hard loose dirt of the levee and the dusty dirt of the road, I can’t imagine it’s any fun.
Best time of year: Whatever that time is when it’s not too muddy and when there are plenty of waterfowl that nobody’s shooting at.
Bathrooms: NONE. Plan ahead and hurry.