Photo of the month

With the cool months on the way our cat Katy gets more cuddly whenever there is a warm blanket — or in this case a warm sweater — to be found. In a rare moment, Katy is docile enough for Roni to give her a chin rub in the easy chair. Photo by Glenn.

November 2011

Ben's room displays the trappings of Halloween. We've had cobwebs nearly this size, but fortunately this one — and its inhabitant — is a fake. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is dressed up as Ace Attorney for his Halloween costume. Photo by Glenn.

Think we have enough candy for the trick-or-treaters? All those unopened bags were still unopened at the end of the night. Photo by Glenn.

Our jack o'lantern designs were a bit uninspired this year. Glenn's entry greets visitors to the front door. Photo by Glenn.

Ben's jack o'lantern was inspired by The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is two-faced, like the mayor from the movie. This is the freaked-out side. The other side is smiling. Photo by Glenn.

Roni prepares Werewolf in the Waldorf Salad, part of our traditional Halloween feast. Nearby is a large bowl of Bloody Bug Juice. Photo by Glenn.

Ben chows down on Halloween dinner. Photo by Glenn.

This was not part of the Halloween meal, but rather a buttermilk pie that Glenn baked from a recipe provided to him by a friend at work. It met with rave reviews. Photo by Glenn.

Our ship has come in, or rather the tall ship Lady Washington has come in to the visitor dock at the Antioch Marina on Oct. 22. The vessel was open for public tours. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn and Roni pose for a picture in front of the tall ship. Photos were free, as opposed to the price to go on board. Photo by Glenn.

The massive Panamanian cargo ship Navios Celestial makes its way west on the San Joaquin River past the Antioch fishing pier. Photo by Glenn.

Much of our past month has been spent touring the Delta. On Oct. 26 we drove around Sherman Island, just north of us. This is a view of Mount Diablo, looking west across the Antioch Bridge. Photo by Glenn.

An old barn is surrounded by hundreds of acres of farmland on Sherman Island. Photo by Glenn.

A very rare sight, these migrating sandhill cranes have made a stop on Sherman Island. They head south each fall, but usually they don't make it too far into our region. Photo by Glenn.

We aren't sure what these red bulbs are, but they sure are pretty. There were thousands of them growing along the Sherman Island levee near Three Mile Slough. Photo by Glenn.

We ate lunch in Rio Vista, at the "We Toss 'Em, They're Awesome" pizza restaurant. Photo by Glenn.

Part of Rio Vista's charm is its downtown that looks like it never left the 1950s. This sign at the Striper Cafe still works but has seen better days. Photo by Glenn.

As the sign says, Glenn took a solo walk along the Stewartville Trail at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve on Nov. 9. Photo by Glenn.

Glenn cools his heels on a bench after hiking to the ridge of the Stewartville Trail. Photo by Glenn.

The Diablo Valley stretches to the south from the ridge. The trail leads to the site of the former coal mining town of Stewartville. Glenn decided against the long hike down the hill. Photo by Glenn.

This is the Hazel Atlas Mine, which is currently closed for renovations. It should reopen in the spring. Photo by Glenn.

An abandoned barn at the north end of Black Diamond Mines is a picturesque reminder of Antioch's forgotten past. Photo by Glenn.

Nov. 12 finds us out for a tour of the Antioch Dunes wildlife preserve, home of the endangered Lange's metalmark butterfly and the Antioch Dunes evening primrose — neither of which we got to see on our walk. Photo by Glenn.

Our tour group listens as a volunteer docent points out the Antioch Dunes evening primrose. Photo by Glenn.

The primrose might look impressive in the spring when it is blooming, but in November it looks like a common dead weed. Photo by Glenn.

Roni and other tour participants pass around historical photos of the Antioch Dunes. Photo by Glenn.

This is the trail leading east toward the Georgia-Pacific gypsum plant, The dunes area doesn't look like much these days, but a hundred years ago there were 60-foot high sand dunes on this site. Photo by Glenn.

Later in the day we made our way to the Antioch fairgrounds where the annual fall fair and barbecue competition was taking place. One of the barbecue booths displays its array of hardware. These guys are serious about their cooking. Photo by Glenn.

Roni, Ben and his friend Alexis enjoy lunch while listening to the sounds of the Hot Rods band at the fairgrounds. Photo by Glenn.

The Hot Rods rock out on stage with some great '50s cover tunes. Photo by Glenn.

Santa bids us farewell as we leave the craft fair. Actually, he was probably trying to coax a shy kid up to his sleigh for a Christmas wish list consultation. Photo by Glenn.

Ben is in a chipper mood on a bright Monday morning as we head to his school to drop him off before embarking on our next Delta adventure... Photo by Glenn.

...It is Nov. 14 and the skies are looking none too friendly as we head north to the Montezuma Hills of Solano County, where dozens of new wind turbines are being erected. This one is mostly assembled, awaiting its three blades. Photo by Glenn.

Sections of the turbine towers are delivered via cargo ship to the Port of Stockton and then trucked to the job site for assembly. One truck arrived just as this photo was taken. Photo by Glenn.

The finished wind turbines dwarf everything in the hills, including this old barn. Photo by Glenn.

It could be the California coast, but it's actually the beach at Lower Sherman Island Wildlife Area, one of the few spots in the Delta with sand beaches. It can fit about 10 people on it. Photo by Glenn.

We head north to Brannan Island to take a walk on the Brannan Island Loop Trail. This popular Delta camping and fishing spot was cold and mostly deserted on our visit. Photo by Glenn.

A gray heron sits still long enough for us to snap a few photos of it along the Brannan Island shore. Photo by Glenn.

We think these are toyon berries. They were plentiful on several trees planted around Brannan Island. Photo by Glenn.

Our Monday on the Delta concluded with a stop at the Discover the Delta Farmers Market and visitor center outside Rio Vista. They have an extensive wine tasting room featuring wines from Delta vintners. Photo by Glenn.

On Nov. 16 we found Glenn's dream home — a place east of Stockton called the Windmill Ranch. True to the name, the place features a collection of antiques and dozens of working farm windmills. Tours are available, but we didn't go in. Photo by Roni.

The destination for our Wednesday morning drive was Lockeford, home of Lockeford Meats & Sausage, which is known far and wide for its quality meats. Photo by Glenn.

The sign on the building says all that needs to be said. If you have ever tried a Lockeford sausage at one of the area's many fairs or festivals then you already know what to expect. If not, you are seriously missing out. Photo by Glenn.

The display case inside the Lockeford Sausage shop is packed with tasty links just waiting to take home and stick on the grill. This is just half of the display counter. Photo by Glenn.

After buying our sausages we had a hankering for a real country breakfast, so we headed next dore to the Country Cafe. Glenn can't wait to dig in to his order of biscuits and gravy. Photo by Roni.

Glenn unintentionally bears a striking resemblance to the infamous Unabomber in his new hoodie and sunglasses, which he forgot to take off after the drive home from Lockeford. Photo by Roni.

A bit closer to home, the Delta Science Center begins to take shape at Big Break Regional Shoreline. Construction crews have been in the process of assembling the components of the modular building that should be open in the spring. Photo by Roni.

Our purple sage is in full bloom, and the local hummingbirds are going crazy for it. One of the hummers flits about in search of more nectar. Photo by Roni.

Fall has arrived in our backyard. The leaves of our crape myrtle take on a beautiful golden hue as the temperatures drop. Photo by Roni.

Summer finds a bit of modesty in the rapidly spreading vine that again has taken over her garden. Photo by Glenn.

This month's newsletter was made possible in part by the new computer shelf Glenn built from scratch and assembled in our bedroom closet. The components are spread out on the back patio on Nov. 8. Photo by Glenn.

The computer shelf is all set up in the closet. It is strong enough to support Ben's old iMac G5 yet portable enough to remove when we want or need to. Photo by Glenn.

We always enjoy hearing from our visitors. We welcome your comments.

Dawdling on the Delta

November 23, 2011

In the interest of full disclosure, we borrowed the title for this month’s missive from the late Hal Schell, who for many years penned a column for Bay & Delta Yachtsman magazine and also authored a book under the same title. Although we are by no means the experts on California Delta life, culture and history that Schell was, we have nonetheless fallen hard for the fascinating region he chronicled so thoroughly over the years. Schell was, as the locals say, a river rat. He was an old-timer who was intimately familiar with most of the people, the communities, and their connections with the past — in some cases, the far distant past. His was often the first name people associated with the Delta for his knowledge about boating and fishing, as well as the popular dining spots and watering holes that travelers in these parts look to.

We had the pleasure of talking with Schell once or twice in our early years living in the Antioch and Oakley area, and found his connections with the California Delta Chambers particularly useful in our work with the local newspapers. Schell passed away five years ago, but perhaps some of his enthusiasm for his subject rubbed off on us, because lately we have been rediscovering the magic of this water wonderland we have called home for more than 22 years. Although we have made many trips up Highway 160 and beyond in the past year since Roni became executive director of the Delta Science Center, this October and November especially, the Delta felt to us like a vacation home.

Our series of Delta-related adventures began Oct. 22 with a visit to the Antioch Marina to check out the tall sailing ship Lady Washington on its tour of the California coast. The brig is most familiar to movie fans who saw “Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl,” in which the ship served as the British warship HMS Interceptor. We only learned this after the fact, but it in no way impacted our enjoyment of seeing the vessel anchored at the public dock outside Humphrey’s Restaurant, where dozens of people turned out on a Saturday to take tours, take pictures, or both.

Being the lookie-loos we tend to be in such situations, we opted to experience the boat through camera lenses rather than in person. We hiked around to the public fishing pier and grabbed our shots looking across the water towards the shore, admiring the ship’s tall wooden masts and intricate maze of attached rigging. The weather was spectacular, as we were in the middle of our usual Indian summer, so we quickly began to wilt under the sun’s glare. We returned to the restaurant to take refuge in the shade of a side porch. While we sat there, a huge cargo ship appeared to the east of us sailing under the Antioch Bridge through the deep water of the San Joaquin River. We waited about 15 minutes until it sailed close to the fishing pier then made a lumbering turn west toward the Bay. The Navios Celestial, a Panamanian freighter, was returning home after departing from the Port of Stockton earlier in the day. It was an incredible sight up close, dwarfing the Lady Washington as it passed and stealing the show.

Following our close encounters with ships tall and large, we strolled along the marina’s walking trail to its end near the shoreline, hoping to find a way to gain access to the neighboring Dow Wetlands property that for more than 20 years has served as a sanctuary for migrating birds and other species. The wetlands for years was inaccessible except by tour group. We had been there once before in the late ’90s for an Earth Day celebration and were quite impressed with it. Although we had heard that it is now possible for visitors to see the area any time from the main entrance on 10th Street, we have also heard of problems caused by the area’s homeless population, so we hoped that the Antioch Marina trail might provide a back door into the property. Alas, the unofficial entrance was gated and we didn’t feel right about sneaking around it as so many people apparently have, judging by the well-worn path carved into the levee around the fence. But with so many undisturbed areas of the Delta to explore, we didn’t worry too much that we weren’t getting to check out Dow Wetlands. We’ll make it back there one day.

Four days later, Oct. 26, found us off on yet another Delta excursion, this one an impromptu trip to Sherman Island. As part of her work with DSC, Roni has been trying to familiarize herself with the major Delta islands and grab unusual photos of the places we visit to assemble into the forthcoming Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta 2012 Educational Resource Calendar. Yes, that’s a mouthful, but trust us when we say that the product will be chock full of breathtaking Delta pictures from us and other local photographers.

Sherman Island is a fairly large tract of reclaimed farmland that sits directly north of us across the San Joaquin River. It is the first Delta island you reach if you take the Antioch (aka Sen. John A. Nejedly) Bridge from Antioch to the start of Highway 160. The west side, known as Lower Sherman Island, is popular with fishermen and wind surfers. The side we wanted to check out was the east side, which is occupied by a few rugged landowners, cattle, a marina and not much else.

We hung a right off Highway 160 at River Road, which took us south toward the levee. Our hope was to get on the Sherman Island Levee Road and backtrack beneath the footings of the Antioch Bridge and westward along the river to get a look at the tidal marshes across from Antioch and Pittsburg, but unfortunately that direction is blocked by a vineyard that doesn’t allow public access. And with Caltrans currently doing retrofit work on the bridge, the only other way that we could see to get there was via a narrow road that was being used by the work crews. We abandoned the idea of heading west and instead took the levee road to the east, toward Eddo’s Marina and Brannan Island State Recreation Area.

The detour wasn’t so bad. The road runs along the northern bank of the San Joaquin River, which is wide enough that we don’t get to see this side from our usual vantage point at Big Break Regional Shoreline in Oakley. We passed a couple of custom homes up on stilts and then several ranchettes with double-wides and odd collections of farm animals — sheep, goats, cows and llamas. Being a Wednesday, the road was mostly deserted. Glenn hopped out of the car to walk along the levee and take pictures while Roni drove at a snail’s pace. Eventually we passed the marina and the road turned west along Three Mile Slough.

The slough separates Sherman Island from Brannan Island, which we could look across the water and see. A couple of men wandered near the boat launch with fishing poles, leading us to suspect that the park was open for business. It seemed a no-brainer that it should be, but with all of California’s budget woes several of the state parks took a hit, including Brannan. Hours have been reduced, and camping is only available on the weekends. We returned to Highway 160, crossed the Three Mile Slough lift bridge, and turned right into the park. Sure enough, the gate and main kiosk were closed. So how did those fishermen get in then? Hmmm.

We decided not to ponder that question on an empty stomach, so we continued north a few more miles until we reached Rio Vista. We found our way to Rio Vista’s downtown, which, thanks to the arrival of Highway 12 some decades ago, now languishes virtually ignored by all but the locals except during Bass Derby festival time. The buildings, signage and narrow streets and sidewalks harken back to the 1930s, even as newer tenants have taken up residence and try to make a go of it.

We parked outside the former and now vacant Rio Vista Hotel (which you can buy for a mere $750,000) and directly in front of the entrance to the iconic Striper Cafe with its faded neon sign sporting a giant striped bass leaping towards a martini glass. The restaurant obviously has a history, but even the current owner doesn’t know what it is, having only been on the scene for the past four years. We checked the menu in the window briefly before deciding we were more in the mood for Italian. We headed across the street to a pizzeria called “We Toss ’Em, They’re Awesome” Pizza Factory and grabbed a couple of cheese slices and a salad bar for lunch.

We attempted to head over to nearby Ryer Island after our meals, but found the ferry out of service. This is no surprise to the locals, who have lived with a malfunctioning ferry since Caltrans replaced the aging Real McCoy earlier this year with a multi-million dollar craft that has spent more time in the shop than transporting passengers to and from the island. It was perhaps for the best that the ferry wasn’t working, as we were running tight on time and had to get home to pick up Ben from school. Another day trip successfully completed.

* * * * *

Taking those Delta excursions was a good distraction from the stresses of deadlines for Roni’s business and lingering doubts about whether Glenn would continue to have a job come November. The newspaper announced at the end of August that it would lay off up to 120 workers in response to declining print revenues. Halloween weekend, normally a time of fun and frivolity around our home, was anything but as we waited anxiously to find out whether there would be good or bad news come Nov. 1.

Still, we made the best of the situation. Roni hauled out her boxes of decorations, Glenn carved jack o’lanterns, Ben made up a costume for himself, and we passed out candy to the few dozen trick-or-treaters who came to our door. We chowed down on a feast of Halloween-themed foods from Roni’s recipe file. Then we hung out together in the dim light of our living room watching Monday Night Football, reading, surfing the Internet, and listening to spooky sound effects on the computer until we got sick of them and no more kids came to the front door. Despite giving away most of a full bowl of goodies, we still had four unopened bags of candy we had to finish off ourselves. Oh, the agony.

But not half as agonizing as the following morning. All the workers at the newspaper affected by the potential layoffs were told to wait by their telephones that Tuesday morning. If the phone didn’t ring by 9:30, then it was safe to report to work as normal. Glenn grabbed the cell phone and took it with him on a long walk along the Big Break Trail, hoping the phone wouldn’t ring. It didn’t. After more than two months of feeling as though our lives were on hold, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and started making plans again.

The first of those plans was for Glenn’s vacation, two weeks of much needed R&R that had been postponed from September. It was the first time we could recall taking November vacation time — Glenn’s valley fever in 2009 notwithstanding — and because Ben still had school and Roni still had oodles of work on her plate, it meant that we wouldn’t be traveling very far from home.

Glenn took advantage of one of his vacation days, Nov. 9, to take a solo hike at Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve near Antioch. It might not have been the Delta, but his hike along the park’s Stewartville Trail provided extended views of the San Joaquin River and the Diablo Valley. The park is rife with history, the site of several former coal mining towns that once were the most inhabited places in Contra Costa County. Today not much remains of them, and the untrained eye might never guess that homes and storefronts once rose from these golden hills, as every last board was removed when the original inhabitants pulled up stakes and left for more productive coal fields.

Glenn’s hike, spanning nearly four hours, covered roughly three miles and climbed hundreds of feet from sprawling meadows to high chaparral. Being that it was a Wednesday afternoon, he passed all of three people on the trail in a place that normally draws dozens on the weekend.

The following Saturday, Nov. 12, found us back in Antioch for a walking tour at the Antioch Dunes National Wildlife Refuge. The tours are offered the second Saturday of each month, and although we had always wanted to check the place out, we’d never gone on one. The dunes are known as the only place where one can find the endangered Lange’s Metalmark Butterfly, Antioch Dunes Evening Primrose, and the Contra Costa Wallflower — none of which we were able to see on this particular visit except in the photos that our tour guides passed around the group of roughly two dozen people.

Oh, we did see one of the famed primrose bushes, or actually what was left of it at the end of the growing season. We also got to see the Naked-Stemmed Buckwheat where the butterflies like to lay their eggs. The buckwheat isn’t threatened, but apparently there aren’t many nearby outside the dunes and the butterflies don’t fly well enough to get to the where the others are. The butterflies also don’t show themselves during November, meaning that if we hope to see one in person then we’ll have to return to the Antioch Dunes late next summer.

As for the dunes themselves, well, there really isn’t any there there. More than 100 years ago you would have seen 60-foot piles of glistening white river sand that had been deposited along the Antioch shoreline through centuries of wind and wave action. The town’s early pioneers quickly discovered that the sand was useful for making bricks and scooped most of the dunes away. What is there today looks, frankly, a lot like our sandy backyard — very flat and mostly covered with weeds. We joked that we might have pulled an evening primrose or two during our spring weeding and never even knew, although the likelihood of that seems pretty remote. Our tour guides did mention that there are some primroses growing wild in Oakley, however, so now we’ll have to pay better attention.

We no sooner finished with the dunes tour than it was time to head over to the Contra Costa County Fairgrounds with Ben and his new friend Alexis where we walked through the annual Fall Craft Fair and barbecue competition. We’d had visions of enjoying tasty barbecue lunches from some of the contestants, but we found just one booth offering samples, so we were forced to settle for more pedestrian fair fare. We stayed awhile to listen to the Hot Rods band deliver a set of ’50s rock and roll standards and browsed the indoor vendor booths, which were woefully lacking in crafts for the most part.

* * * * *

Nov. 14 found us back on Highway 160 in the morning after dropping Ben off at school. Whereas we had previously toured the eastern end of Sherman Island, this time we decided to check out the western, or lower, side. What started out as a sunny morning quickly turned gloomy as a storm front moved in from the north, bringing with it masses of dark clouds and a chilly breeze.

We drove onto West Sherman Island Road, which hugs the Sacramento River until the point where it merges with the San Joaquin. The area is popular with fishermen and wind surfers, although the latter group usually are easier to find on a summer weekend. Again, we pretty much had the road to ourselves. Across the river lies the Montezuma Hills of Solano County. Because the area is in a wind corridor it has become home to hundreds of wind turbines in the past decade, with more coming on line by the day. We saw flatbed trucks hauling in hundred-foot long sections of the support towers to be assembled. Huge cranes were positioned at several locations as they prepared to hoist tower segments and propeller blades 400 feet in the air for final assembly.

After poking around the island as far as we could go, we continued north on Highway 160 to Brannan Island again, this time finding the park open — but only for a couple more hours. That gave us just enough time to take a walk on the Brannan Island Loop Trail and enjoy the autumn leaves.

We finished off our trip with another jaunt through Rio Vista, only this time we stayed on Highway 12 and continued on to Birds Landing Road and then south to Collinsville. The sign at the entrance to town referred to it as “Historic” Collinsville, but we failed to see much historic about the handful of trailers and dilapidated homes we found there. What we did find was a lot of sheep, scores of blackbirds, and dozens of workers from the wind energy companies using the road as a conduit between their field offices and the hillsides where new turbines were being erected. The place looks a bit like a sci-fi alien invasion flick with so many of the giant wind machines dwarfing the ranches in the Solano hills.

The promise of fresh sausage lured us out again two days later, this time to the Central Valley town of Lockeford, a few miles east of Lodi. Lockeford Sausage Company is known throughout the region for its smoked Dakota sausages that it serves up by the hundreds at fairs and festivals. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried one on a toasted sourdough roll smothered in mustard, sauerkraut and onions. They have been a staple of our summer festival excursions for as long as we’ve lived here, but until now we never knew they had an actual retail store located in their namesake town.

The drive to Lockeford from Oakley took a little more than an hour following Highways 4 and 88. We arrived there in the late morning, again trying to make a whirlwind trip between the time we dropped Ben off at school and had to return to pick him up. We had heard the store is usually mobbed on the weekends so were pleased to find it uncrowded when we arrived. The place is little more than a butcher shop and does not serve anything ready to eat other than its beef jerky sticks, so we were a bit disappointed that we couldn’t buy lunch there, having worked up our appetites for sausage sandwiches during the drive. That didn’t stop us from buying $38 worth of sausage, everything from the famous smoked Dakotas to jalapeño, Cajun, Hawaiian, basil, blueberry and cranberry  flavors. Of course we also bought some jerky for the road.

Still not totally satisfied, we asked the clerk if there was anywhere in town to buy a real Lockeford Sausage sandwich. He directed us to the Country Café across the street, where he said we could find their German franks on the menu. It was nearly lunch time, but we wound up ordering breakfast just to get our taste of the sausage. It was good food and relatively cheap. We wound up eating sausage three of the next four days, so we are about at the point where we can’t bear the thought of eating more for a while. At least now we know where we’ll go to grab meat for our next summer cookout.

Glenn’s vacation ended with one final Delta drive on Saturday, Nov. 19, this one to the town of Walnut Grove. We’d like to tell you more about it, and will next month when we can also post the pictures.

* * * * *

Since 2001, November has been the time when we participate in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, in an effort to craft a 50,000-word novel in 30 days. This year, it looks like we won’t both complete the task. Despite a very late start, Roni is about halfway through her project and still hopes to finish by the end of the month. Glenn, however, never got his project off the ground and resigned himself early on to sitting this year out. NaNoWriMo can be a lot of fun, but it takes commitment and time to do it properly, and Glenn didn’t feel he had enough of either this year. Perhaps in 2012.

That will do it for this month. Have a pleasant Thanksgiving and an enjoyable start to the holiday season.

Glenn, Roni and Ben

This page was last updated on Thursday, December 29, 2011 at 01:01 hrs.

Home || Milepost 1147.2 || Gehlke Bros. Football || || R&G Promotions

Back to The Gehlke Family Home Page