Tuesday, September 2, 2014

At the Pond: Short getaways between showers

An American kestrel  perches at the Wildhorse Bufferland. Numerous species may be seen at this 38-acre area of open space bordering the Wildhorse Golf Course. Jean Jackman/Courtesy photo

From page A14 | January 22, 2012 |

Let’s hope that right now you are singing, “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring…” Our average annual rainfall is about 20 inches. To date, we’ve had less than 3 inches. Normally, we would have close to 9 inches so be thankful for any drops coming our way.

And, though we like the rain, it’s too easy to cocoon and not get out and enjoy the outdoors when it is cold, rainy or overcast. And think about it, have you ever gone for an outing and said, “Darn, I shouldn’t have gone out for a walk, hike or bike?” I don’t think so. Even a foul-weather outing can feel great. And we won’t shrink.

Here are two exercise getaways for you to enjoy when there is a lull in the showers or if you want a brief walk in the rain.

First is a Davis place that remains a well-kept secret, such a secret that you cannot find it listed on the City of Davis website. Why? It’s the Wildhorse agriculture buffer, a place for an easy, scenic walk, complete with burrowing owls — currently visible daily if you know what to look for. It’s 38 acres of native vegetation restoration buffering the Wildhorse Golf Course from the ag land on the other side.

It’s a city/UC Davis collaborative research area, managed and supported with our tax money from Measure O. In 2000, 70.4 percent of us voted to tax ourselves for 30 years for open space acquisition and management. We all pay $2 a month for 30 years to preserve and restore open space areas. The Wildhorse buffer is an example of tax money well spent.

I like to access this delightful area at the northeast corner of the Wildhorse development on Rockwell Drive and begin walking along the bufferland trail. (Bike into main entrance, stay on Moore Boulevard until it dead-ends, turn right and go over two blocks.)

Within about 500 feet along the trail, you will see human-aided burrows with plastic pipes for entrances. Last week I spotted the owls in the early morning and late afternoon. Usually, they were not in the human-aided burrows but had their rounded heads stuck out of plain holes. They look like a clump of dirt until you look closely. Bring your binoculars. These 5-ounce, 9-inch short-tailed owls blend right in.

It’s fantastic to see this site continue to be viable owl habitat because I have witnessed the destruction of several owl colonies in Davis, on county land and on UCD land. It has usually been development at a site that has marked their demise.

Now, for a bit more ambitious getaway:

Head out Covell Boulevard, which becomes Highway 128 and goes right through Winters on your way to Cold Canyon, or more properly, the Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve. For those of us who are as old as dirt, it was once called the “keep out place,” because there was a big “keep out” sign at the fire road gate. We would hike there anyway and no one every told us to get out.

Drive Highway 128 until you cross over Putah Creek. Continue up the hill until you see the parking lot on the right. Park there. If you get to the Monticello Dam viewing area, you have gone too far. Walk up the road until you get to the first fire gate. You can walk 1.5 miles along that trail until you get to an old stone foundation where a man once raised goats.

My favorite hike starts across the bridge at the other fire road. It’s a 1,000-foot climb so you might enjoy hiking poles. I swear by them. I like to have lunch at the top and come down the same way I went up unless I have a lot of time to spare, and then I continue up the ridge after lunch and complete a 6-mile circle hike. Make sure you know how to identify poison oak, or take a shower when you get home and put your clothes in the wash.

The lunchtime views of Lake Berryessa are spectacular. And without all of the boat traffic, it is more serene. Last Sunday, there were 50 cars parked in the vicinity. However, there are so many spread-out trails, it did not feel like a traffic jam.

It is great to see so many people using this natural reserve, which doubles as a place for public use and for academic research. The trails have undergone glorious improvements in the past five years. There are different seasonal things happening all year-round.


Since October, I’ve been promoting an outdoor adventure group like a great one I experience in Michigan. At our Jan. 11 organizational meeting, 45 people attended and at least 20 others have indicated an interest. A health issue kept me from attending the first meeting but I am thrilled by the interest and hope by the time this article appears we will have an official name.

I’m guessing the winning name will be the DOERS — Devoted Outdoor ExplorERS or Davis Outdoor Explorers. If you are still interested, send an email to markspiller@gmail.com. And let the outdoor adventures begin!

— Jean Jackman is a Davis resident. Her columns appear monthly. Got a question, comment, story? Contact her at JeanJackman@gmail.com



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