Rush Ranch Open Space, located outside Fairfield in southern Solano County and operated by the Solano Land Trust, is a 2000-acre open space area that includes different ecosystems: freshwater and salt marsh, pasture, and grasslands. There are 3 loop trails, each between 2 and 2½ miles long, which access these ecosystems. On this hike I completed two of the loops, the Marsh Trail and the South Pasture Trail. Both can be hiked as self-guided tours, with trail guides available at the Visitor Center, at the center of the figure 8 in my GPS track. There are several interpretive signs along the trails. There is very little elevation gain/loss. My visit turned out to be a birding outing as well as a hike.
I made a charming find before I even reached the Visitor Center from the parking area: a branch of the Little Free Library. These are wonderful little book boxes where you are encouraged to “take one if you like, leave one if you can”. My first encounter with a Little Free Library branch was on a hike outside Madison, Wisconsin. I love the concept.
The Visitor Center is also interesting. It is housed in a kit house, purchased through the Sears catalog in the 1930’s and assembled by the Rush family, whose ranch the property was at the time. As a house it’s pretty tiny, but it works nicely as a visitor information center.
Near the Visitor Center there is a collection of unused ranch equipment, informally called the Bone Yard. Many of the items have been labeled.
The Marsh and South Pasture Trails begin just past the Bone Yard. From this area there is a pretty view of Mt Diablo, which is about 20 miles away to the southeast across the lower part of the Sacramento River Delta and the row of hills near Pittsburg.
First I went around the Marsh Trail loop, clockwise to follow the numbered features noted in the trail guide. Near the beginning of the trail there is a small hill (perhaps 30 feet high) topped by an overlook, with 360-degree views of the surrounding area. The Suisun Marsh is some 85,000 acres, roughly 130 square miles, in area. The Marsh Trail explores an area that is partly managed wetland and partly the salt marsh along Suisun Slough.
About half of the trail follows a man-made levee that separates the freshwater and salt marshes. The levee is only a few feet high, and the trail is soft but quite level. In two places the trail passes tidal gates, which are adjusted a few times a year to manage the salinity in the managed portion of the marsh.
While I was walking around the marsh I heard toots signaling that a train, presumably an Amtrak train, was passing by a few miles away, toward Fairfield on its way east. About halfway around the loop I came to Goat Island, a small natural island in the marsh, maybe 5 feet higher than the levee. Here I paused to enjoy views of the nearby hills. Almost directly west and perhaps 9 miles away is Elkhorn Peak.
To the northwest are the Vaca Mountains, about 15 miles away.
At the north end of the loop, I took a short detour for a view of Hill Slough. Rush Landing, where Hill Slough empties into Suisun Slough, is where boats from San Francisco, Sacramento, and other cities came to pick up and deliver goods.
The trail guide makes special note of ecotones, which are boundaries between habitat types. At the time of my visit all of the vegetation was pretty brown, so it was more difficult to see these boundaries than at times of the year when they look different. Of course, the actual vegetation differs between habitats.
The second half of the Marsh Trail passes through pasture land, with grasses that are good for grazing cattle. Rush Ranch is a working ranch, and grazing cows were in evidence.
After returning to the Visitor Center area I set out on the South Pasture Trail, this time going counterclockwise to follow the trail guide in numerical order. The trail is generally easy to find and follow. In a few places, however, where the trail is nearly indistinguishable from its surroundings, you need to look for white markings on the ground (maybe like football field line markings?) in order to follow the intended path.
It is worth noting that this land was previously settled by native people, including the Patwins, who had a village nearby called Suisun. There is a grinding rock, more than 10 feet across, thought to have been used by the Patwin people as part of food preparation.
The south end of this loop trail passes through grazing pasture. Near the south end there is a bench with a wonderful view of Mt Diablo. There were scattered cattle grazing or resting in the pasture. In a gap between hills (I think Kirby Hill is on the right) there was a view of the wind farm along Shiloh Rd.
A little farther there is a water tank and trough where livestock come to drink. Near the water tank there was a horse grazing. After I moved to get it posed in front of Mt Diablo, it even looked my way to check me out.
A prominent sight from much of Rush Ranch is the Potrero Hills, a row of hills running to the east. I missed a turn on the trail and ended up with a bit more of a close-up view across Grizzly Island Rd. These hills must be spectacular when they are in their usual winter-spring green color!
After my small detour I returned to the loop and then to the Visitor Center.
Some other time I’ll return to explore the third trail, the Suisun Hill Trail.