Solano Land Trust: Rush Ranch-Suisun Hill-Marsh-South Pasture Trail Hike

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

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Rising out of the northeast edge of the Suisun Marsh, Rush Ranch stretches across 2,070 acres of marsh and rolling grassland. Purchased in 1988 by Solano Land Trust, Rush Ranch provides recreational and educational opportunities to thousands of visitors each year. The Ranch, with its historical buildings and self-guided trails, is located approximately two miles south of Highway 12 on Grizzly Island Road.*1

Within the property’s boundaries is one of the best remaining examples of a brackish tidal marsh habitat in the United States. Once a continuous tidal marsh habitat, the greater Suisun Marsh is now a vast complex of wetlands owned privately by local duck clubs. Only about 10 square miles of the historic tidal marsh remains, one-tenth of which occurs at Rush Ranch.*1

What’s special about a brackish tidal marsh? It is an important habitat for fish, bird and plant species, including many that are threatened and endangered such as the salt marsh harvest mouse, Suisun ornate shrew, Delta smelt, Sacramento splittail, giant garter snake, California clapper rail, California black rail, Suisun song sparrow, and the American white pelican. Approximately 230 different species of birds have been seen throughout the marsh and grassland habitats, and plant communities range from spring wildflowers to native bunchgrass and marsh-adapted vegetation.*1

This triple loop hike includes the 500-foot climb on the Suisun Hill Trail, the easy walk through the marshlands along the levee on the Marsh Trail and a leisurely stroll around the pastoral lands on the South Pasture Trail.

Loop #1-Access the Suisun Hill Trail through the gate across from the Rush Ranch entrance on Grizzly Island Road.*2

At the first trail junction, go straight across the open grassland towards the water tank.

Head toward the hills and at the next fork turn left for a 500-foot climb to an overlook with expansive views of Mount Diablo, Suisun Marsh, and the western hills of Solano County.*2

Enjoy the glorious panoramic views!

Continue down the other side of the hill for a two-mile loop. This is an excellent trail to see soaring raptors, especially in winter.*2

Cross Grizzly Island Rd for the return to Rush Ranch.

Begin the Marsh Trail behind the Visitors Center. For an easy walk that is less than a mile, head west and around the hill to see the edge of the tidal marsh and a replica of a Patwin shelter. Climb the hill for views of the Suisun Marsh. For a longer walk, continue north on the levee trail for a 2.2-mile loop that returns to the Visitors Center through open pastures.*2

Loop #2-Head west on Marsh Trail along the Syar Arena and through the eucalyptus stand. Eucalyptus trees provide good windbreaks, supply firewood, and are used in some paper products. In many parts of California, including Rush Ranch, eucalyptus trees provide nesting habitats for small mammals and birds that otherwise would not live there. Their flowering period in winter and early spring has enabled birds such as Anna’s Hummingbirds to survive in our area year-round.*3

The trail cuts across the grassland to a T junction. This is the grassland of a transition zone between the coast plain and the prairie of California’s Central Valley. Wild oats, wild rye, sow thistle and bristly ox tongue are common here.*3 Go left to stay on Marsh Trail followed by a right turn to Overlook Hill.

The trail climbs up to a scenic overlook with spectacular panoramic views of the Suisun Marsh! If you walk to the hilltop, you will see a lovely vista of the marsh. The Suisun Marsh is the largest contiguous tidal marsh. It occupies about 85,000 acres, of which only about 5,000 acres are still truly tidal. The rest has been cut off from tidal action by levees for agricultural purposes and for wildlife management reasons.*3

Follow the trail signs downhill to the edge of the tidal marsh and a replica of a Patwin shelter. Before European settlement, Patwin Native Americans summered on the property for thousands of years. The Suisunes, a sub-tribe of the Patwins, likely hunted tule elk, grizzly bears, and waterfowl, fished in the Suisun Slough, and gathered plants for food and medicine. It is estimated that there were about 2,300 Patwins living in the area of Solano County in 1800, but the population soon plummeted to zero due to disease, forced moves to Spanish Missions and battles with Europeans. By 1823, there were no observed Native Americans left in the area, only abandoned and destroyed village sites.*1

Continue north on Marsh Trail. As you pass through the old fence, you are actually entering the marsh. The manmade levees part of a vast system used throughout the marsh since the late 1800’s to create special environments for farming and habitats for waterfowl.*3

The tall plant with the feathery top is called common reed, which can grow up to 15 feet tall! It prefers the fresh brackish watered of the marsh and is found from about Martinez and Benicia upward into the Delta.*3

For most of the 20th century, the ranch was operated by the Rush family, and unlike other landowners adjacent to the Suisun Marsh, they did not dike or otherwise significantly alter the tidal action on their property. With most tidal marshes in the United States managed or filled, their decision to leave the marsh to natural tidal ebbs and flows has proven to be an important contribution to tidal marsh science as a premier tidal habitat and in protecting plant and animal species of the marsh.*1

The blackberry vines here are not indigenous to the marsh. Their seeds were probably deposited here by birds and/or strong west winds.*3

Here you will see actual tide gates in action. These gates act as inflow valve to the pond. In summer, the freshwater leveed marsh is drained to discourage cattail growth and to provide more open area for waterfowl. In the winter, the marsh is allowed to refill with a mix of fresh and tidal water. This creates a brackish (salt water) environment for waterfowl nesting and feeding.*3

Suisun Marsh-The Suisun Marsh is the largest tidal marsh on the West Coast. It is vital to the health of the San Francisco Bay and provides critical nursery grounds and plentiful food for fish, ducks, and many other species. Much of the Suisun Marsh is managed as seasonal wetlands for waterfowl. Rush Ranch is rare because of the 1,000 acres of natural tidal marsh on the property. The tides ebb and flow with brackish water, and the marsh supports many threatened and endangered species that have evolved to live in the transitional habitat between water and land.*2

Cattails and tules grow abundantly where the marsh water depth is less than 4 feet.*3

You are standing on a natural island in the marsh known as Goat Island. it was a popular fishing spot for many years and was known as Japanese Point. From the bluff above, you can have clear views of Mt Diablo to the south, Twin Sisters to the northwest, Mt Vaca to the north, and the Potrero Hills to the east.*3

Marsh Trail continues eastward as it continues along the edge of Suisun Slough.

The trail turns southerly as it cuts across the expansive pasture.

This alkaline pond catches water drainage from Suisun Hill and is fed continuously by a spring, however, this lower pond dries up in the late spring.*3

Continue through the cattle gate for the return to Rush Ranch.

Beautiful Stonewall Sporthorses at Rush Ranch stable.

Stop at Visitors Center & picnic area.

Begin the South Pasture Trail between the Blacksmith Shop and the antique farm equipment. Walk south for views of the Suisun Marsh and to observe a large Patwin grinding rock. Return to the main trail and head southeast for a 2.4-mile loop that passes through grasslands with Mount Diablo rising to the southeast.*2

Loop #3-Begin this clockwise loop around South Pasture Trail from the Water Tower and Bone Yard.

Turn left at the trail junction, past the windmill to the cattle gate.

The trail continues across the expansive grassland area with amazing views of the Vaca Mountains!

South Pasture Trail heads southward to the wooden boardwalk across Spring Branch Creek with views of the Potrero Hills to the east.

The trail continues across the open grassland with views of the surrounding mountains and ridges. Enjoy the views!

South Pasture Trail turns southward across the pastoral land to the next cattle gate.

Enjoy the views of the tidal marsh.The green area marks the edge of the tidal marsh. This tidal marsh is about 2,000 acres and is the largest tidal marsh in the Suisun Marsh area, which consists mostly of dikes, manages wetlands.*3

Follow the signs to Indian Grinding Rock. The Patwin Indians had a village near here that they called Suisun. They used the rock formations like those found here as bedrock mortars for food grinding purposes.*3

The trail continues through Spring Branch Marsh Restoration Area; eight acres of former pasture land that has been restored to its former self, that of a tidal marsh.*3

Continue on South Pasture Trail for the return to Rush Ranch.

Suisun Marsh-The Suisun Marsh is the largest tidal marsh on the West Coast. It is vital to the health of the San Francisco Bay and provides critical nursery grounds and plentiful food for fish, ducks, and many other species. Much of the Suisun Marsh is managed as seasonal wetlands for waterfowl. Rush Ranch is rare because of the 1,000 acres of natural tidal marsh on the property. The tides ebb and flow with brackish water, and the marsh supports many threatened and endangered species that have evolved to live in the transitional habitat between water and land.*2

This is a wonderful easy hike around the gorgeous Suisun Marsh area at Rush Ranch. Do one, two or all three loops; you’ll enjoy the wild marsh, hilltop vistas, and the expansive grasslands!

*1 http://www.solanolandtrust.org/RushRanch.aspx#visitingrr

*2 http://www.solanolandtrust.org/uploads/pdf/Other/RR%20brochure/Rush%20Ranch%20brochure.pdf

*3 Rush Ranch Marsh Trail Guide pamphlet

Stats:
6.12 Miles with 279′ of elevation gain
Max elevation: 206′
Time: 3.15 hrs with multiple stops
Hike: Easy
Parking: No fee at Rush Ranch
Facilities on site with water & restrooms
NO DOGS ALLOWED except on Suisun Hill Trail and around the Visitors Center where they must be leashed

Weather: Sunny and warm. Temps ranged from the high 50’s to the mid 60’s with SW winds.

Print Trail Map

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2 Comments

  1. Great pictures, especially at the visitor center. Some of the panoramic images could use some post processing.

    Like

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