Thursday, October 30, 2014

Southern Delta Paddling Salmon Slough

Yesterday was another gorgeous fall day on the Delta. This weeks "wandering" took us south to explore the multitude of sloughs and islands that encompass the southern delta near Tracy. We launched from Tracy Oasis Marina at 12:30 pm with high tide predicted at 1:58 pm. The marina charged $13 to launch two kayaks and they had friendly service, ample parking, clean restrooms and a nice little store next to the ramp. After launching we headed west a couple hundred feet to a small opening leading to Grant Line Canal.

Once on Grant Line Canal we turned east and headed toward Salmon Slough and Old River. There is currently a barrier in place east of the Tracy Blvd. bridge that must be portaged but there is a state employee there to help. After crossing the rock barrier we encountered another one that has plagued the Delta, hyacinth.

The current helped us along our paddle towards Salmon Slough but we encountered an incredible amount of water hyacinth that nearly blocked our passage. While making our way through the weeded mess we came upon another small power boater trying to make his way in the opposite direction. He informed us that the water opened up at the entrance to Salmon slough and was mostly clear.

When we reached Salmon Slough we were treated to a beautiful scene. This area reminded me of both the Cosumnes River preserve and Steamboat Slough with the natural riparian habitat and each shore lined with an abundance of oak trees. As we paddled south we were surrounded by golden colors bursting from the shore and dozens of egrets resting in tree branches. Not long after entering the slough we spotted something in the distance that looked rather odd.

To our amazement, as we got closer we discovered  several sheep up to their chins in the water chowing down on the water hyacinth that lined the shore. We sat there for several minutes watching them as they ate the leaves of the plant when we noticed on the opposite side of the slough about a half dozen goats doing the same thing.

After our encounter with the farm animals, we continued south on our journey towards Old River. There are many small islands and sloughs to explore but we stayed river right as it seemed to have the least amount of hyacinth. We entered Old River and paddled another mile or so before taking a break for lunch. We couldn't find a safe landing spot so we parked ourselves under an old oak tree, rafted up and enjoyed our meal with the sound of woodpeckers knocking on trees nearby.

We soon left our shady spot and continued heading east on Old River for another mile before deciding to head back the way we came. We wanted to circumnavigate an island to the south of us but not knowing whether the slough would be navigable we didn't want to risk getting stuck. We made a wise decision because not long after turning around a Department of Boating and Waterways boat met us on the river and told us that the section of river we were thinking of paddling was choked by the hyacinth and that they were on their way to check to see if their spraying the day before had any effect on the relentless plant.

Meeting up with the DBW boat got me to thinking about the sheep and goats eating the hyacinth. If they were eating plants that had been sprayed, could the weed killer harm them? What about the herbicide in the water being used to irrigate our food supply and our drinking water? I was glad to see the DBW trying to do something to rid the horrific plant, but could there be a better way? What about aquatic weed harvesters? I'm sure it would be a huge investment but it could provide jobs and might keep us from poisoning ourselves.

Paddling back to the put in we encountered many more egrets, otters, heron and jumping salmon. The tide had turned and pushed even more hyacinth into Grant Line Canal, making our return difficult and a little nerve racking not knowing if we would be able to pass. We made it to the barrier where we portaged with help from the gentleman manning the station and continued back to the marina. This was a beautiful spot to kayak and it felt like we were a million miles from civilization. I look forward to returning soon!

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