Sunday, March 5, 2017

West-Levee hiking alongside the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area between Sacramento and Davis

Flooded Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (March 2, 2017)
The Yolo Bypass is a flood control channel. The winter 2016/2017 saw many news-making floods in California and the Sacramento Valley got its share. Having recently driven over the Yolo Causeway between Sacramento and Davis, you will have noticed water on its south side—as far as the eye can see. Only a few trees are reaching out of the water for the sky.

Yolo Bypass west levee with inland sea
A great way to get close to this temporary lake is by hiking south on the West Levee. To your right you will see wet agricultural land. To your left the shallow water body continues far south, while the skyline of Sacramento is floating in the east. The snow-covered Sierra Nevada stretches along the horizon.

There are various signs alongside the levee indicating that the water level has recently been much higher. You may think of a straight, level levee walk as a boring outdoor experience. It is not. A levee hike is more than just an escape from urban life. There is plenty of wildlife to be seen. The Yolo Bypass coincidences with the Pacific Flyway. Migratory waterfowl and shorebirds can be observed. The water-surrounded trees and bushes are full of them. Egrets keep changing sides between the inland sea and the canals of the farmland. One egret was hanging out in the middle of the levee trail, like he wanted to say this is my world.

River otter torpedoing through Yolo Bypass mudwater
Obviously, river otters enjoy the shallow flood-ocean. I saw two otters playing on a tiny grass island. And a curious one visited me at the bottom of the levee; diving, then popping up again and looking at me. Its swimming resembled a circus performance, including torpedo-like forward moves, cutting through the surface of the water with breathing sounds, suddenly stirring the muddy water in swirls, disappearing underwater, then starting all over again. Not asking for rewards, but happy to be in a restored habitat.

After hiking for about an hour, the levee bends west and one arrives at a lonely, flood-protected house on the right side of the levee curve. Two palm trees are marking the place. A surprise discovery: a stone-carved sailing ship is ornamenting the lower section of the levee-side house wall.

Ornamental sailing-ship relief at the levee-curve house

Getting to the West-Levee access point
The West-Levee access point is located south of I-80, at the west end of the Yolo Causeway about halfway between Sacramento and Davis. 
Coming from Sacramento, take the I-80 exit “County Road 32A East Chiles Road.” Turn right at the stop sign and head south under the freeway. The underpass may be closed due to flooding (as it was for several days in February/March 2017). Find parking near (but not in front of) the levee gate.
Coming from Davis, take the I-80 exit “East Chiles Road” (next to the Fruit Stand) and turn left to get to the short, right-side levee incline and the levee gate. 

References and resources
[1] Mamma Quail:  No More Bypassing the Bypass: Hiking at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area [].
[2] Yolo Basin Foundation: About the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area [].
[3] California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area [].
[4] Overview map of the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area: