San Joaquin/Sacramento River Delta exploration; the Delta Meadows Trail

River Delta exploration; the Delta Meadows Trail near Locke and Walnut Grove, CA…

Another travel column as Covid19 bears down on the San Joaquin Valley and Sacramento Capital Region area in California. My task in the new year is to offer thoughtful, safe choices to sate one’s travel desires as we await vaccines and a rebound of the health of our communities.

I asked last week when will we reach an end of this travel quarantine; when will vaccines allow us to resume life “as near normal”? County and state infectious disease experts suggest the majority of residents of our cities, counties and the United States must be vaccinated before we reach the point of “herd immunity”. But with initial slower-than-projected roll-out of vaccines, it’s likely that we will be deep into 2021 before the freedom to travel returns.

My spouse Susan and I are now planning any serious travel in the second half of 2021, including a cross-country mid-summer trip (in our well-equipped personal vehicle carrying all the suggested Covid-fighting tools and taking the utmost precautions) to visit our daughter, just moved to Tennessee, relatives in Ohio and friends in Minnesota, and returning with a housesitting gig in Denver in mid-August. However, should a large percentage of the US remain un-vaccinated, we will postpone such a trip.

In the meantime, we are looking very locally to sate our wanderlust. We love local destinations where we can walk, hike or bike, with carefully-planned and self-contained auto trips to nearby destinations, avoiding crowds, planning to avoid crossing county lines and avoiding almost all personal contact. In the last three weeks, I have profiled a goodly number of destinations suggested by friends (see my Record blog, below, for past features).

AllTrails is one handy smart phone application for finding
new hiking and cycling trails across the USA.

The pandemic has caused me to look even deeper into modern technology to find new, inspiring destinations. For hiking and biking, I have become quite adept at using smart phone apps like AllTrails and TrailLink. Realizing that we had not recently explored the Delta just to our west, I did a search for hiking destinations near two favorite and historic river towns, Locke and Walnut Grove.

AllTrails offered a host of suggestions, including both the Meadows Slough Trail and Delta Meadows State Park. Having heard of neither, I looked to the app for both a map and instructions to get there. It turns out that the two trail systems, on top of old levees, are linked and offer a 5.9 mile option in an out-and-back, almost flat hike. And, to my amazement, the trails cut through riparian woodlands, marshes, meadows and quiet solitude.

Delta Meadows Trail, south end, near old town of Locke, CA.
A mile in, the Meadows Trail heads off to the the west, bordered by vast Delta marshlands.

My assumption that most all the Delta had long been developed for either agricultural crops or livestock grazing was quickly proven wrong; much to our surprise almost the entire round trip was flanked by wild forest, marshes, sloughs and meadows. In our two hours walking and shooting memorable photos, we saw cormorants, ducks, egrets, geese, three healthy vultures, and just two other hikers in this quiet paradise.

That the trail starts between Walnut Grove and Locke, parallels the latter for 1/4 mile, then takes one into virtual wilderness was such a pleasant revelation. The unincorporated town of Locke began as the town of Lockeport in 1912 when Chinese businessmen from nearby towns constructed three buildings, including a dry goods store, beer parlor, gambling hall and the Lockeport Hotel.  In October, 1915, the Chinatown of Walnut Grove, just south, burned to the ground, displacing hundreds of Chinese residents – Locke was a natural choice for relocation. 

Cormorants wing along the Meadow Slough beside the trail.
Three vultures perched on an old fence line, on the only area along the trail
bordered by agricultural or grazing land. Balance of adjoining trail is “wild California”.

The land was leased from George Locke – at the time California law prohibited selling of farmland to Asian immigrants.  Hence, Locke became a town built by the Chinese, for Chinese, and offered a Chinese-language school and businesses and restaurants with direct appeal to the Chinese.  Nearby canneries also offered jobs, and a lively town developed.

Al’s Restaurant, also known historically as Al the Wops, anchors Main Street in old Locke.
The old Chinese Medicine Shop in Locke.

By the 1950s, many of the town residents began moving on to larger cities and the town fell into disuse.  Today, it is part of the Locke Historic District, which preserves many of the buildings and way of life from the 1920s.  Normally, visitors would be wise to stop first at the the former Main Street boarding house, now the Locke Boarding House Visitors’ Center, offering historic overview and free of charge (website offers insight into pandemic restrictions). 

Other Locke attractions include the Chinese Association Museum, former home of the Jan Ying Benevolent Association, the Locke Chinese School, a language school that opened in 1926, Locke Memorial Park and Monument (which honors the Chinese who labored in agriculture and helped build the levees and railroads early in the century) and the Dai Loy Museum (showcasing gambling paraphernalia).  One of the Delta’s most fabled restaurants, Al’s Place (known originally as Al the Wops) anchors the town, though pandemic challenges have it currently shuttered.

Old boarding house, now the Locke Visitor’s Center.

Just south is Walnut Grove, one of the early thriving port cities on the river, home to a large number of historic buildings and homes.  To reach Walnut Grove and Locke, take the Walnut Grove-Thornton Road west from I-5. For insight into the Locke Historic District:

Search out nearby attractions like these; apply universal precautions, await coming vaccines and consider local pandemic travel regulations before departing. For future more distant travels, collect your ideas and those of your family, tap friends for insightful recommendations, boost your planning mode and begin to book key destinations. In the meantime, explore the wonderful world just outside your door.

Contact Tim at, follow him at, and travel, safe!

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