"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Big Break Regional Shoreline--the Delta up close

We escaped the cold summer fog of San Francisco to the delta of the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers, where days are longer and less cloudy, and Mount Diablo rises in the near background, golden brown and taller than anything else. We headed for the water, and when we were an hour away from San Francisco, we found ourselves at Big Break Regional Shoreline.

Once upon a time, about a century ago, asparagus grew here. In 1928 the levee between Dutch Slough and the San Joaquin River broke and the asparagus farm flooded. Thus, Big Break was born.

Common yellowthroat (Jerry Ting on flickr)

The salty water from the Pacific mixes here with the fresh water coming off from the Sierras, a combination that is particularly tasty for plants and animals. As well, Big Break is a resting place for migratory birds.

The Baby and Kid Factor
Big Break was a great place to bring two newborns in a stroller and one four year old who walked alongside.

The "Delta Discovery Experience" is a half-mile trail (the red trail in the map to the right). With a visitor center, bathrooms, barbecues, grassy areas, a small amphitheater, shaded sandpit, and drinking water nearby, this area is a great place to sit back with a baby, picnic, and relax.

Observation Pier

We rested on an observation pier that jutted 100 feet into the marsh, our faces in the breeze as we looked over the railing at all the hundreds of baby fish swimming in the shallow water. Birds sang in the cottonwoods growing along the shoreline. Tule weeds waved. Rusty farm equipment jutted like enormous sculptures from the bushes. High, thin clouds moved overhead. The babies slept in their stroller, and the big four-year-old didn't want to leave. Being here was the best part of our experience at Big Break. 

If you're lucky you might see a river otter here, as one visitor told us. On our visit we saw lots of birds and tiny fish. If you had a canoe or kayak, you could launch from here. You could fish from here with a license (though I don't recommend eating the bass and catfish you can catch here, but then again what do I know?). If you just want to cool down your little piggies, there's some steps leading down to the cool green water (though the water's not meant for swimming, sadly). 

White Catfish

Delta Map
One of the coolest man-made features of this park, and located right by the observation pier, was a huge three-dimensional map of the Delta region (I’m talking 1,200 square foot—that’s the size of my house!). It showed all the twisting waterways, the serpentine rivers, the cities and towns. My oldest daughter could stand on the top of Mount Diablo, and then stomp across the rolling hills and into Antioch like a giant. The map gave a great perspective on how much moving water courses through this area, and the general lay of the land.

Delta Visitor Center 
The Delta Visitor Center here is the first of its kind, meaning it focuses on the flora, fauna, and history of the Delta. It has all the basic amenities, plus taxidermy and a floor-to-ceiling mural in the back room of all the Delta critters: birds, rivers otters, muskrats, beavers, garter snakes, and western pond turtles. Keep in mind it's only open on the weekends.

The Delta Visitor Center runs all sorts of free kids’ programs on the weekends (Saturdays from 11-noon, Sundays from 2-3 pm). When we visited they had upcoming events like “Macro Invertebrate Mayhem,” “Critter Clues: Tracks,” “Our Wonderful Water Cycle,” and “Ravenous Raptors.” Also on the weekend from 9-10 visitors with kids are invited to learn how to do water testing to track the water quality of the Delta—pretty cool stuff! You can call (510) 544-3050 for more info.

Though I didn’t have the chance to bicycle around, you can bicycle Big Break Trail, 3 miles of paved trail running along the shoreline, going a little inland here and there, and eventually connecting with the Marsh Creek Regional Trail. I think you can keep on going, if you’re game, all the way through Oakley and Brentwood to the Delta de Anza Regional Trail. If the trails are anything like Big Break, they’re flat.
Credit: kqed.org


69 Big Break Rd, Oakley, CA ‎
(510) 544-3050 ‎ · ebparks.org

Car: From Highway 4 in Antioch/Oakley, take Highway 160 north, exiting at IA east. Right on Main Street. Left on Big Break Road. Right turn at the sign for Big Break Regional Park.  

Bus: Take Tri Delta Transit #300 to Vintage Parkway and Big Break Road, and walk to the park. www.trideltatransit.com
"Big Break at Dawn" (thepress.net)

Relevant Links

Big Break Map (click to enlarge)

View Larger Map