It's one of those glorious late-winter days in California's Sacramento River Delta. Mare's tail clouds stretch across a windy blue sky, and rays of sun dance off the silvery river as we drive one of the Delta's best backroads, State 160.
While the entire route is a more pleasant (albeit slower) way to get from the San Francisco Bay Area to Sacramento, the best part of the drive is some 45 miles of winding, levee-top road roughly midway between the two urban areas. State 160 starts just east of Antioch, where it crosses the San Joaquin River and plops down onto Sherman Island. Traffic disappears as the road moves along the levees that edge the Sacramento River.
This time of year, the wide Sacramento is set against a pastoral backdrop of rolling hills, all greened up. Acres of mustard blaze across low, flat pastures. In orchards, walnut trees are beginning to push out new leaves alongside the occasional pink explosion of a flowering plum tree.
Matching our pace to that of the local farm equipment that sometimes shares the road, we drive slowly, pausing at Brannan Island State Recreation Area's Windy Cove to dig into a cache of snacks we've brought. On the river, anglers float by in wide, flat-bottomed boats, fishing for sturgeon or striped bass as the river rolls toward San Francisco Bay.