Warning: A canoe tour at Delta Meadows, near the small towns of Locke and Walnut Grove, could give you John Sutter vision.
Or put hungry otters within arm's reach.
"When you get into the canoe," says park ranger Henry Berry, "in a way you can feel like you're leaving all the industrial stuff behind. Like when Sutter came around. What you're seeing in many ways is what he saw then (in the middle of the 19th century)."
Touting the area as the last undeveloped parcel of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Barry says canoe tours at Delta Meadows, a State Parks property, will offer participants opportunities to intimately encounter busy wildlife and learn canoeing skills in a 2 1/2-hour getaway. The weekend tours began Saturday and continue through May.
"It's a very wild area with plenty of pretty plant life," says Barry.
The sweep through this part of the Delta offers expert and novice canoeists glimpses of muskrat, otter, egret, beaver, black-shoulder hawk and many other creatures, including 3-foot tall, fish-scooping great blue herons. Cottonwoods, oaks, wild grasses and other plants complete the landscape.
Before launching, expert guides teach participants the basics of canoeing, including tutorials on entering and exiting a canoe, team paddling and safety. And not to worry – each tour has guides who help novices manage the 17-foot fiberglass craft.
"Volunteer guides have interests in bird life," Barry says. "They have an interest in natural history and canoeing – and share it."
What you'll take from the outings kind of depends on you, Barry said. "Kids like to learn how to canoe. Older people like the calm and quiet. Some like the bird-watching." (Barry warned that the upcoming "love season" makes for quite an active and loud bird-watching.)
Locke, known for its Chinese settlement, and Walnut Grove complete the adventure as both historic towns are walking distance from the park and offer shopping and dining venues.
Whatever the age or interest, Barry says: "You can be essentially lost in time once you get into the canoe."
IF YOU GO
What: Canoe tours. Learn basic canoeing skills while exploring the Delta and its wildlife.
When: 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 17. Tours last two to three hours.
How much: $20 per tour per person. Three per canoe. Participants must be at least age 8.
Where: Delta Meadows River Park, about 28 miles south of Sacramento near Locke and Walnut Grove
Information: www.parks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=492 or (916) 777-7701.