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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rancho Seco: Howard Ranch Trail

20070203 Out on the Prairie

Rancho Seco is the site of a decommissioned nuclear power plant owned by SMUD, just 25 miles southeast of Sacramento. In addition to permanently monitoring the remaining power plant structures there, SMUD provides recreational opportunities. There's a lake with boating, fishing, and a cordoned off swimming area. There are picnic and camping areas, and place to park RVs. And then there is the 7-mile Howard Ranch Trail.

The trail begins on the northeast corner of the lake at a parking lot used by many fisherman. I walked around a bit of the lake, and then was out into open terrain that had a few cows grazing in it.

The terrain appears barren, at first glance, but while it will never compete with the drama of the high Sierra or of Point Reyes, it is more interesting than it first appears. It resembles nearby Mather Regional Park. Both are situated in between the lowest part of the valley and the foothills, where the land is just starting to rise and form hills. There are vernal pools that support much life, and it is the habitat of the burrowing owl. In summer I would only consider hiking here just after sunrise and just before sunset--which is probably the best time to see it any time of the year, when the animal life is more active. But it was February, and I went in the middle of the day.

That's the positive side of it, and I'm sure someone well attuned to the subtleties of nature would find it a fascinating place to visit. I, on the other hand, was bored, and kept asking myself, "Why would anyone bother to make a hiking trail here?"

There were two highlight for me: getting a shot of a cow juxtaposed against the cooling towers of the nuclear power plant, and the burrowing owl I spotted.

I didn't even know such a thing existed. As the trail went by where this owl stood sentinel (I read up on the subject when I got home--one owl stands guard while the rest sleep below ground), it started hopping around and bobbing its head up and down, presumably trying to intimidate me.

20070203 Owl
"Back off!"

This hike was short and easy, and there wasn't much to stop and photograph, so I did it quickly. When I got back to the car, I explored the other recreational opportunities of the site. Then, rather than return home, I couldn't resist running by A&W in Lodi, the birth place of A&W, to visit the drive-in.

20070203 Rancho Seco Lake

20070203 Papa Burger Combo

The trail didn't take much out of me, so I was able to go on a much longer hike at Point Reyes the next day.

Hike Summary

Date: 3 February 2007
Approximate distance: 7 miles
Links: Official site

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There's more than the empty cooling towers and storage for the guts of the old nuke at Rancho Seco.

On the property is a new natural gas-fired power plant (Cosumnes River I, 500 MW just opened last spring, with an option in future for another 500 MW plant) and one of the first solar power plants in the nation (PV-1), which just celebrated its 20-year anniversary.

SMUD has added a lot of solar generation to the site, taking advantage of facilities built to move power from the nuke when it was running. (That's why the natural-gas plant is there, too.)

Howard Ranch is part of a huge property owned by the family of Charles Howard, of "Seabiscuit" fame. There's also a sanctuary for exotic animals on SMUD land adjacent to RS, the Amanda Blake memorial sanctuary.

The trail is best in early spring, for wildflowers and vernal pools.

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