Sunday, April 30, 2006

A jewel of Solano: Rush Ranch holds open house

From Vacaville Reporter
By Jason Massad/Staff Writer

Just south of the bustling waterfront town that is Suisun City, lies more than 2,000 acres where an old ranch, the Suisun Marsh and the rolling Montezuma Hills all come together.

Rush Ranch, named after a family that planted roots in Solano County in the 1850s, is nothing short of an anomaly in this busy Bay Area county.

Two miles north of the ranch is Highway 12, which hums with traffic during the morning and afternoon rush hour.

But at Rush Ranch, only a stone's throw from the paved Grizzly Island Road, you could probably hear that rock hit the asphalt if you listened closely enough.

The ranch makes it feel as if you have stepped back in time. There's an old barn with peeling paint, a working blacksmith's shop, a small visitor's center and a timeworn corral of weathered, twisted wood.

Encircling the ranch is a stand of eucalyptus trees. The birds in the canopy above call to each other, and a beckoning trail between the trees leads to a gentle hill that overlooks the entire expanse of the ranch.

Once on top, visitors can see cows grazing in the unseasonably green pastures in the northern portion of the ranch. A dredging ship in the muddy Suisun Slough sits on the horizon, and wildflowers pop up on the grassy areas above the marsh.

"About 150 years ago, there was 100 square miles of marsh," said Don Taynton, a volunteer who leads educational tours on the ranch and is a walking encyclopedia of wildflowers. "Now there's 10 miles left and 1.67 (miles) are on Rush Ranch."

To be sure, there's a lot to absorb at the ranch, which is holding its 16th annual open house from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today.

The ranch is the crown jewel of roughly 10,000 acres of open space owned by the Solano Land Trust. The ranch was purchased by the trust in 1988 as its first acquisition.

Organizers expect 300 to 500 people at Rush Ranch for today's event, as long as the weather turns out to be as nice as the forecast.

The open house will be a smorgasbord of nature, history and down-home entertainment, organizers say.

Planned are wagon rides with narration about the ranch and its history. There will be old time music and square dancing, wheat weaving, wool spinning, a poetry reading and even art for sale that celebrates the Rush Ranch.

Mike Muir, the great grandson of the legendary California naturalist and explorer John Muir, will bring a horse-drawn carriage equipped to take the handicapped on a tour of the property.

The event will have a pioneer-day atmosphere with an artistic twist, said organizers.

"We love to have families coming because we always have stuff for the kids. We really have something for everyone," said Mary Takeuchi, an educational volunteer who helps with programs at the ranch. "The food and soda is fairly priced. It will be cheap day of entertainment."

On Thursday, Taynton gave a guided tour toward the marsh portion of the ranch. While the late rainy season means that the grass has grown unusually high, there are still wildflowers. Purple Salsify, a light purple flower, was a small discovery alongside a mowed path that leads toward the marsh.

All around, tiny white and purple flowers, called wild radishes, swayed in the breeze. Even the state's official flower, the colorful California poppy, grows on the ranch.

For regular visitors, the ranch is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Educational tours associated with the Patwin tribe of Native Americans, the original occupants of the ranch, are regularly scheduled for young school groups.

Taynton pointed out a hut made of dried tule reeds near the marsh that the Patwins would use when the weather turned bad hundreds of years ago.

School children, some who have never ventured too far out of a city, love the experience, Taynton explained.

"It's definitely a worthwhile experience. They walk away with something they didn't know when they came here."

Jason Massad can be reached at

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