YUBA CITY — Simple pleasures are the best.
A bite out of an oversized juicy peach on a late summer afternoon.
Enjoying a lazy day of fishing along a river.
The sound of ducks in flight.
Soaking up the unique beauty of the countryside.
That’s Sutter County to a tee.
It’s smack dab in the middle of the Sacramento Valley.
As such, you’d expect it to be among the flattest counties of the 58 that California has been cut into by the jigsaw puzzle of local governance.
But that is not the case.
For at almost the heart of Sutter County is what some refer to as the smallest mountain range in the world — the Sutter Buttes.
The Sutter Buttes are what is left of extremely active volcanic eruptions 1.6 million years ago that went dormant 200,000 years later.
A lot can happen in a million years.
The Great Central Valley went from a massive inland sea to arguably the world’s richest fertile soil for farming created from slowly grinding down the majestic Sierra in the form of sediment carried westward by various rivers.
What is left today is the Mt. Diablo of the Sacramento Valley.
They are the peaks the Sacramento Valley identifies with.
It is where people look north from Sacramento and south from Chico to get their bearings and reinforce their kinship with the valley.
Often on foggy days in the winter they are just above the misty grayness where its 2,116-foot highest peak basks in the sun.
And like Mt. Diablo, at least part of the Sutter Buttes are a state park.
It is a state park you can gaze at from afar but can’t physically visit save for occasional periodic forays arranged through Middle Mountain Impetrative Hikes.
The state parks system almost two decades ago acquired 1,785 acres within the Sutter Buttes including an area dubbed Peace Valley.
That said, you can still soak in the uniqueness and beauty of the Sutter Buttes. It is the only mountain range around you can drive around in an hour or so.
Or, if you do so via pedal power, you can circle it in a half day or less.
The area of the Sutter Buttes is actually much smaller than the drive time suggests with 75 square miles and a circumference of 10 miles. But roads set back from the buttes as well as the fact part of the pavement is in the form of lazy country roads is what adds the time.
For centuries prior to 1900 when spring runoff revived a fresh water version of the inland sea, the Sutter Buttes served as an island refuge for the indigenous people of California, settlers, and wildlife.
The Maidu referred to the Sutter Buttes as “spirit Mountain”.
Given the Sutter Buttes are on the Pacific Flyway surrounded by three wildlife refuges, the skies are unparallel when it comes to seeing fowl in flight.
Sutter County has two wildlife management areas — the Butte Sink as well as Sutter National Wildlife Refuge.
To the east there is the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. Altogether there are five wildlife refuges in the Sacramento Valley.
Both the Sutter and Colusa components offer impressive access for visitors.
Needless to say, many consider Sutter County the best area in the state to hunt ducks.
The proliferation of ducks is even celebrated by Yuba City High with a mascot known as “The Honkers”.
Given the entire western boundary of the 608 square mile county is provided by the Sacramento River plus much of the eastern edge is the Feather River, there is an abundance of river-related recreation opportunities.
You’ll really love their peaches
Given 85 percent of the county has prime farmland you shouldn’t be surprised that agriculture is the main business.
Rice tops the list followed by plums, English walnuts, peaches and tomatoes.
Even though it is fourth on the list, the 38,027 acres of peaches are the county’s signature crop. It seems like half of the businesses and organizations in the greater Yuba City area have the words “Peach Bowl” attached to them.
And if you think Sutter County is a wannabe Georgia, the self-proclaimed “Peach State”, guess again.
Yuba County produced 108,000 tons of peaches in 2020. Georgia harvested 54,000 tons.
Georgia’s count made it the third largest state for peach production in 2020. It was topped by South Carolina at 58,000 tons and dwarfed by California at 510,000 tons.
Sutter County is the top county for peaches in California — and the United States — with its specialty being the cling variety. Stanislaus and Fresno are the other top counties for cling peach production.
Some 71 percent of freestone peaches and 86 percent of nectarine crops are grown in Fresno and Tulare counties.
There is even a peach dubbed the Rio Oso — named for the southern Sutter County farming area where they originated.
The Rio Oso Gem Peach is considered one of the best for flavor and texture.
Trees produce heavy yields of extra-large yellow-skinned fruits blushed with red.
One of my most decadent pleasures prior to moving to Manteca 31 years ago, was bicycling a flatter than a board 45-mile route that took me past the flooded rice fields west of Lincoln that could suck the air out of you as you pedaled by while making you sweat buckets.
I’d then swing north to Rio Oso to buy one of the biggest peaches I’ve ever seen from a farm stand where — at the time — older peach trees soared skyward creating shade canopies worthy of sycamore trees.
There I’d lean against a peach tree and bite into the juiciest and sweetest peach I’ve ever had. Then I’d head onto Wheatland and back on Highway 65 to Lincoln.
During the peak of the season, we’d drive to Rio Oso where growers would sell boxes for a lug. The fruit they sold from the roadside were those peaches canneries and stores considered too big for either canning or fickle consumers.
If the truth be told, the rejected peaches were by far better. And given you could buy them for $1 a lug — this was back in 1985 — it was worth the $2 in gas for the round trip in a Chevy Impala that got 14 miles per gallon.
Worthy of a day trip
Given Yuba City — the heart of Sitter County as well as its largest city — is roughly 90 minutes from Manteca by taking Interstate 5 to where Highway 99 splits off near Sacramento International Airport — it is worthy of a day trip.
Keep in mind it’s mostly scenery and exploring along the Garden Highway that follows the Sacramento River. There are obviously restaurants you can try.
It’s not that I’m dissing Sutter County as a place to vacation. If you’re a duck hunter or a bird watcher it’s paradise.
I have relatives that lived in Yuba City. Visits were great as were bicycling forays.
But it really isn’t a tourism magnet.
about Sutter County
The county is named after John Augustus Sutter.
He’s the Swiss immigrant that founded Sutter’s Fort.
Sutter established the Hock Farm in present-day Sutter County. It was the first non-indigenous settlement in the area. The farm was a large grain, orchard, cattle and vineyard operation.
Sutter County was one of California’s 27 original counties when statehood was granted in 1851.
Yuba City — the eventual county seat — was founded in 1849.
There are 96,315 residents in all of the county or basically the same population as Tracy.
Of those residents, 66,660 live in Yuba City and 8,795 in Live Oak — the county’s only other incorporated community.
For confusion, the community of Sutter is in Sutter County where Yuba City is as well. And directly across the Feather River from Yuba City you enter Yuba County.
Sutter County has three tragic footnotes in modern history.
* In 1971 the shallow graves of 25 migrant farm workers were found buried in peach orchards along the Feather River in Sutter County. Farm labor contractor Juan Vallejo Corona was convicted of 25 counts of murder motivated by his desire to seize their paychecks.
* Four years later on May 21, 1976, a chartered school bus carrying Yuba City High School students on a field trip plunged off an elevated freeway off-ramp in Martinez killing 28 students and an adult advisor.
* In September 2016, a United States Air Force U2 spy plane stationed at nearby Beale AFB crashed in the Sutter Buttes during a training mission killing one of the two pilots.