Sonora Run - Sunday June 9, 2024

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Recap - Delta (Highway 160)/ Sacramento Auto Museum - February 19th

Your Host: Mike Zampiceni

This was my debut hosting a run for NorCal MINIS, but I’ve had prior experience leading car groups, particularly for the BMW club in which I was the Golden Gate Chapter driving tours organizer for several years. I figured it had been about a decade since I last led a group, however, so had to put on my thinking cap to recall how I handled previous events. Since I figured I was a bit rusty, I was intent on getting all of the details in order for a successful event. Part of that was driving the route twice to make sure I didn’t miss anything the first time.
I first drove the route in early January, and I was already very familiar with it over the years. It was like déjà vu for me driving on Highway 160 over the levees on the way to the auto museum adjacent to Old Town Sacramento. I hosted the identical tour for the Porsche club Loma Prieta region about 20 years ago when our destination was the California State Railroad Museum at Old Town.
I was really elated with the high water level of the Sacramento River while meandering over the levee road in January, having been replenished with the record Sierra snowfall. Predictably, the level had receded somewhat when I ran the route a month later, and it appeared back to normal the day of the run. With the lack of rain for the past couple of months, it’s just a matter of time before the water level will be subpar.

One of the reasons I ran the route a second time was to secure a spot for a social and bio break about midway, and the village of Isleton seemed to be a likely candidate. I scoured the town to no avail, but didn’t realize the first time that I had passed by a perfect respite area until I subsequently looked at the map and saw Ramos park right off the roadway in town alongside the river. Better yet, the park had public restrooms. The parking was limited, but there was also an adjacent lot next to an abandoned building, so I figured we could park the overflow on the side of the road.

The day of the run, I turned into the Ashley Furniture parking lot from a side street and didn’t see any Minis, so was somewhat concerned because it was already 8:30, but as I drove toward the far end of the parking lot, I saw that a few early birds had parked on the side closest to the shopping center, which conveniently had an open Trader Joe’s and Starbucks.
At 9:15, Simon called the assemblage together for a short pre-drive meeting. Several new members were acknowledged, and then I went through my pre-drive instructions, such as being wary of the sharp drop-off on a significant portion of the narrow levee roads. Since there were more than 40 cars to herd, we split up into three groups. I led the first group, followed by the Lewis’s group about five minutes later, and then Simon led the last group about five minutes after that.
This turned out to be an ideal staging area, considering that there was a spacious parking lot in front of a store closed for the morning and adjacent to businesses with food and bathrooms. Furthermore, there was easy freeway access on and off Highways 680 and 242. I will definitely keep this location in mind as an assembly point for future northerly destinations.
The weather was seasonable when we left, but unfortunately, the visibility was occluded from a high-pressure ridge that trapped haze. Nevertheless, our cheerful procession of multi-colored Minis added some zest to the roadway for us and others driving mundane vehicles.

The portal to the delta on our route was crossing the Antioch bridge, which is a narrow two-lane affair. I don’t think planners were thinking strategically when they opted for this restrictive roadway, especially considering that there’s no room to pull over in an emergency, thereby potentially backing up traffic for an interminable distance.

The run up to our stopover in Isleton was uneventful, and nobody plunged over the edge of the levee and into the abyss. As we approached Isleton and Ramos park, I had a sinking feeling when I saw a Harley group occupying all of the parking spaces, and the vacant parking lot next door had two pylons blocking it. I had to go to plan B, but I didn’t have a plan B, so figured I’d drive straight ahead into “town” and hope for the best. Ironically, I couldn’t have come up with a better outcome if I had planned it in advance. Ahead just a block on the right was a vacant water tower parking lot with ample parking. I’m sure all of you thought this was planned in advance, but nope, it was just dumb luck maybe assisted by automotive angels sending their beams of goodness upon us. The overflow parked on the street, and all of us managed to filter in fully off Highway 160. Additionally, the bathrooms were located a short distance across the street.
After about a half hour’s worth of socializing and checking out the latest Mini mods by various owners, we continued north on 160. Within a mile, Highway 160 (River Road.) actually continues on the west side of the river, so one of the groups decided to take that route instead of continuing straight ahead on Isleton Road. Another bridge in Walnut Grove enabled the group to cross over and join the rest of us, and it’s probably just as well they used the official 160, because Isleton Road. isn’t well maintained and was pretty choppy. Walnut Grove, by the way, is the town where you can see tall transmission towers for the Sacramento TV stations close up. These towers are visible for many miles around.

Beyond Walnut Grove there were far fewer cars on the road, so we were reliably able to average 60 mph on the stretch to our delta terminus point on River Road. at the little hamlet of Freeport. From there it’s a short distance to Highway 5, which we turned onto and continued into the back approach to downtown Sacramento and the museum, which sits adjacent to the Sacramento River and less than a mile from Old Town. As we pulled into the museum grounds, we were relegated to the overflow dirt lot. We weren’t the only group that decided this would be a good venue to visit on this particular day, because the area Dodge Challenger car club was already there with a large turnout of cars gracing the perimeter of the lot. This worked out well for us, because we were able to fill in the infield, creating a view of two very different types of cars.

Most everyone went into the museum if only to use the bathrooms, but not many stayed to view the collection, which is unfortunate. On the other hand, a lot of the stock had been shuffled over into the back edges for ongoing construction, making it difficult to see much of the machinery. I toured through and had a pleasant conversation with a couple from our group, then subsequently walked with them to Old Town for lunch at an Asian restaurant. I’m bad with remembering names of people initially, but I remember that the gentleman had a blue Clubman that I really liked and lived at Clear Lake. We were joined by the original owner of a first series yellow Mini whom I had seen and spoken with at other runs, and once again, I neglected to record her name on my internal read-write drive.
When we returned to the museum lot later in the afternoon, everyone else had left, but they hopefully had pleasant memories of the day to accompany them home. I enjoyed hosting my debut run, and am scheduled to lead another one on May 1st in the east bay.

I think it would be delightful to do this event again, perhaps on a more direct route that would afford extra time to visit the train museum in Old Town along with the auto museum.


Mike Z

PS More pictures - see the link below