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Directions: From Marysville, go east on Hwy 20 about 19 miles. Turn right onto Smartville Rd. (look for the Beale Air Force Base sign). In a mile, turn left on Smartville (also labeled Chuck Yeager Rd.). Go 4.5 miles and turn left onto Waldo Rd. until a Y intersection. Veer left onto Spenceville Rd. and go 2.4 miles until the road ends.
5.8 miles round-trip
SPENCEVILLE WILDLIFE AREA
Fairy Falls Trail
Looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure that (literally) gives you some bang for your buck? Then pull the trigger on this pleasantly challenging hike with a stunning payoff. Leave civilization behind at the turnoff onto the gravel crunch of Waldo Road where it meets up with a local shooting range (don’t worry—the menacing pop-pop-pop quickly attenuates). In a few miles, pass over a 1901 wooden bridge and you’re at the trailhead. Cross an old concrete bridge over the gentle waters of the misnomered Dry Creek, and you’re off on a 2.5-mile trek through rolling meadowlands and groves of blue oaks, gray pines and yellow-leaved cottonwoods. Past the metal cow fence with a “Please Keep Gate Closed” sign peppered with buckshot, and through a savanna-like stretch where the trail turns ocher (from the copper in the soil), you’ll partake in a short but steep, half-mile climb where hikers are rewarded with the dramatic six-story plunge of Upper Fairy Falls into a lake-sized pool below. Follow the trail down the hill to dozens of smaller falls cascading into idyllic swimming holes, some so serene that wading into them on a warm day may prove irresistible. Along the bank of the lush stream are picnic-perfect hideouts, sheltered by large volcanic rocks that look as if the sun has melted their surface. Take a break and scan the sky for endangered bald eagles that visit the area post-summer. spenceville.org —T.S.
For those who passed on packing a picnic but still crave an adventurous eating experience, hit the brakes in Marysville and swing into El Rey Mexican Restaurant. Arrive before noon on a weekend, and you’re likely to see a line of locals at the counter ordering the signature breakfast burrito—a giant wrap of eggs, cheese, hash browns, ham and bacon. If you want to avoid this kind of heavy lifting, try the Taco de Pollo Dorado and savor the chili-coated shredded chicken served with chilled lettuce and cheese in a crispy tortilla. Pair it with a bottle of Mexican Coke—made with cane sugar instead of corn syrup—and groove to the Norteño music on the jukebox. 512 East 19th St., Marysville. 530-741-3221