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Winter-spring walks, wildflowers in the upper Sacramento Valley.

Banks and wilderness seem to have as much in common as, say, certified public accountants and prairie falcons. But at The Nature Conservancy's new Gray Davis Dye Creek Preserve, in the Sacramento Valley near Red Bluff, the worlds of pinstripes and pinfeathers collided with happy results. As partial settlement of a lawsuit over inactive bank accounts, Bank of America deeded this 37,540-acre parcel to the State of California. The Nature Conservancy then agreed to manage the land as a wilderness preserve. Debt-for-nature, the idea is called, and conservation organizations have tried it in places like Costa Rica and Ecuador; Dye Creek is the first such attempt in the United States. Today Gray Davis Dye Creek Preserve (co-named for the state controller who brokered the land deal) stretches from Sacramento River bottomlands roughly 12 miles into the Sierra foothills. You have to join a guided tour to take in the scenery, but it's worth the effort. Nearby, another preserve, Vina Plains, puts on one of the best early-spring wildflower displays in California. Dye Creek: volcanic buttes, blue oaks This area has been a Yahi Indian hunting ground, a working cattle ranch, and a sportsmen's club. (Cattle ranching and wild pig hunting are still permitted.) The landscape mixes gentle hills and jagged chocolate brown buttes and canyons-products of the Tuscan formation, lava that poured forth 3 million years ago from Mount Lassen to the north. Five-hour guided hikes (5 miles round trip) lead you through Dye Creek Canyon. You stroll past stands of blue oakDye Creek is the only preserve in the state where significant areas of these trees are protected. Keep an eye out for prairie falcons and for wintering members of the largest deer herd in California. If you're up to a stiff climb, your docent may lead you up Campo Seco for a look across the Sacramento Valley; on clear days, your view will reach the Trinity Alps. Dye Creek lies east of State 99 just 10 miles southeast of Red Bluff, or about 130 miles north of Sacramento. Entrance is on guided tours only. The winter tour schedule was not set at our press time; for reservations and directions to the parking area, write or call The Nature Conservancy, 785 Market St., San Francisco 94103; (415) 777-0487. Vernal Vina Plains About 18 miles south of Dye Creek, Vina Plains Preserve is a rarity in the agricultural Sacramento Valley: no plow has ever touched it. From December through April, this undisturbed landscape is dotted with vernal pools, rain-fed ponds that support grasses and flowers to be found nowhere else in the world. The hard volcanic soil encourages the vivid displays of wildflowers; you're likely to come across mariposa and star lilies, California poppies, and shooting stars. The preserve is about 13 miles north of Chico off State Highway 99. You also visit this area only on docent-led tours. The winter-spring tour schedule was not set at our press time; for reservations and directions, write or call The Nature Conservancy office listed above.
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Date:Feb 1, 1991
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