North of Sacramento is the heart of the valley, and though the scenery isn’t particularly arresting—at least until you get way north, near Redding and Mount Shasta—the farmlands, which flank the interstate much of the way, are of vital importance to California’s economy. Depending on the time of year, you’ll see a huge range of crops being picked and shipped: rice, sugar beets, tomatoes, olives, almonds, cotton, corn, melons, and many others. One landmark that will catch your eye is the Sutter Buttes. Here, forming a triangle with Colusa and Yuba City to the south and smack dab in the middle of near-sea-level flatness, is the 75-square-mile Sutter Buttes, often called the world’s smallest mountain range. Seen from the road, the range looks like a long series of peaks running north to south, whereas in reality, they actually form a sort of circle, enclosing interior valleys and meadows. In winter the 2,000-foot mountaintops are often dusted with snow, making even more dramatic the relief against the valley floor. Because much of the Sacramento Valley lies beneath the great Western Flyway, this is one of the best places in the country to view migrating birds, which stop in the marshy wetlands and rest along their journey. From mid-November through January, fields in the valley are often virtually carpeted with Canada geese, snow geese, swans, and many species of duck, in addition to egrets and great blue herons. Meanwhile, red-tailed hawks and other birds of prey watch from treetops or swoop down from the skies to pluck mice from the fields. The Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex comprises five separate refuges and is an attempt to preserve what little is left of the original wetlands that the waterfowl have relied on for thousands of years. This eTrail from the DayTrips series describes many fascinating, exciting, (and many free of charge) things to do, most within a two-hour drive of Sacramento. Each Day Trip includes destination highlights, places to visit along the way, choice restaurants and lodging, and shopping.
© Stephen Metzger/The Globe Pequot Press. All Rights Reserved.