March means the start of wildflower season in Central California, and not just in the usual places.
Looking for something off the beaten path? Then join the Bureau of Land Management on Sunday for a wildflower tour of the Panoche Hills in western Fresno County.
The hike will require a steep climb of Monocline Ridge, which ascends 500 feet in a quarter-mile. The ridge itself is dotted with wildflowers, and once at the top hikers will gain access to Monvero Dunes and its species of desert blooms.
Participants should meet at 10 a.m. at the Apricot Tree Restaurant parking lot (46272 West Panoche Road) located at Interstate 5 outside Firebaugh.
From there, it's an 11-mile drive to Monocline Ridge. The last six miles are on a dirt road suitable for cars, trucks and SUVs with average clearance.
Reservations are encouraged but not required. Details: Mike Westphal or Ryan O'Dell, (831) 630-5028.
McKenzie Preserve Open House
Where: From the gas station at Auberry and Millerton roads, take Auberry Road 3.3 miles east (toward Prather) and look for the entrance sign on your left.
Here's one more opportunity to check out this 2,960-acre preserve in the Fresno County foothills. Hike to the top of a prominent volcanic mesa, check out Native American mortar holes or just stretch your legs amid grasses and wildflowers.
Hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and visitors will be charged $1 for parking. No reservations needed. The final open house is April 13. Details: sierrafoothill.org
News & notes
-- Nows the time to make reservations for wilderness permits at Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. Details: fblinks.com/seki
-- One of the region's best bass fisheries, Eastman Lake, will reopen a vast section to angling this summer. The previous "closure area," located 1,000 feet south of Raymond Bridge downstream to the Corps buoy line near the Codorniz boat ramp, will be open to recreational fishing from Aug. 1 through Nov. 30. The area will remain closed for bald eagle nesting from Dec. 1 to July 31.
-- Approximately 900,000 steelhead smolts were released into the Sacramento River system in February from three hatcheries owned by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is hoped the 6- to 8-inch fish will travel through San Francisco Bay to the Pacific Ocean and return to the river in one to three years.
-- The Kings River Conservancy has scheduled seven trips as part of its Summer Float Program. Trips begin April 7 and continue though Aug. 18. Fees range from $25-$60 per person. Details and reservations: kingsriverconservancy.org or (559) 787-9500.