March 18, 2010

The Valley Carpeted in Blooming Trees

They call California the "Land of Fruits and Nuts" for two reasons. One of those reasons is because California's Central Valley is where huge amounts of tree fruit and nuts are produced. (The second reason is another story.) Now, you may not think of this as all that interesting, especially if you've ever driven through the Central Valley because all you see are orchards, rows and rows of fruit and nut trees, covering parts of the valley. But at a very special time of year, in the early spring, something amazing happens - those trees all bloom. To be clear, they do not all bloom at the same exact time, some are losing their blossoms while others are just beginning, but if you time it right, you can see these trees in bloom at their most bountiful. The other thing to know, is that these are not "pet" trees, they are working trees, they don't have the same number or intensity of blossoms that you will see on ornamental trees, but it is still amazing anyway.
An ornamental cherry blossom tree.
Probably on of the best ways to appreciate this would be by helicopter, to see the full expanse of these orchards across this huge valley, but I don't have that luxury, so I did what ordinary people do, I got in my car and hit the Fresno Blossom Trail.  See the Fresno Country Blossom Trail Website.

Fresno is 3 1/2 hours from my home in San Francisco, so it is a long day in the car to drive there, drive the blossom trail and drive back in one day. I started on a quiet Sunday morning at 10am. After crossing the Bay Bridge I took I-580, through the huge, green hills that create the Altamont Pass. Eventually I hit I-5 and turned south. Along I-5 are magnificent rolling green hills, dotted with cows and sheep.
Cows on the rolling green hills on I-5.
Here and there you will find some blooming orchards, some on a stretch of flat land and some rolling along with the hills.
After 40 or so miles I hit the exit for Highway 152 and headed east into the town of Los Banos. After driving 40 or so miles on 152, through sleepy farmland, I got on Highway 99. At the 152/99 interchange I saw the most amazing thing. In the median strip that divides the highway were orange and yellow flowers (they looked like a type of daisy) so dense that there was room for nothing else. It was incredibly vibrant and occasionally dotted with taller, purple and pink flowers. I wished there was a place to stop and take a photo! After about 35 miles on Highway 99 I got off at exit 130 for Jensen Ave. As I am driving along Jensen Avenue I see a brilliant mustard field and I stopped to take my first real set of photographs.
Field of mustard
Other tourists taking photographs.
It is about 4.5 miles along Jensen Avenue heading east before the Fresno Blossom trail begins (at the corner of Clovis Ave). See: Blossom Trail Map.

At this point, the blossom trail is not impressing me, it wasn't until I got further along, I think when I turned onto Belmont St.,  that it started to get good. I followed the blossom trail map in a clockwise direction. For some reason, I thought I was going to be the only dorky tourist being annoying by pulling off the side of the road and irritating the locals, but as it turns out there were many others. I even heard one lady talking on her cell phone to someone saying she had waited several years to make this trip.

There were many different orchards. It seemed that many of the orchards with white blossoms were either almost done, or done, flowering, I think these were almond trees. There were many orchards with light pink, pink and dark pink flowers, which I think might have been apricot or cherry blossom. I also found some trees that had pink and dark pink blossoms, which I think were nectarine and/or peach trees.
Pink blossom orchard

Darker pink blossom orchard

As I continued along, the landscape got increasingly rural. This made it much nicer, quieter and peaceful. There were also signs for Sequoia National Park and the orchards were beginning to butt up against the mountains leading into this park. As I continued, I did see some white blossom trees. Some of their blossoms were small and some were large, almost the size and shape of a baseball. These might be Plum or Apple blossoms.

White blossom orchard

Young, small white blossoms

Larger, white blossoms

 Along the way there were often pools of water, probably from runoff of irrigated water for the orchards.

The air smelled sweet with fresh flowers, but there was often another smell - fragrant oranges. Intermixed with some of the orchards would be an orange or other citrus fruit orchard. At this time of year they were heavy with fruit. These fruit trees are supposed to blossom in the summer, at which time, the air is supposedly even more fragrant with orange/citrus blossom. I'd like to add a note about the locals here. While the eastern parts of the blossom trail are very rural and there is hardly any traffic, occasionally there will be another car that comes up behind you. Since I was driving rather slow, to enjoy the view, they got quite impatient behind me. What I don't understand is that these roads all have dotted yellow lines indicating it is okay to pass and you can see several miles down the road, so you would think they would just pass you. This is not the case. They honk and tailgate, but they rarely pass you. Maybe they don't teach that in the driver's ed classes. Anyway, it was a really cool day, quite an experience. I hope to make it back for the citrus blossoms and next year, in a helicopter (with my dad)!

Pink blossoms

Pink and dark pink blossoms

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