After a dry and sunny winter, the irrigated orchards of the Central Valley may boast California’s only “super bloom” this spring. And it’s show time on Fresno County’s Blossom Trail.
Fresno is best known as a sprawling agribusiness dynamo, not as a California vacation destination. We last overnighted in Fresno on Labor Day weekend 1990, seeking an exotic holiday weekend adventure with extended family. “Why not close out the summer in Fresno?” MontaraManDan said. “It’ll be great!” Not his best move.
The weather was too hot. The hotel pool was too cold. The kids were cranky. And we never did find the Forestiere Underground Gardens referenced in his aging Automobile Club of Southern California tour book. The trip and elusive garden became a household legend, mentioned only in hushed tones. MontaraManDan hoped the Blossom Trail might wash the stain from our collective vacation memories.
We think it worked!
Flashing forward to March 2018, our unanticipated return to Fresno began with what has become a signature Coastside Slacking challenge – a flat tire, our third in nine months while on blog business. At least this time the tire failed near a Gilroy tire store during business hours. And the tire store was within walking distance of an In-N-Out Burger. #ComfortFood
Back on the road within a couple of hours, we cruised through the Pacheco Pass without incident and dropped into the San Joaquin Valley beneath a big sky filled with majestic rain clouds, distant scattered showers and rainbows that guided our way for the rest of the afternoon.
Concerned that rain might wash out plans for a late-afternoon Blossom Trail drive, we detoured into the groves at Chowchilla just off of California 152 between Road 8 and Road 15¾. Apparently, the city’s founding fathers chose practicality over creativity while selecting street names.
We found groves of almonds in all manner of early spring glory, from “barely budded” to” fully flowered” to “past their prime.” Colorful stacks of bee hives thrummed loudly on the gravel shoulders, and giant puddles from recent rains reflected the whole scene – sky, clouds, blossoms, bees, buds and branches. Beautiful!
But an insistent rainbow in the east beckoned, so we abandoned Avenue 23½ and hurried onward toward the signature Blossom Trail. Hard rain began as we hit U.S. 99 and let up only as we cruised on past Fresno toward Sanger, where we hoped to join the formal trail.
The trail map produced by the Fresno County Blossom Trail Committee almost works. The street names and intersections are clear as the route zig-zags from Sanger to Centerville to Minkler to Reedly. What’s less clear is scale and distance. Fortunately, Google Maps will get you there, and once you’re on the trail it is well marked by special signs. Find the map, a guide to blossoms and info on points of interest here.
We scored coffee in Sanger and proceeded to zigzag through groves of almond, plum, apricot, peach, nectarine, apple and citrus trees. Other than the citrus trees, which are not deciduous, it was a bit of a challenge to distinguish among the nut and fruit blossoms. Perhaps the trail committee can put additional signage on its “to do” list. But we’re pretty sure we primarily saw almond trees (white blossoms) in bloom, with perhaps a smattering of plum (also white) and apricot (pink).
We had feared the rainy weather might wash out our adventure. The Blossom Trail website also cautioned that the warm winter followed by a cold snap the previous week would mean an uneven bloom. But instead we enjoyed amazing late-afternoon light – the golden hour stretched to two – and spectacular skies that only accentuated a variety of orchards scenes, ranging from floral brilliance to moody and mysterious.
Worth the trip? Yep! Though we’re pretty sure you can have just as much fun with a free-form drive through most any orchard in the Central Valley. And we were early for Fresno County. There’s still plenty more blossoms to come this month – through March, according to the website.
And what about Forestiere Underground Gardens? We found them, locked tightly behind a chain-link fenced topped with barbed wire. Not a rainbow in sight. They were closed due to the wet wet weather. Next time.