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In full bloom

January/February 2018 California Bountiful magazine

Fresno County Blossom Trail offers a stunning glimpse of spring



 More online: Know your blossom


Artist Chieko Delgado creates a blossom-inspired watercolor painting during bloom in a Fresno County orchard. Photo: © 2018 Tomas Ovalle

As an artist, Chieko Delgado's eye gravitates to the beauty of nature. Her brush has captured some of the most iconic imagery of California: vibrant poppies, the winegrape harvest and snowfall on a Yosemite landscape.

So each spring, when nature erupts into a riotous display of beauty right in her own backyard, there's no keeping the award-winning, Fresno-area painter out of the orchards. Delgado becomes an invited guest at local farms, and you'll often find her with her easel among the rows of almond, apricot, peach, plum and nectarine trees that are decked out in an explosion of white and pink blossoms.

And she's not alone. Starting in mid-February and lasting only a few weeks, visitors have the opportunity to enjoy the Fresno County Blossom Trail, a self-guided tour of participating county orchards in full bloom. Between 20,000 and 30,000 people travel the route each year, admiring orchards adorned as far as the eye can see with rose-shaded peach and nectarine blossoms, pink bouquets of apricot petals, and snow-white plum and almond petals.


The Blossom Trail features acre after acre of springtime splendor. Photo: © 2018 Tomas Ovalle

World-class beauty 

Few places can match the scale of the springtime splendor in Fresno County, which is nestled in the world's most productive agricultural region. Some consider the spectacle on par with the famed cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C., or the fall colors in New England.

"Since I moved to Sanger (in eastern Fresno County) in 1999, I just fell in love with the Blossom Trail," Delgado said. "I also love to paint local scenes, which involve many agricultural scenes."

Working in watercolor, oil or hand-painting on silk, she's painted views of the orchards from different perspectives and in varied lighting, as well as lushly colored portraits of individual blossoms. Her evocative "Blossom Trail – Reflection," which depicts rows of trees laden with pink flowers alongside their reflection in a nearby pool of water, with brooding storm clouds overhead, was selected for the California State Senate's 2015-16 Contemporary Art Collection and displayed at the Capitol. Her artwork also graced Blossom Trail promotional posters in 2011, 2014 and 2017, after she won the Fresno County Blossom Trail Poster Contest at the Big Fresno Fair.

Photographers are also drawn to the beauty of the trail. Elizabeth Bedard, an amateur photographer from Clovis and member of the Fresno Camera Club, takes part in the club's annual field trip to the Blossom Trail, which is followed by a friendly photography competition.

"I love taking pictures of the flower petals on the ground. I like weird things, like branches that are bent funny and patterns in nature," Bedard said. "I like to get something that is a little different. You get to see how other people interpret the same thing."


Clockwise from right, Blossom Trail visitors including Jie Chen and 6-year-old daughter Minturn stroll through the budding peaches in Sanger. Daniel Morales holds some of the produce for sale at the Centerville Fruit Station near Sanger. Amateur photographer Elizabeth Bedard enjoys photographing unusual patterns created by blossoms and branches. Photos: © 2018 Tomas Ovalle

Reconnecting to the land 

Kristi Johnson, tourism manager for the Fresno County Office of Tourism, said the visually stunning Blossom Trail is also a crowd-pleaser for motorists and cyclists, "giving people a chance to explore and do a little sightseeing," as well as an opportunity for education.

"It is a preservation of our heritage, but also preservation of California agriculture by showing people how beautiful it is and the impact that it makes on the state, starting with the blooms to the eventual produce," Johnson said.

The vast stretches of blossoms on more than 60 farms along the 84-mile route are just a precursor of the bounty to come later in the season. Fresno County is the nation's leading producer of nectarines, peaches and plums, and ranks third for growing almonds and apricots.

Simonian Farms near Fresno is a great place to see the county's abundance on display and a good starting point for trail-goers. Established more than a century ago, it is the oldest farm stand in the county. Today, Simonian Farms grows more than 185 varieties of fruits and vegetables, and sells them alongside dried fruit, nuts and gourmet items. The farm maintains its Western charm and offers visitors a chance to step back in time, with a free museum of vintage farm equipment and antiques, including pedal cars, gas pumps and bicycles. Wine tasting, an animated shooting gallery and Old West replica facades provide entertainment inside the farm's big red barn.

The Blossom Trail draws visitors to the farm and helps them develop an appreciation for agriculture, said Stacey Grote, assistant at Simonian Farms.

"Not only do you get to look at the beauty, but you are able to teach your children or yourselves, or whoever is with you, that this is a peach tree," Grote said. "First there is a blossom and in the middle of that blossom is where fruit will grow."


Train engineer trainee Connor Habib drives the locomotive at Hillcrest Shops, which has a railroad adjacent to orchards. Photo: © 2018 Tomas Ovalle

Rail on the trail

The Blossom Trail also leads visitors of all ages to Hillcrest Tree Farm & Shops, just north of Reedley, where visitors can ride a miniature steam train on narrow-gauge tracks past almond and peach orchards.

Johnny Ramirez of Fresno said the 15-minute trip is the nicest train ride he and his 2-year-old son, George, have been on.

"He loves the train. It is awesome," Ramirez said. "His eyes get really big when we go through the tunnels and he waves at everybody."

Melissa Bautista of Hillcrest Tree Farm & Shops, which seasonally sells Christmas trees and pumpkins, said the train ride and picnic grounds make Hillcrest a popular stop along the trail.

"We enjoy Blossom Trail time because it gives us an opportunity to slow down and talk to our customers," she said.

Hillcrest is open to trail visitors the first three weekends in March. On the final weekend, the farm hosts the Reedley Railfest, inviting enthusiasts to bring their own narrow-gauge locomotives, as well as large outdoor model trains, and run them on the farm's rails.

"Train nuts come from all over the state and country," Bautista said, adding that it's not uncommon to see 10 locomotives of various types running on the same track at once.

In addition to delivering opportunities for fun and breathtaking views, the Blossom Trail gives local farmers a chance to showcase the role they play in growing healthy food, according to Frederic McNairy, a CPA and Sanger rancher. He has been a volunteer member of the Fresno County Blossom Trail Committee since 2001 and serves as its current president.

"The San Joaquin Valley is the most productive agricultural region in the world," McNairy said. "It is something that we are proud of and we like to showcase it as a means of promoting our area. We like to invite people to come visit. It is a beautiful way to spend a day or weekend, seeing California."

Christine Souza


The Blossom Trail welcomes more than 20,000 people each year. Photo: © 2018 Tomas Ovalle

If you go...

The nonprofit Fresno County Blossom Trail, now in its 30th year, is a collaborative effort joining Fresno County with partner cities Sanger, Kingsburg, Orange Cove, Reedley, Fowler and Selma to welcome springtime visitors to the region.

On the Blossom Trail website, www.goblossomtrail.com, visitors can find the latest bloom period updates, directions, activities and stops along the way, including farms, fruit stands, wineries, shopping and dining. Visitors to the Blossom Trail are also encouraged to share their digital photos by sending them to tourism@co.fresno.ca.us.

Organizers invite visitors to return to the county between March and April to experience the beauty and citrusy scent of the adjacent citrus trail, and come back to the Fresno County Blossom Trail during May and June when it becomes the Fresno County Fruit Trail for a tour of local fruit stands. Learn more at www.gofruittrail.com.


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