As the campfire roared next to us, we admired a sky so opaque it looked like a piece of deep purple velvet, drawn taut and full of pinpricks through which starshine seeped.
Ahhh. And the hot dogs were sizzling in the fire.
Yes, in, where we'd fumbled them. Plop. Plop. Plop. . . .
My husband, Tim, our 4-year-old daughter, Ellen, and I had motored north in our RV to Fresno County for a two-night stopover at Pine Flat Lake, broken up by Blossom Trail explorations. Along the way, I scribbled notes, and upon scanning them post-trip, a pattern emerged:
Sweet, sweet weather.
Smacked head in RV.
Glorious green hills, twisty trees still gray from winter.
Hot dogs fell in fire.
A sleek horse running along a dirt track, palatial houses, tumbledown barns.
Smacked head in RV (again). Mad!
Tree after tree holding blossoms -- cotton candy on a stick.
*&^%$#@ Note to self: Duck.
Perhaps I was just dizzy from blows to the head, but the petal spectacle was captivating.
We drove several stretches of the 62-mile Blossom Trail on March 1. The self-guided route, which officially opens Feb. 1, showcases this agricultural area's flowering plum, almond, apricot, peach, nectarine, apple and citrus trees. We stopped first in Sanger for the Blossom Days Festival, its yearly nod to the ritual. The feeling was one of lazy fun. We sat on a curb on 7th Street and dined on plates of barbecue beef and potato salad while petals from nearby trees dropped like gentle rain. Kids gathered them into piles and threw them in the air.
We had come to blossom country to take the annual drive, which covers an area about from Sanger on the north, Reedley on the south, California 99 to the east and Orange Cove to the west (including the part of the trail filled with orange trees). Some trees were just beginning to bud. Others were already bountiful. Pale white blooms looked delicate against dark branches. From a distance, the trees seemed loaded with marshmallow fluff.
The roads were wide open under a wide-open sky. We were among a few blossom fans who were stopping for a closer look and to snap pictures of row upon row of flowering trees that lined the roads.
Along one length of the trail, we glimpsed the snowy tops of distant mountains, which I first mistook for a long line of clouds. Early March, we found, was a great time to catch the serene scenes.
Peace also reigned at Pine Flat Lake, where we made camp at Island Park, one of several camping areas at this lake, run by the Army Corps of Engineers. The lake is about 18 miles from the Blossom Trail, a drive that took us more than half an hour. If visiting both sites, drive the trail on the way up from L.A. or on the way back home.
This was low season at the lake. The action heats up from May through September, but anglers come year round for the trout, bluegill, salmon and more. "We hold the world record for the largest spotted bass," said park ranger Nick Figueroa. The lake is 20 miles long and has 67 miles of shoreline. It's one of the larger lakes in California's Central Valley, Figueroa said.
"Skiing, wakeboarding, boating, fishing. . . ." Sandy Mendoza, who calls herself the "unofficial host" and the only year-round resident at the lake, listed some of the popular activities. The water can be thick with visitors in high season, she said, but for now there was quiet. "The lake was like glass yesterday."
Tim, Ellen and I are not boaters or skiers. We are hikers and connoisseurs of California scenery. So we hiked down to the lake from Island Park through a field of scattered boulders. Ellen scampered in front of us, slipping on the silty ground. Plants poked through the grainy surface. Horizontal indentations marked the levels of the lake. We scrambled down the soft, steep embankment. Ellen was fascinated by rocks at the murky edge. I stooped beside her, then stood to admire the rippling water, the almost mesmerizing beauty of the lake.
My husband said something to me I didn't quite understand.
"What's that, honey?" I asked.
"She's going!" he yelled. "SHE'S GOING!"
Four-year-old fell in lake mud.