At Capitol Reef National Park, a herald of blossoms announces the arrival of spring.
The showy bouquet usually begins in early April, when the apricots bloom, and continues through the month as cherries, peaches and apples display their full regalia.While fruit trees are nothing new to Utah, orchards cultivated and harvested inside a national park are something different.
The sight of delicate white and pink petals set against sandstone walls of salmon and varnished hues is striking to say the least. A profusion of color in an otherwise rock-bound desert.
Moreover, the trees have historical significance. The first orchards were planted at the junction of Sulphur Creek and the Fremont River in 1880.
The settlement, known first as Junction and later as Fruita, was never occupied by more than 8-10 families. Over a half century, however, these resolute settlers planted hundreds of fruit trees in the salutary environment of the Fremont River gorge.
The orchards continue to thrive, though these days under the aegis of the National Park Service.
Kent Jackson, NPS orchard manager for the past 30 years, points with pride to the more than 2,700 fruit trees here on 80 acres of irrigated land.
The harvest, he said, starts in July with the "superintendent's call," and anyone willing to pay a fair market price can pick.
The annual yield includes 10,000 pounds of sweet cherries, several hundred bushels of apricots, and 400 to 500 bushels of apples, as well as a respectable number of peaches and pears.
History has not been nearly as kind to the town, however. Of its 14 or so original buildings, only four remain.
The park superintendent lives in what was once the home of Dean Brimhall, a federal employee who retired to Fruita. A farmhouse with an adjoining barn, next to the public campground, is another survivor. The sole occupants of the barn are two lucky horses.
The third building is a fully restored one-room log school. A pot belly stove and wood box stand at the center of the room, flanked by ink well desks. Books and note pads lay about the desk tops as if school had just recessed. The grounds are brushed by the ever-present orchards.
The location of the Fruita school, a quarter of a mile east of the visitors center alongside Utah 24, leaves it seemingly detached from the town, although it wasn't always so.
In the late '50s the paved road ended at Fruita, and a primitive road, beset by flash floods and other hazards, threaded its way through Capitol Gorge traversing 100 miles of largely uninhabited desert before joining U.S. 40 near Green River.
A guide book of the time warned the traveler to "carry several gunnysacks which can be partly filled with sand or brush to aid traction in spots of soft sand."
The Capitol Reef Lodge, a rambling disjointed log structure, was set midway between today's visitors center and the campground. It accommodated most monument visitors. Horses and guides were available for those inclined to explore the back-country.
The Inglesby House, next to the lodge, was by far the most interesting building. It, too, was made of logs, but was embellished with slabs of ripple-marked sandstone and petrified wood. The fence, built of the same stone slabs, enclosed a garden.
When I met him in 1958, "Doc" Inglesby had the creased look of a man in his eighties. Small, irascible and mostly deaf, he was one of a handful of non- conformists hereabouts who had taken refuge from a resurgent humanity.
He'd spent most of his professional life working as a dentist in northern Utah mining camps, retreating to Fruita late in life to pursue his first love, the lapidary arts.
A conversation with Doc was a shouting match. His voice softened, however, when he brought out his polished specimens of rock _ agates sliced wafer thin, gemstones and petrified wood, cut and polished to perfection.
Herbert Gregory, the renowned geologist, was a frequent house guest and Doc recalled Gregory working a hand pump at the well, splashing water on his face. "Doc," Gregory said, "this is the life!"
Inglesby's house was torn down after his death and his remarkable collection of rocks scattered. The lodge, too, was eventually razed.
"Back then this was considered a natural area and man-made structures an intrusion," said a park naturalist. "These days the Park Service gives equal weight to the historical legacy of an area. Today those buildings might have survived."
The Park Service has planted trees on the site of the area's first orchard. They are the same varieties as those planted by the first settlers.
The historic orchards complement an existing picnic area, a grassy park-like expanse where deer browse in the morning and evening hours.
The Park Service sponsors interpretive programs on natural history as well as cultural history. For information about specific programs check at the visitors center.
Before you make the trip, you may want to give the park a call to check on the status of the blossoms. The number is 1-425-3791.
Frank Jensen is a frequent contributor to the Deseret News Travel Section.