The California Citrus State Historic Park

The Saturday we went to the drive-in, we had half the afternoon to kill in Riverside. One of the top TripAdvisor attractions for Riverside, California is the California Citrus State Historic Park. Hey, everyone likes oranges, so what the heck?

Where most national, state, and local public parks are set aside as preserves because of their scenic natural beauty or unique natural ecosystems, this park celebrates an industry that completely changed its landscape. The park’s preservation mission is, instead, focused on maintaining a monument to a decades-ago snapshot of California’s citrus agriculture business. While Lori thought it was uncomfortably hot, I thought it was splendid.

A small but informative visitors centers imparts some interesting tidbits on citrus in general and the citrus industry’s history in Southern California. Did you know, for example, that all citrus is indigenous only to Asia? The Chinese cultivated the planet’s only citrus plants and began trading them with their Middle Eastern and European trading partners. So I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Chinese for my morning orange juice: 謝謝大家!

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Naturally-occurring citrus fruit


Also, many of the citrus varieties we enjoy today were hybridized along the way. The grapefruit, for example, is a hybrid of the sweet orange and the pomelo (this didn’t come as a surprise to me, as I always wondered why God would put such a nasty tasting fruit on his beautiful creation…he didn’t, nasty, misguided men did). In fact, there are only about a dozen naturally occurring citrus plants. All else are the result of man’s deftness with mixing, blending, combining, and tailoring their juicy vitamin-C rich fruits. Personally, I’m waiting for the perfection of the chocelo.

It was sort of refreshing (very weak pun intended) to see a park that celebrated (or at least didn’t vilify) the impact man can have on the landscape in pursuit of industry (that being agriculture). Needlessly, the volunteer rangers (almost apologetically) were quick to point out that the park is just as it appeared at the height of the Southern California citrus boom, as though a 1930’s orange grove is somehow aesthetically better than today’s commercial citrus groves. The neat rows of healthy bright green trees, accented with tall palm trees, are attractive and garden-like, but so are many of the miles and miles of commercial fruit groves we’ve passed on Interstate 5 and the seas of carefully cultivated wine grape vines we’ve seen in Sonoma and Napa counties. They’re all beautiful in their way, old or not, commercial or park-preserved.

Spending a few hours at this park reminded us that there are a myriad of park options in addition to the national parks we love. There are thousands of state parks across the country, and like this one, not all of them necessarily adhere to the “untouched by man is best” philosophy.

So note to self: pay more attention to state and local park options as we travel. And stay away from grapefruits: they’re just not natural.

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