A book provides a history of Highway 99, which ran from Mexico to Oregon and subtly transformed California.
The first part of this work lays out the history and development of the road and the cities it passed through. In the early 1910s, California sought to build standardized highways of a higher quality than the dirt roads that early motorists had to deal with. A number of early routes eventually were merged into Highway 99, which connected the southern and northern parts of the state, an achievement Provost (Fresno Growing Up, 2015) considers “just as illustrious” as the famed Route 66. In clear prose, the author describes in much detail the early challenges that the road builders faced in traversing the varied terrain of California, from tortuous mountain passes to flood-threatened lowlands. He also gives loads of vibrant background about the people of the area, from the farmland laborers of the Depression to the entrepreneurs who popped up on the roadside. Provost’s grasp of local color comes through in his choice of anecdotes; he picks out vivid and intriguing events to discuss the societal changes that the highway brought, such as the rise and fall of motels and roadside diners. These scenes, chock full of captivating characters from the road’s history, lift the book out of the highway minutiae—when it was built, when and where it was bypassed, etc.—that Provost occasionally gets lost in and which don’t have quite the same verve. The second part gives a short entry on every city and town along the road, from Calexico to Yreka, and information on where to see the remnants of the celebrated highway’s route. (Travelers now use the more efficient Interstate 5.) While some accounts merely give the history of how the town was named, others delve deeply into some particularly unusual part of the city, from the underground gardens of Fresno to the renowned date milkshakes of Thermal. Photos by Provost and from various archives are helpfully presented throughout.
Readers nostalgic for California’s yesteryear or who wonder about the history behind their road maps should find plenty to love in this work.