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Stories from the valley

Traveling South on Old Highway 99W

Contributed by Steve Beckley

Following my trip up Route 45, I turned left in Hamilton City and went over to Orland to head back home on Old Highway 99W.  I think it’s an unwritten rule in my family that, if you’re going for a ride, always take a different route home.

Old 99W is actually the frontage road along Interstate 5 from Red Bluff to Yolo.  Route 99 W was part of US 99 which ran from Mexico to Canada.  The highway split off in east and west routes in Sacramento and rejoined in Red Bluff.   Though officially 99W ceased to exist in 1964, State Route 99 is still a major North – South California route.


I entered Orland from the east on Route 32 and went about mile north to take a look at the arch the welcomes visitors to the town.  Orland was named after one the first irrigation projects of the newly formed Bureau of Reclamation, the Orland Project, which built East Park Reservoir and several other dams on Stony Creek that still provide water to area farmers. I went back in Orland as I spotted one of the newest and biggest taco trucks I have seen.

I headed south on the frontage road which is the route of Old Highway 99W. Along the road, you will see older motels and converted/abandoned buildings that once housed restaurants and service stations that were open prior to I-5.


South of Orland I came to Artois, which was originally named Germantown but was renamed Artois. The legend regarding the renaming has it that a World War 1 troop train stopped there and the soldiers rioted over the name.  As all towns along the route, the signs that agriculture is the primary industry are evident with several large grain elevators located there.

Just down from Artois is the Blue Gum area which was once the home of the Blue Gum Restaurant which I wrote about in a previous blog.  Blue Gum is located in a eucalyptus grove, for which it gets its name.  There are several eucalyptus groves along 99W.

South of Blue Gum, I entered the city of Willows.  It’s evident that agriculture is the chief industry in the area as I passed tractor dealerships and other agriculture businesses.  Willows is the county seat of Glenn County.  My schedule didn’t allow me to stop at the, located right on Old Highway 99W, one of my favorite places to get a hamburger and a cold drink. If you’re in the area, it’s well worth a stop.


Leaving Willows heading south, the road opens up to rice country with grain elevators/driers lining the road and rice fields on both sides.  This is one of my favorite parts of the drive as there is an abundance of wildlife, especially waterfowl.  I certainly recommend you stop at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and drive the six-mile auto tour around it.  You get up close views of thousands of waterfowl and maybe even an eagle. Though I only seen them once, there is also a herd of pronghorn antelope that hang out on the west side of I-5.

Traveling south, I went through the very small communities of Norman and Delevan.  It’s really easy to miss Norman and also Delevan, though Delevan has a rice storage facility and what was a former store.

The next town on my tour south was Maxwell, which I know in the future, will have a large sign that says “Gateway to Sites Reservoir”. Sites is located just a few miles west of town.  I didn’t stop in Maxwell this trip, but will be back soon to have breakfast at Kim’s Cafe to visit with the locals to see what is happening in the area and how the duck season is going.

As I drove into Williams on Old 99W, memories came back of the stories that on holiday weekends before I-5 opened traffic was backed up for miles at the four-way stop sign at the intersection of 99w and State Route 20.  Williams is still an agriculture town, but also serves as a major stop for I-5 travelers with many having a meal at Granzella’s and Louis Cairos. (The rumor mill says there will be a Starbucks in Williams in the near future.)

As it was getting late and dark I got on I-5 at Williams and headed home to Woodland.  Following this interesting road trip, I’m already thinking of a future blog on the towns of Arbuckle, Dunnigan, Zamora, Dufour, and Yolo.