Highway 99 is synonymous with California in my mind. I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone from southern California to northern California on Hwy 99. It started when I was 7 years old when we lived in Fontana and drove to the San Francisco Bay area, from living in LA and driving to visit my parents home in Rancho Cordova, and now living in Turlock and driving both north to Sacramento and south to LA. Hwy 99 has been and is a part of my life–love it or hate it–it gets you from the south to the north and vice versa.
Cai King has her own story of Highway 99 and it’s one that I hadn’t heard until I received her postcard. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
On Highway 99, in Madera County, one palm and one evergreen sit silently side by side in the median. Surrounded by much showier oleander bushes you might miss them as you whiz by at 75 mph but in your haste you’d also miss the mythic center of California. Although the development of satellite technology later identified the ‘real’ geographic center of the state some 40 miles from the trees, legend has it that the pine represents the north, Alta California, and the palm symbolizes Baja, or southern California. I’m not sure when I first became aware of the story but I know the trees were well-rooted by the time we moved to Madera in November 1964. No one knows the real story of how these two trees came to be where they are but it is so much a part of the local lore that it has impacted (much-needed) efforts to improve Highway 99 since few folks want to see the trees removed. Believe me, this is hard-fought fame and celebrity for Maderans! The oleander also bring a level of notoriety to Highway 99. Travelers through the Valley can’t recall “99” but they will remember “the long stretch of nothingness with the pink flowers.’ My father HATED oleanders and said they were a safety hazard because they blocked the view of on-coming cars(!) My husband is allergic to them. But I love them! They always welcome me home like a conquering hero with their flowery confetti.