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Thursday, March 7, 2013
WEST SIDE OF THE RIVER
on California’s State Route 45
State Route 45 provides a welcome alternative to I-5 when traveling the valley north of Woodland. Coursing through farm lands, orchards and tiny bergs, the two-lane carries us back in time a bit.
Along the way it tempts us with occasional views from the west side of the Sacramento River. Although many lanes lead to the leveed banks of the Sacramento, few provide an alternate to Route 45. Most of these little avenues offer access to farmers and fisher-people simply dead-ending at the river.
The run south from Hamilton City is straight and smooth. Once past the Tehema-Colusa Canal levee, undeveloped land allows for nice views of the Coast Range off to the west and riparian stands of oak and black walnut nearer the river.
Within a few miles, almond orchards present row upon row of, on this day, delicately blossomed trees. Their fragrance is high on my list of favorites: a virtual tie with my local cigar guy’s humidor.
The highway passes through bergs that, before interstates, served as mercantile hubs farmers and ranchers.
An equipment repair shop may or may not stay open along with taverns, small, whitewashed churches and tiny country stores. I stop for bottled water and an apple, not because I need the water or the apple, but because, I figure, they need the business.
Route 45 intersects 162. I cross the river here to visit Butte City and see what’s going on. Not much…
…except for this pleasant reflection of peach blossoms.
Area kids go to school in Princeton with those making it through the twelfth grade legitimately called “Princeton Grads.”
In the 50s, the Princeton High School Band made regular treks to South Bend, Indiana to perform at Notre Dame football games. No longer. No money. Heck, there may not even be a band any more. Where’s Harold Hill when you need him?
Out this way, the almond orchards have yielded more to English walnuts. These black-stumped, silver-barked trees are spaciously organized into cool groves that might invite a nap on a hot summer day. Cautiously wondering how the landowner might react, I don’t do this.
Colusa provides a respite from the saddle. Once among the largest wheat transshipment points in the country, the town nestles the west bank of the Sacramento about half way through a sojourn along state route 45. Devoid of big box stores, the main street seems to be weathering some less-than-the-best economic times.
A stroll through the neighborhood backing the business district, one finds a nice collection of Victorian and craftsman style homes on spacious lots along tree-lined streets.
125 years ago, the state powers-that-be strongly considered Colusa for the location of the northern Normal School, an institution for training teachers. Fifty miles distant and home to US Senator John Bidwell, Chico won the bid for this school. One can only imagine the flip-flop of town fortunes had the decision gone the other direction.
Beyond Colusa, the valley has become more of a sink, a low land in which water may collect for weeks at a time in winter. Rice is now king as are wintering fowl.
Heading south from a junction with SR 20, highway 45 slips through glens of standing oaks, then veers onto the tilled valley bottomland.
Soon, it curves back riverward at Grimes. Another country store and little church make this a community. From here, the highway appears to follow straight lines, making ninety-degree turns at, perhaps, historic property lines.
A nice alternative is Wilson Bend Road.
This little gem wanders through a few more fields and orchards and offers few more miles of levee top views of the river.
The pavement isn’t great, but I’m not in a hurry or I’d be over on I-5.
The final stretch is a pleasant jaunt through the Great Valley, although I always get to Knight’s Landing wishing there were a few more miles of state route 45 to enjoy.
Today’s Route: I-5 to Orland or State Route 99 to Chico; SR 32 to Hamilton City (Glenn County). From Hamilton City, south on SR 45 through Ord Bend (what’s left of it), Glenn (ditto) to Four Corners. Here, consider a side trip over to Butte City just to check things out across the river. Continue south of SR 45 through Princeton (find the old ferry pulled up on the bank in the shadow of a warehouse; but watch out for the little yip-yip dog who guards it!) to Colusa. SR 45 joins SR 20 through town splitting about five miles south of town. Bear right, through Grimes, Grand Island and on to Knight’s Landing. Alternate south of Grand Island: left on Wilson Bend for a few miles of levee riding. From Knight’s Landing SR 113 leads to Woodland or Yuba City; county road E-10 hooks up with I-5 at Zamora.
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