Roseville, California, the largest city in Placer County with a population of more than 128,000, was unknown to me until the aughts when I found a circa 1947 California map in an antique shop in Auburn. It was a roadmap from the time before Highway 80 was built (in 1956) and it showed the old Highway 40 as the main artery from the Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada and east. I was entranced. Did the old Highway 40 still exist? Where could we find it? Luckily the curator of the antique store was also an antique and a local. She could tell us what the world was like back in the day and also how to access Highway 40. “See that train overpass? Just drive underneath it and you will be on highway 40.” I bought the map, we followed her directions, and we immediately entered the pre-interstate highway world.
Highway 40, the Lincoln Highway, was the first road to stretch all the way across the nation, so technically it was the first interstate highway. Getting on it near Auburn brought back memories of road trips in the 1950s when roads took you through towns instead of around them. We drove through the little towns of Newcastle, Penryn, Loomis and Rocklin, the old concrete road surface clacking like a train with a bump at each expansion joint. On the 1947 roadmap, 40 is listed as a “Paved Road.” Only the section from Sacramento to Vacaville rates as a “Principal Super Highway.”
Then came Roseville, whose past reflects the growth of the railroad, which still runs right through the middle of town adjacent to the old Highway 40. By this time, in the early 21st century, the town was already approaching the 100,000 population mark. We soon lost the old highway but we just kept driving west, through sprawling suburban tracts, marveling at the unrestricted growth of this town we hadn’t even known existed. We were stopped by the Sacramento River where we got up onto the levee road and eventually Highway 160, a fascinating drive that I will recount in a future post.
So, Roseville. Holly and I go there often to visit her mother who lives in Sun City, a retirement community built by Del E. Webb, one of many Sun Cities the company developed in the American Sun Belt since 1960. Drive around Roseville on its new six-lane roads and you see a landscape populated by innumerable similar walled developments whose tan-colored vaguely Southwestern architecture repeats interminably, interspersed with shopping malls. The city chose an aggressive residential development plan to expand its tax base, and expansion continues out into surrounding farmlands.
Sun City seems like paradise with two golf courses running through the development and two recreation centers: pools, gym, library, crafts-making rooms, a restaurant. Seniors live in single-family dwellings and must drive themselves or get rides to buy groceries or see a doctor. It’s a paradise for the able bodied and the well and, like the city of Roseville, it’s car-dependent.
The development sits in what was once an oak woodland amid vernal pools, which fill up in the winter, attracting birds and wildlife. I love visiting the vernal pools and there is one very near Holly’s mom’s house. When we arrive I can’t wait to see what’s happening at Schoolhouse Park, the open area that surrounds one of the pools and a short expanse of daylighted creek. During my visit this week I counted 15 species of birds in the short time I spent there. The wild vernal pools and remaining blue oak forest—this tiny postage stamp amidst vast landscaped development—is my paradise. I thank those who fought for environmental laws, which required an Environmental Impact Report when this place was built in 1994. It didn’t go far enough, and I always worry about the impact on adjacent wildlands of chemicals and herbicides used on the golf course and perfectly landscaped grounds. Holly and I joined a Sierra Club day trip a few years ago to see vernal pools in the Central Valley and we were amazed at the life found there—some are endangered plants and animals that appear nowhere else. We learned that vernal pools constitute their own little ecosystem. They are a vanishing habitat in California.
Since I’ve discovered the city of Roseville, I’ve discovered that it has other attractions including a Maidu museum and historical site that deserves its own blog post and I promise to write about it in the future.
Written by Molly Martin